Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2009: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to be here today to present to the House this important Bill. First, I will highlight the difficulties we have here.

In recent years the activities of organised crime gangs have intensified and have been marked by an increasing ruthlessness. I have been informed by the Garda Commissioner that there is no doubt that investigations into the criminal activities of these gangs are hampered by the unwillingness of people to come forward to assist these investigations.

Recent killings, including the very sad case of Mr. Roy Collins, emphasise the complete disregard of these gangs for the rule of law and their determination to intimidate whole communities. Beyond the absolute tragedy of this murder, it confirms in the minds of the public the threat posed by these gangs and creates the climate of fear which is so conducive to criminal gangs maintaining their malign influence within their communities. Up to this unprecedented event I resisted calls for sterner legislation, but now we cannot stand by and let our criminal justice system be undermined.

The threat to witnesses is already clearly accepted. Instances of intimidation of witnesses have been evidenced by withdrawn statements, refusals to testify or failure to recall recent events. Does anyone really suppose that groups who would kill in retaliation for a witness giving evidence would for some reason draw the line at the intimidation of jurors? No doubt jurors will continue to do their duty conscientiously in a wide range of cases, but this Bill recognises that special measures must be taken in the case of offences involving organised crime.

The stark fact is that members of these gangs have displayed a callous disregard for human life and a brazen contempt for the community. They have come to believe that they can take on the criminal justice system and act as a law unto themselves. It is beyond question that criminal gangs will try to take whatever action is open to them to thwart the criminal justice system. Clearly, there are limits on the extent of the information I can properly put into the public domain about this and I must be measured in what I say. The Government decision to provide for a limited number of specific "organised crime" offences to be prosecuted in the Special Criminal Court was taken on the basis of the advice of the Garda Commissioner and taking into account information provided by him and others involved in the criminal justice system detailing instances of threats and intimidation.

I do not want to interrupt the Minister but, is there a script being distributed?

Yes, I would expect so.

The Garda Commissioner made clear that the threat is such that the use of the Special Criminal Court is justified in the case of gang members. Court officials in Limerick have cited specific incidents where gang members have sat in the front row to intimidate juries. The fear in the community resulted in a marked drop in jury attendance. Trials have already been moved to Dublin. It is unrealistic to expect that every juror in a case involving these gangs could withstand, or would even report, instances of intimidation or threat.

Only earlier this week, the State solicitor for Limerick confirmed on air that he was aware of specific cases of jury intimidation and that there is reluctance among a significant part of the population to participate in jury trials of gang members. I am sure the Members of this House who represent the areas in question will be able to confirm the level of intimidation that exists. Deputies from all sides of the House have come to me, not only on Limerick but other areas including Dublin, about the intimidation of witnesses and jurors in their respective areas.

It seems to me that the truth of this assessment is already obvious from the facts now in the public domain. I do not dispute that the decision to schedule offences so that they can be dealt with in the Special Criminal Court is a big step, but failure to take that decision would be to shirk our overriding responsibility as parliamentarians to ensure that the rule of law prevails.

Moreover, we are introducing offences here which are inextricably linked to organised crime. The impact of that fact alone on the likelihood of successfully intimidating a prospective juror cannot be ignored.

Sequestering jurors, using jurors outside the community from which the defendant comes, shielding jurors from the sight of an open court or providing round the clock protection for jurors are not viable responses to the grave situation we face and will not guarantee freedom from intimidation. These gangs have sophisticated networks capable of identifying those they perceive as thwarting their activities.

However, there is a real and viable option. The three-judge Special Criminal Court and its non-jury format is in the view of the Government, and also of the Garda Commissioner and the senior Garda management, the single most effective means of successfully prosecuting these gangs. We have the offences, we have the investigative tools and we have the penalties. Now we must ensure prosecution. Let us not wait for further escalation in intimidation. Let us, in Dáil Éireann, give a future to the ordinary decent citizens of the communities which have been brought to their knees by these criminal gangs.

I heard reports suggesting that elements of this Bill might be unconstitutional. All I can say is that the senior legal adviser to the Government does not believe that there are any grounds for that suggestion.

Furthermore, I have given detailed consideration to the points raised by the Irish Human Rights Commission in close consultation with the Attorney General. There is nothing raised by the commission that was not already considered. On examination, some of its suggestions might actually prejudice the right to a fair trial.

As well as addressing organised crime, the Bill introduces amendments to detention and search powers which will, among other matters, address problems that arise during the hearing of applications to extend the time for questioning.

The Bill is in five Parts with 25 sections. Part 1 contains standard provisions such as the Short Title and definitions sections.

Part 2 concerns organised crime. In the main, this Part amends the organised crime provisions contained in the Criminal Justice Act 2006. New measures are introduced and existing provisions are amended. In particular, I highlight the following sections.

Section 3 amends the existing definitions of "criminal organisation" and "structured group". The existence of a criminal organisation is a crucial element in proving the offences provided for under this Bill. The amended definitions are merely a simpler formulation but, none the less, an important change making it easier to charge persons with the offences in question.

Section 5 creates for the first time in Irish law an offence of directing a criminal organisation. This offence criminalises the directing or controlling of activities of a criminal organisation including the supervision of such activities or the giving of orders. It will facilitate the pursuit of persons who direct and control these organisations although not directly or personally involved in the commission of a serious offence. The serious nature of this activity is recognised by the equally serious penalty of up to life imprisonment. I note in passing that in addition to providing a necessary tool to combat the threat of organised crime, it is also a requirement of our obligations as a signatory to the UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crime. The section provides significant detail on what "directs" means. It also sets out the evidence to which a court may have regard in determining whether an offence has been committed. In drafting this provision, it was considered appropriate for the purpose of consistency to replicate those provisions in section 6 of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998, which contain the offence of directing an unlawful organisation. The amendment to the 1998 Act is contained in section 24.

Section 6 provides for the offence of participating in activity that could aid a criminal organisation's objects which, where proven, will carry a penalty of up to 15 years. The evidential requirements of the offence are set out in the provision. Facilitating the commission of a serious offence by a criminal organisation will not require proof that an actual offence was committed or that the accused had knowledge of a particular offence. Again, we are going after those persons who, although not directly involved in the commission of an offence, participate with the organisation in a manner conducive to facilitating such offences.

Section 7 is an important provision in that it sets out the evidential provisions as to the existence of a criminal organisation. The offences already outlined cannot be proven unless the existence of a criminal organisation is first established. This section addresses that point. In particular, it allows for the evidence of a member of the Garda Síochána with appropriate experience and knowledge as to the existence of a criminal organisation. That will not go to the guilt or otherwise of a defendant. However, it will assist in meeting the first hurdle of a successful prosecution, namely, establishing the existence of a criminal organisation. There appears to be some confusion as to whether this is opinion evidence or expert evidence, as it is correctly stated in the legislation. It is not opinion evidence as to the guilt or innocence of a particular person. It relates to the expert evidence of a garda who would know about the existence of a criminal organisation.

But it is in his opinion nevertheless.

The existence of a criminal organisation must be established. Another significant provision is contained in section 8 which, as I have already indicated, extends the remit of the Special Criminal Court to organised crime offences. It is not a step taken lightly. I have already referred to the circumstances of the murder of Mr. Roy Collins in Limerick earlier this year. The level of intimidation against witnesses is already well known. This Bill combined with the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Bill will facilitate a situation where prosecutions can be brought against members of criminal gangs based on evidence gathered by Garda surveillance. The opportunity to undermine the criminal justice system by intimidation of "civilian" witnesses will be diminished.

However, as I have said, the Garda Commissioner has also expressed strong concerns regarding jury intimidation. Increasingly, prospective jurors are seeking reprieves from participation in trials involving criminal organisations. Again, I would not be taking this step if I were not convinced that those threats are very real. We have ensured that safeguards are included in the legislation. For example, the declaration that the ordinary courts are inadequate for the pursuit of those types of offence is without prejudice to the power of the DPP to direct that a person not be sent forward for trial by the Special Criminal Court on a particular charge.

We have also included a clause whereby this section will cease to operate 12 months following the passing of the Act unless continued by a resolution passed by each House of the Oireachtas. I remind Deputies that under existing law, the DPP already has the option to send a member of a criminal gang forward for trial to the Special Criminal Court. What we are proposing is that a limited number of organised crime offences should be tried before the Special Criminal Court unless the DPP is satisfied that, in a particular case, the ordinary courts are adequate.

There is provision in section 9 for inferences to be drawn from a failure of a defendant, prior to being charged, to answer any question material to the investigation of the offence. A number of safeguards are also built into this provision. These include provision that interviews must be electronically recorded, the defendant must be informed of the effect of a failure to answer and must be given a reasonable opportunity to consult a solicitor before answering. An inference drawn under this section cannot solely or mainly be relied on to convict.

Section 14 introduces post-release orders that impose restrictions on certain activities. Those orders can be applied at sentencing and will take effect on the person's release from prison. They are similar to the post-release orders in the sexual offences legislation already passed. The order can apply restrictions on a person's movements, actions or activities; impose conditions on a person's participation in any activity or apply restrictions relating to a person's associations. Section 16 increases the penalty for witness or jury intimidation from ten years to 15 years.

Part 3 contains two sections which amend section 7 of the Offences against the State Act 1939 and sections 7 and 8 of the Criminal Law Act 1997. Those amendments arise out of an obligation to legislate for particular provisions of the UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crime. Parties to that convention are required to establish jurisdiction over obstruction of justice offences in certain circumstances where the offence occurs outside the State. These circumstances are where the offence occurs on board an Irish ship or aircraft or was committed by an Irish citizen or by a person ordinarily resident in Ireland.

Section 7 of the 1939 Act contains the offence of obstruction of Government, including Judiciary, and is amended in section 18. Section 7 of the 1997 Criminal Law Act, inter alia, creates the offence of impeding apprehension or prosecution of another person who has committed an arrestable offence. Section 8 of that Act provides for concealing an offence. Section 19 makes the required amendment to those provisions.

I now turn to Part 4, which concerns amendments to Garda powers of detention and re-arrest. My amendments for the most part are aimed at ensuring that those powers do not operate in a manner that prejudices the investigation of crime by, for example, the disclosure of sensitive information. I am also aiming to avoid the unnecessary diversion of Garda personnel away from ongoing investigations. As Deputies will be aware, the Garda has powers under a number of statutes to detain persons arrested in connection with the investigation of serious offences. Those powers vary both in respect of duration and the types of offence at which they are targeted. For example, section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act 1984 applies to all offences carrying a penalty of five years or more and provides for detention up to a maximum of 24 hours.

Section 2 of the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act 1996 and section 50 of the Criminal Justice Act 2007 apply to a limited range of offences, which by their nature justify the possibility of longer detention periods — up to seven days in both cases. Section 30 of the Offences against the State Act 1939 permits detention up to 72 hours. As a rule, detention in excess of 48 hours is permitted only on the authorisation of the District Court or occasionally the Circuit Court. The Bill aims to address concerns long expressed by the Garda about the effect on the conduct of investigations and on the use of resources resulting from court hearings on applications to extend a detention period.

The experience of the Garda Síochána is that some of the issues raised in the course of such hearings go beyond the scope of the hearing and can have the effect of prejudicing further investigation. Information that might undermine an investigation should not be disclosed to the detained person or the public. Sections 20, 21 and 22 deal with this very real problem in a number of ways, first, by providing that the court may direct that applications be heard in camera or that certain persons or the public generally may be excluded. I repeat “may”. It is up to the court to decide. This morning, I heard a Senator say something to the contrary in the Seanad. Second, it provides that the court may in exceptional circumstances hear the evidence from a garda without anybody else being present, including the legal representatives of the parties and, third, it prohibits the publication of any matter relating to an application other than the fact that it has taken place and the decision.

The purpose of the court hearings are limited to establishing whether the extension of time is necessary for the proper investigation of an offence and that the investigation is being conducted expeditiously and diligently. I am satisfied that those amendments will not in any way hinder the court's consideration of the matter at hand. The risk of prejudice to ongoing investigations also arises in regard to applications to court for a warrant to re-arrest a suspect for a particular offence or for a search warrant. While such applications are not on notice to the suspect, their hearing in open court could result in the disclosure of sensitive information. My proposals address this by providing that re-arrest applications are to be made in camera. Section 25, which is contained in Part 5, makes a similar clarification in respect of search warrant applications.

The changes I am proposing clarify that issues relating to the validity of the arrest and detention are not proper to a hearing of an application for an extension of a detention period. This clarification will ensure that the arresting garda and other members of the force concerned with the detention of the suspect are not diverted from the investigation by a requirement to be at the court house and ready to give evidence in the event of the lawfulness of an arrest and detention being raised.

The Bill also provides that, in the interests of efficiency, the garda making the application for an extension of time — who must be of at least superintendent rank — can give oral evidence on matters not within his or her direct knowledge but which are within the knowledge of another member. This provision is subject to the court being able to require the attendance of that other garda to give oral evidence if the interests of justice require.

The cumulative effect of these amendments will be to reduce greatly the risk of sensitive information relating to matters under investigation being disclosed to a suspect or his or her associates. The amendments will also ensure a better use of Garda personnel and time. The amendments I have outlined apply to the three statutory detention powers which provide for detention in excess of 48 hours.

I also wish to highlight some amendments which apply to individual detention powers only. The House will recall that the detention powers in the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act 1996 lapse unless they are renewed by both Houses. The most recent resolution passed was for a two-year period which will expire on 31 December 2010. This arrangement reflects the position at the time of enactment when detention of up to seven days was considered a major departure. However, these detention powers are now an established and essential part of the fight against drug crime and I propose to end the requirement for renewal as I indicated when they were previously renewed. This is achieved in section 21.

Section 22 extends the scope of section 50 of the Criminal Justice Act 2007 to the organised crime offences under Part 7 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 as amended by this Bill. As already outlined, section 50 permits detention up to a maximum of seven days in respect of very serious offences including those involving the use of a firearm or explosives.

I am advised by the Garda authorities that such increased detention powers are necessary in light of the nature of organised crime offences and the difficulties arising from the fact that the people involved set out to thwart the Garda investigation of these offences at every turn. In addition, the process of gathering the information that the Garda Síochána requires in order to put to suspects in custody can take time. It often must be done against a background of violence, intimidation and internecine feuding. Experience in the operation of section 50 to date and of the Drug Trafficking Act during the past 13 years suggests that the longer periods of detention are used sparingly.

The House should be aware that I intend to introduce a number of technical amendments on Committee Stage.

There will also be drafting amendments to sections 3 and 6 and a further section to amend section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1999 will be proposed for inclusion in Part 3.

I am sure the House will agree that the Bill amounts to a significant package. In so far as it addresses organised crime, it is also part of a wider package including the recently debated covert surveillance legislation and firearms controls in the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. As criminal organisations and their methods evolve, so should our response as a society. As already stated, these measures are not being taken lightly. There are aspects of the Bill which will be considered a departure from prior practice. However, we must bring every available resource and legal instrument to the fight against organised crime. We are doing that with this legislation.

I am sure all Members will join me in paying tribute to Stephen Collins and members of his family for the courage and fortitude they have shown in the face of the activities of these gangs. Nothing we do here can be expected to console them in their great loss. However, the measures contained in the Bill are the least we owe to them and others who have suffered at the hands of gangs. I met Mr. Collins's family recently and, as I have stated publicly on previous occasions, whatever doubts I may have had in respect of the passing of this legislation were dispelled by my hearing their testimony with regard to the intimidation they and others in the wider community in Limerick have been obliged to endure to date. The enactment of the Bill will provide the Garda with the legislative resources necessary to pursue the gangs. When the legislation is passed by the Oireachtas and signed into law by the President, it will be used in a resolute manner by the prosecution service.

Before Deputy Charlie Flanagan commences his contribution, I wish to ask that, in light of the exceptional circumstances in which we are operating, the Ceann Comhairle use his good offices to permit the tabling of amendments until 11 a.m. on Monday next. It will be extremely difficult to frame amendments to the legislation in the limited time available.

I fully endorse what Deputy Rabbitte said, particularly in view of the Minister's statement to the effect that he is not satisfied with the measure before us and that he intends to table amendments to it on Committee Stage.

They will be technical amendments.

That does not matter. What is happening is par for the course because it reflects what the Government has done every day this week.

We are here today again to witness the Government repeating the mistakes of the past. Railroading legislation through the Oireachtas is dangerous at the best of times. When it comes to a Bill that requires serious scrutiny from a constitutional perspective, however, it is madness to impose a guillotine.

This Bill is being presented as an emergency measure, which is the alleged reason for the frenzied manner in which it is being forced through the Oireachtas by the Government. What has Fianna Fáil been doing since being re-elected to office over two years ago? The Minister has held the justice portfolio for 14 months. During that period, he has shown himself to be a lethargic legislator. Just yesterday we passed a Bill that had been lying around for almost three years. Next week we will likely pass the Defamation Bill, which has been gathering dust for a similarly lengthy period.

To date, and despite perceptions to the contrary, the Minister's approach has been to do little and falsely accuse the Opposition of smearing the Garda or civil servants if it questions his approach. In the dying days of this Dáil session he is attempting to, in his own words, push through six justice Bills, thereby denying the Houses the proper opportunity to scrutinise them. The six Bills to which I refer are that before us, the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Bill, the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, the Defamation Bill, the Land and Conveyancing Law and Reform Bill and the Enforcement of Court Orders (Amendment) Bill. The latter was only published last night but all Stages of it will be passed next week.

Members are not being given an opportunity to scrutinise this legislation or to engage with their constitutional responsibility. What is happening represents an abuse of power on the part of the Government. The mechanism of the guillotine does not exist to make life convenient for the Government or to stifle debate, it is there for legitimate emergency purposes. The Government is shamelessly abusing this mechanism on a regular basis. More than once in recent months the House has been suspended as a result of a lack of business. In the past number of weeks, however, ten Bills have been earmarked for the guillotine.

The Minister showed further contempt for the parliamentary process in the manner in which this Bill was launched. On the day on which it was published, he hosted a media briefing on the Bill. Later that afternoon, officials from his Department met Opposition spokespersons to ask if they had any questions in respect of a Bill which runs to 34 pages and which they had only received hours earlier. While I value the role of the media in the parliamentary process, it was highly inappropriate that the level of courtesy extended to it was denied to elected Members of the House.

The Government has already reaped the harvest of keeping the Opposition in the dark by guillotining debate. However, it has not learned anything from the experience. Two years ago, the House debated what was to become the Criminal Justice Act 2007. That legislation was rushed through the House in a manner similar to that which applies in respect of this Bill. The Criminal Justice Act 2007 and the Criminal Justice Act 2006 were heralded as the solution to the gangland problem. They were recognised as such by the Minister when he stated in November 2008 that the Government of which he was a member in 2006 and 2007 had brought forward an "extensive package of criminal law reform aimed at tackling gangland". The phrase "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", was used in an amendment he moved to a Private Members' motion on 18 November 2008.

In his speech on his counter motion on crime he stated: "we have recently begun to see clear evidence that the reforms are working." That analysis was clearly wishful thinking on the part of the Minister. This year, we have already had 17 gangland murders, compared to a CSO figure of 16 for all of 2008. The measures in the Criminal Justice Acts 2006 and 2007 are manifestly not working. The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, believes the solution to this failure is to rush this further legislation through the House. I believe the solution lies in critical analysis, evidence-based legislation and targeted resources. I would like the Minister to avail of the opportunity to brief the House on what kind of analysis was undertaken in respect of the Criminal Justice Acts 2006 and 2007. What are the flaws in those Bills that now necessitate further legislation? It is not good practice to continue rushing criminal justice legislation through Parliament in the manner in which Governments have been doing since 2006. A thoughtful, collaborative approach assessing the problems with past legislation and the solutions this House can offer would be a far better approach.

I have informed the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, many times and have assured this House that Fine Gael would support measures to tackle gangland crime. Rather than avail of the opportunity for a bipartisan approach to gangland crime, the Minister has treated the Opposition with contempt. He arrogantly assumes that it is simply beneath him to engage with his fellow elected representatives when new legislation is being considered. The Minister may believe that he is only showing contempt for a person, but the reality is he is showing contempt for the thousands of citizens who elected us, the members of the Opposition, to this House. His narrow, partisan party political approach may appear to him to be good politics, but it will not lead to good law, as history has shown us.

Since the publication of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill earlier this week, the human rights and civil liberties groups have been warning ominously that this is a Bill which tramples on constitutional rights. Particular concerns have been raised in respect of the use of non-jury trials. While the use of the Special Criminal Court for crime of a subversive nature is a measure that Fine Gael supports, none the less, we must ensure that solid, empirical evidence makes the case for referring trials involving gangland members to this court. Removing the jury from a trial involving an indictable offence must be a measure of last resort. As we all know, the jury system has been a feature of common law jurisdictions for hundreds of years and a move away from this approach to criminal law must not be made without careful consideration supported by robust research findings.

We are told that a non-jury court is preferable because of intimidation of jurors. To the best of my knowledge, such intimidation remains anecdotal. Where is the evidence that intimidation of jurors is allowing criminals to escape justice? The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform recently responded to a parliamentary question which I tabled in respect of alleged juror intimidation, stating that such matters were "sensitive" and "confidential" and he would need to confer with the Garda to establish how the parliamentary question would be answered. The Minister knows perfectly well that I was not seeking information on a list of jurors or a list of cases. My rationale for asking the question was to ascertain whether empirical data existed showing that this was an issue. I have no doubt that such data could be collated while preserving the confidentiality and anonymity of jurors.

On a point of order, I have replied in a letter, giving details of the number of cases that have been taken under section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1999.

No doubt we will get the letter some time in the future when this debate has long since been consigned to history and the guillotine exercised on parliamentary debate. The Constitution enshrines the right to trial by jury and if the Minister intends this Bill to survive a constitutional challenge, or a challenge in a supranational court, he must be able to produce evidence that non-jury trials are warranted by facts in previous gangland trials.

While the provision for use of the Special Criminal Court under the Offences Against the State Act 1939 withstood constitutional challenge in the case of Kavanagh v. Governor of Mountjoy Prison and others in 2002, it must be noted that the United Nations Human Rights found that the manner in which the State had handled that matter was in violation of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The UN committee found that the State had failed to demonstrate that the decision to try Kavanagh before the Special Criminal Court was “based on reasonable and objective grounds” and, therefore, the accused’s right to “equality before the law and to the equal protection of the law has been violated”. It brings no honour to Ireland to be found in breach of a UN covenant to which we are a party. Removing the jury from the equation must be a matter of last resort and we must ensure that alternatives have been explored and dismissed for valid reasons before taking this step.

Yesterday's edition of The Irish Times noted that there has been no evidence that jurors are reluctant to convict gang members in this jurisdiction and, moreover, that the new Criminal Court complex which is due to open shortly has special facilities for jurors to ensure that they cannot be “got at” during the course of a trial.

The Bill contains a provision mandating annual Oireachtas ratification of the Special Criminal Court under this proposed legislation. As we are all well aware from the manner in which similar provisions in the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act are dealt with each year, this provides for nothing more than a rubber stamp. For the two years that I have been Fine Gael's justice spokesperson, renewal of the relevant sections of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act have been rushed through the Dáil at the last minute. The Government Chief Whip, the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, advised that it needed to be renewed immediately or the provision would lapse, as I was informed by my party Whip, Deputy Kehoe. This year, the Government gave the House 40 minutes to debate the renewal of sections 2 to 4, inclusive, 6 to 12, inclusive, 14 and 17 of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998. Such a careless and flippant approach makes a mockery of what is supposed to be a constitutional safeguard.

More generally speaking, reform is long overdue in respect of how our juries are constituted. At present, a preposterous range of professionals are excluded from jury duty, ab initio, and I would like the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to take on the issue of jury reform head on, rather than skirt around it.

Similarly, new measures in respect of detention procedures in Part 4 of the Bill are likely to give rise to constitutional challenges. It is a significant departure to allow a garda of any rank in private and without legal representation to give evidence to a judge in order to secure an extension of the detention period. While I am not calling into question the professionalism of the Garda Síochána, the custom heretofore of limiting the right to a senior officer reflected the importance of the experience and expertise that a garda of this rank has accumulated. In addition, the provision reflected the gravity of the measure which precluded the defendant, his or her legal representative or the prosecutor from being present while the garda was giving evidence to the judge. I would like the Minister to confirm to the House that he is confident that altering the status quo in respect of from whom judges may hear relevant evidence is constitutionally sound. I would like to hear the rationale for making this change, which is very significant and far-reaching, whereby a judge and a junior garda can make decisions without reference to any other person and in private.

In respect of the Bill's provisions on post-release orders, concerns have been raised in respect of the vague nature of restrictions or conditions which can be imposed on a person after release. The Minister referred to the post-release orders being similar to those that have been included in the sexual offences legislation. However, they are not working and are not being deployed. We have not seen the electronic tagging that he announced on numerous occasions since he became Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I know of no sexual offender whose post-release order involved electronic tagging and such post-release orders have been confined to signing the register, which in some recent cases has been found to be flawed in itself. The record in that regard is not great.

I wish to hear on Committee Stage the Minister's views on the constitutionality of these measures. Moreover, it is not sufficient to state that one is advised by the Attorney General that everything is all right or that the Attorney General has informed one that matters are constitutionally sound. Members must debate the rationale and the precedent for this matter and must debate what is or is not best practice or is sustainable in this regard.

In respect of inferences to be drawn from the right to silence, which already exists on the Statute Book and again is contained in this Bill, this is a measure that Fine Gael believes is necessary in certain types of criminal cases. However, once again there is no point in bringing in a measure that may subsequently fall foul of the Supreme Court on constitutional grounds or of the European Court of Human Rights. Therefore, I suggest the Minister should introduce a provision to ensure that accused persons have access to a legal adviser in order that they are fully aware that invoking their right to silence may have adverse consequences at their trial.

While the role of the Oireachtas is to legislate, a much greater and further reaching responsibility lies on the Government. Ramming legislation through the Oireachtas will be the easy part for the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, as he has both the numbers to so do and the power to use the guillotine mechanism. Flaws in our parliamentary system give him this luxury. It is easy to amend the criminal laws but the hard part lies in the governance of the criminal justice system.

Ireland will go down an undesirable road if we adopt the approach that it is cheaper to introduce harsher laws than to provide the resources necessary to allow existing laws to be used successfully against criminals for the protection of the greater good in society. No amount of new laws can be a substitute for a well-resourced Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, a well-resourced Garda Síochána with access to top level technology, a modern, specialist approach to evidence that would be facilitated by a DNA database or for following the recommendations of Professor Kopp in respect of the State Laboratory.

After 11 years, digital radio for the Garda Síochána on a nationwide level still is lacking. Less than half the Garda stations are equipped with e-mail and the Garda PULSE system remains cumbersome and difficult. The State Laboratory has half the staff that an expert report recommended it needed to carry out its work in an efficient and effective manner. The Director of Public Prosecutions has seen his budget cut in recent months by the Government, which led him to make an unprecedented statement that he will find it difficult to run his office in the manner in which he is required by law. We still lack a structured system for identity parades with two-way glass to protect witnesses. Although the Minister talks about jury protection, he should tell Members about witness protection. Rather than taking a practical step in respect of two-way glass, the Minister instead tells one that the witness protection programme is a failure for societal reasons and that there is nothing to be done. This is hardly a visionary or practical approach.

I will return to the points I make frequently in respect of gangland crime. First, to defeat the gangsters, one must cut off their financial oxygen supply. While it is true that the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, does admirable work, it also is true that by the time the CAB intervenes, such criminals already have peddled a considerable amount of drugs and acquired considerable wealth from their criminal activity and a large amount of damage already has been done. Where is the commitment to putting resources into curtailing criminal activity at an earlier stage? What is the twisted rationale behind having a single X-ray container scanner to cover all of our ports? It is well known that this scanner moves around and that its movements are monitored by criminals, who simply use a port that is scanner-free when importing drugs. It is negligence of a scandalous degree on the Government's part to allow this situation to continue.

Similarly, an inquiry into the level of customs checks at smaller and private airports reveals that checks are rare or simply non-existent and to state that it is not cost-effective to have a customs presence is to be penny wise and pound foolish. How much do the ravages of drugs cost this State on an annual basis? Has a comparative analysis been done in respect of the high price we pay due to the easy availability of drugs versus the cost of stemming the tide of drugs pouring into the State daily? A single patrol boat to man the coastline is painfully inadequate. If one speaks to someone from a coastal area, such as my colleague, Deputy P. J. Sheehan, he or she will tell one that it is widely known that drugs frequently come in along the coast at night. While the establishment of the EU Maritime Analysis and Operation Centre-Narcotics constitutes a huge step forward, we cannot rely on the European Union to solve our problems in this regard and the absence of such an approach is a dereliction of duty by the Government.

Second, I frequently have made the case for prison reform. Our strange prison system is one in which we lock people up for failing to pay a television licence fee but allow subversive prisoners to march while in prison, to parade in a military style and to intimidate prison officers. We allow gangsters to conduct their business by mobile telephone and allow drug addicts to avail of packages lobbed over the walls of Mountjoy Prison on a regular basis. We pack in prisoners tightly in Dickensian conditions and then feign surprise when they come out and reoffend. Although little is done to assist the illiterate and the mentally ill who make up a sizable proportion of the prison population, prisoners who have been incarcerated for the gravest of offences appear to enjoy a better standard of living than do other inmates. Reform at this level also is required if we are to take on gangland crime at a root and branch level.

Ireland needs a Minister who is willing to approach criminal justice in a broad ranging and cohesive fashion. We need a recognition that reform is needed across the board from juries to prisons. We need a Government that recognises that huge problems like organised crime cannot be solved in isolation by one Department but require co-ordination across Departments. For example, it is essential that the Department of Finance co-operates on the matter of customs resources.

However, the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, likes the easy route. He prefers to ban legally held firearms than to tackle illegal firearms. He prefers to get rid of jury trials than to explore what other options are available. He prefers to ram through harsh measures without time for debate, despite the real risk that such provisions will fall foul of the courts on constitutional grounds or because of the European Convention on Human Rights. He prefers to give the Garda greater powers rather than providing it with greater resources or dealing with manpower and technology issues. This is not the path to dealing successfully with organised gangland crime.

Gangland crime is entrenched in our society and must be addressed with a multilayered, multifaceted, thoughtful and evidence-based approach that reflects best practice and not in a rushed manner that arguably is somewhat draconian. While the Minister sounds tough, his predecessor also sounded tough in 2006. No Minister was more tough sounding than the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell, before the election in 2007 and this measure is a repetition of that stance. Fine Gael broadly supports this Bill because it is anxious to play its part to bring an end to the spiral of gangland killing in this State. However, it is my firm belief that legislation is no substitute for resources at the coalface and I hope the Minister and his colleagues have the common sense to agree with this view.

In yesterday's edition of the Irish Examiner, the Limerick State solicitor welcomed the provisions of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill but said that it would face difficulties. When asked whether the new law represented a good day’s work, he replied:

It remains to be seen, but it is an attempt to address a very serious problem. And I have no doubt it will be challenged, and I have no doubt there will be difficulties ahead for this legislation. But something has ... to be done and we just can't roll over and let these people take over our city and our country.

He went on to state "the contract is being rewritten by the State on its terms, and I think rightly so".

I completely agree with the sentiments expressed by the State solicitor and everyone wants this matter to be dealt with. The Labour Party differs on this legislation, not on the sentiments regarding the need to tackle organised crime, but on whether the proposal before the House presents a solution to get society out of the morass in which it finds itself. One's natural instinct is to ensure that every innocent victim will get justice. One's human instinct is that the only way to handle these criminals is with a short, sharp shock. The question remains, however, of whether the proposal before us will result in a crack down on organised crime or in legal challenges to the legislation on a number of fronts. That question is not ideological, it is practical. Will this legislation assist in the pursuit of criminals in Limerick and west Dublin or will it be challenged by their legal representatives at every turn? Are we making good law or law that will be challenged due to loopholes?

In the Criminal Justice Act 2006, there is already a considerable body of law that should adequately deal with organised crime. I do not understand why the Government is hell-bent on swamping us with more law, common sense must prevail. We all want to see these criminals behind bars, and no one in this House would advocate a soft approach that would not see the blight of organised criminal activity wiped out once and for all, but we differ on how this can best be achieved. It cannot be achieved only through increased legislation, the dogs in the street will tell the Minister that the shortage of resources for the gardaí at the coalface is the most significant impediment to progress in bringing criminals to trial.

The idea that we apply more legislation without a comprehensive spend on overtime, surveillance and other enabling mechanisms that would allow gardaí to get on with the job raises serious questions about this Government's strategy to tackle gangland crime. If common sense was used, the gardaí would have all of the necessary intelligence gathering and surveillance mechanisms at their disposal to hinder any attempt at a crime. The fact remains that the cutting of overtime for gardaí and the likelihood that there will be a massive cull of more experienced gardaí near the end of their tenure due to the possible taxation of pension lump sums will further exacerbate the situation. We can have all the law we want but if the experience does not exist in the Garda Síochána to break down these criminal elements, it is all for nothing. Laws such as that proposed today will matter not one jot if the resources to match are not in place.

The first thing that strikes me is that there has been very little change to the definition of a criminal organisation from the 2006 Act except to include a requirement that two of the gang can be involved with a view to act in concert in the commission of an offence. Has anyone been convicted under section 72 of the 2006 Act that makes it an offence for a person to participate in or contribute to any activity of such an organisation?

It is a distraction to introduce a new offence under section 71(a) of directing the activities of a criminal organisation if it has not been possible to prove that a person is a member of a gang. To introduce a provision to establish the requisite intent is a gimmick. The new section 72(6) provides that it shall be presumed, until the contrary is shown, that participation or contribution was made with the requisite state of mind if the circumstances under which the relevant act was committed involved the possession by the defendant in the presence of one or more other persons of a balaclava, boiler suit or other means of disguise. I hope the plumbers and handymen of the country know that wearing a boiler suit is now proof of requisite criminal intent of membership of a criminal organisation.

The Minister has argued this legislation is necessary to uphold the rule of law. Instead, by introducing a system whereby instead of seeking out evidence and putting it before a jury, a garda's opinion will suffice to convict and this can be done before a court sitting without a jury. Granted, this is not the first time the opinion of a garda has been used to replace the obligation to obtain evidence and allow a court to decide on guilt, the Offences Against the State Act 1972 provided that in prosecutions for membership of a paramilitary organisation, the evidence of a chief superintendent as to that membership could be admissible. At least the fact that only a very senior garda could give such evidence gave an indication of the seriousness of the matter. Now, however, a prosecution can rest on the opinion of any garda who has the appropriate expertise. This is a meaningless criterion because it is difficult to envisage a court refusing to hear the opinion evidence of a trained member of the Garda Síochána on the basis that he or she does not know enough about gangs.

The garda's opinion can be based on the fact that the individual in question has previous convictions. Again, the Minister has already asked us to support the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Bill, which will allow gardaí to plant listening devices where there is a suspicion of any arrestable offence. I have no issue with this. The stated purpose of that legislation is to obtain evidence with which to pursue gangland crimes but now we find we are not even going to rely on such evidence and instead all we will require is the opinion of a garda. The Minister stated that such evidence will not go to the guilt of the person in question but there must be a further clarification on that point.

Section 71 onwards deals with the Special Criminal Court, the main issue here. If the perceived problem is that witnesses are afraid to give evidence, and we distinguish between witnesses and those who are members of a jury, surely the Minister should be looking at greater support for witnesses? Any Bill that states that "it is hereby declared that the ordinary courts are inadequate to secure the effective administration of justice and the preservation of public peace and order in relation to an offence under each of the following provisions" conveys the impression that the current legal remedies are inadequate and must be overhauled. Are we in a de facto state of emergency? The Minister in this legislation expressly states that the ordinary courts are inadequate to deal with criminal organisations. That is a serious contention that goes to the heart of the common law system and must be further analysed. No evidence has been presented to demonstrate why the current operation of the courts is inadequate. The provision in section 8 amends the Offences Against the State Act 1939 to allow certain offences to be tried at the non-jury Special Criminal Court, including the offence of directing a criminal organisation, participation in or contribution to certain activities, and the commission of an offence for a criminal organisation. We acknowledge the role of the Special Criminal Court in that context and its powers have been extended in this regard.

The protection of jury members and witnesses has been suggested as the reason for extending the remit of the Special Criminal Court. However, as recently as last month, speaking at the annual prosecutors' conference, the Director of Public Prosecutions raised an important point about the participation of the ordinary citizen in the criminal justice system through service on juries. This, he said, "imports a degree of democratic legitimacy into the system". This is a point that is worth bearing in mind. One can infer from this statement that it is in question whether the reality of the DPP referring a case to the Special Criminal Court will actually play out, given the potential doubt as to whether this legislation will stand on its own two feet and withstand any legal challenge down the line.

The issue of witness intimidation will not be solved simply by the use of the Special Criminal Court, as witnesses will still need to give evidence in court. The common sense point of view is that witness protection should be dealt with by instigating measures designed to protect witnesses' identities, if necessary, in addition to Garda protection operations. This is a more rational approach.

The decision on whether to prosecute a case in the Special Criminal Court comes down to one law officer, the DPP. The existence of total discretion on his or her part as to whether to prosecute and to prosecute in the Special Criminal Court or otherwise is a significant power and must be exercised with great caution. Perhaps the Bill could be amended to put this power on a statutory footing. That would be a reasonable approach. Could we not instead enact a provision within that section along the lines of the UK practice whereby the prosecution may apply for a non-jury trial in cases in which it can show evidence of a real danger of jury tampering? This would ensure a robust response where there is proof of jury tampering. The question for this Legislature is whether the provision is a new departure from the norm compared to other common law jurisdictions. At what point should we depart from a principle enshrined in our Constitution for the pursuance of a goal that can be achieved by means other than fundamentally changing the basis of a criminal trial, namely the right to trial by jury? The Minister should think long and hard about this provision.

I put it to the Minister that the provisions contained within existing legislation should be adequate to deal with the fundamental premise of this Bill; namely, the eradication of organised crime. There is some presumption that the new provisions are based on the threat posed by criminal gangs. It conveys an impression that the people engaged in such criminal activity possess a malevolent influence that is beyond the powers of normal court procedures to pursue. I do not buy into this. It presumes that we in this House — representatives of the people — no longer have the confidence to curb criminal activity within the normal legal parameters and must embark on some pretence at emergency provisions to placate certain viewpoints.

We have developed a new language and rhetoric with regard to organised crime and it needs to be deconstructed. These people are mere individuals. They do not live in locations that are beyond the powers of surveillance. The High Chaparral in Limerick is not a remote location. People can be photographed and tracked and their movements can be traced. They are not possessed of special powers and the existing judicial system and corpus of law, coupled with the provision of adequate Garda resources, should be robust enough to bring them to justice.

I wonder whether terms such as "organised crime" would ever have crept into our lexicon and would need to be legislated for if the State had provided adequate funding for Garda operations such as Anvil, which allowed the development of surveillance and checkpoints and acted as a thorn in the side of criminals. The ability of the Garda to tackle crime is severely hampered by a cut in Garda overtime from approximately €120 million last year to €80 million this year. A total of €21 million has been set aside this year for Operation Anvil, yet the State is spending approximately €12 million on policing north Mayo. Does the Minister not see an inherent contradiction in his own policy in this regard?

I doubt if one extra gangland boss or minion will be brought to justice as a result of the measures contained within the Bill. We do not argue against any provision that addresses the increasing levels of violence and intimidation directed at witnesses and juries, or the use of the Special Criminal Court for the hearing of particular organised crime offences, but I would like to see some proof of the fact that juries are systematically being intimidated. Does it really happen?

The Deputy should move to Limerick.

It is one thing to suggest that witnesses are being intimidated, but the suggestion that juries are being systematically intimidated and that this requires a seismic shift away from trial by jury should not be entertained without further analysis. That a country of this size, which is not densely populated, must resort to such measures suggests that the successful tackling of crime should be predicated on the application of resources and not necessarily on a fundamental change in the law. If there is proof beyond doubt that juries are being tampered with and intimidated, there are protective instruments that can be applied which are practical and based on a common sense approach. These are well documented.

Under section 7 of the Bill, the opinion of any garda who appears to the court to possess the appropriate expertise will be admissible as evidence of the existence of a criminal organisation. Under this section, expertise means experience, specialised knowledge or qualifications.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties drafted a paper prior to the instigation of this legislation from which I will quote. I do not necessarily agree with all the views espoused by the various civil society organisations and I have my own view about the rule of law. However, there are certain points of law addressed by the ICCL which should be read into the record. It points out that the opinion of the garda can be informed by the existence of previous convictions of the accused. The Supreme Court has considered the use of belief evidence and its compatibility with Article 38 of the Constitution and Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which deals with the right to a fair trial.

While a garda may claim privilege as to his or her sources when being cross-examined about belief evidence, the Supreme Court is clear that a conviction cannot take place without supportive or corroborative evidence in recognition of the disadvantage that accrues to the defence in a trial. Moreover, in regard to the rank of garda who is entitled to provide belief evidence, the court has stated that the relevant provisions of the Offences Against the State Act 1939 were carefully crafted to ensure belief evidence must come from an officer of the Garda Síochána not below the rank of chief superintendent. This, the Supreme Court stated, was with a view to establishing trust and credibility as far as possible. This must be borne in mind in regard to the provisions contained within this Bill. The UN human rights committee has referred to decisions of the Director of Public Prosecutions in assigning cases to the courts not being made public. To confer further powers on the Director of Public Prosecutions for the hearing of particular organised crime offences in the Special Criminal Court on the basis of his or her total discretion begs the question as to whether the application of increased Garda resources might be a more reasonable solution to the problem which would negate the need for these provisions.

On the matter of secret detention hearings, under Part 4 of the Bill, procedures of District Court detention hearings for the purposes of extending the detention of persons under the Offences Against the State Act are altered. One legal opinion suggests it is contrary to the principles of fair trial that the Bill allows for the hearing to take place in private if the judge considers there may be a risk of prejudice. In justifying this, it is claimed that members of organised criminal gangs are attending the detention hearings and deciphering the direction of the investigation from the evidence given in court. However, this provision fundamentally alters the nature of criminal justice in this State, allowing for the judge to hear evidence from a garda of any rank, in private and without legal representation. This includes answers to questions and a cross-examination without either the defendant, his or her legal representatives or the prosecutor present. In essence, this means a person can be held without knowledge of the grounds on which the judge is justifying his or her continued detention. That detention can be justified by secret information from any member of the Garda Síochána, irrespective of his or her expertise or experience. Regardless of whether or not we are convinced of the necessity for such provisions, the reality is that any criminal lawyer worth his or her salt will most likely be able to identify any number of potential loopholes and, thus, the prospect of a legal challenge.

We must also look at our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. Even where we are seeking to make provision for heinous crimes such as murder, our obligations under the convention remain clear. We must avoid a situation where a person detained on a murder charge ultimately walks free as a consequence of a challenge to this law under an Article 40 provision. It does not matter whether or not we are in favour of waiving Article 40 rights in emergency situations. My point is that we must avoid making bad law or law that will be discovered by a good criminal lawyer to have all types of loopholes. That is how the State has typically dealt with issues relating to criminality heretofore. Criminal lawyers have always been able to find loopholes that have allowed people to walk free in certain circumstances. If we are to tackle this problem once and for all, we must make robust and effective law that will not be subjected to future challenge at a supranational court, as Deputy Charles Flanagan observed.

We intend to propose several amendments to the Bill on Committee Stage. Practical changes can be made that will not alter the Minister's modus operandi in seeking to tackle organised crime. In particular, we must ensure there is protection for witnesses and that jury tampering does not take place. I understand the courts in the United Kingdom have found that the state is obliged to take particular steps to protect certain vulnerable categories of people such as witnesses. We are not so naive as to suggest there is an onus on the State to prevent every possibility of violence, but where individuals are exposed to threats to their lives, the State will, in certain circumstances, be obliged to provide police protection. In order to fulfil these obligations, we must ensure effective measures are taken to thwart attempts to trace witnesses and collaborators of justice by criminal organisations. Several procedures can be put in place to ensure juries are not tampered with and that witnesses are afforded adequate protections. These must be brought forward as practical measures in line with the implementation of this legislation.

Any procedural rules that are enacted to protect the rights of witnesses must be formulated taking into account the need to safeguard the criminal trial process. Measures which could be made available to assist witnesses include anonymity before, during and after the criminal trial. However, this should be an exceptional measure and should be set down in law so that procedures are available for the defence to challenge the need for anonymity.

A cause of concern in the criminal justice system is the considerable delay in court proceedings in the State. If court proceedings could be expedited in a timely fashion, this would offset the risk of any potential tampering with juries. We should not set about fundamentally changing our common law system when we could instead tackle criminals with robust measures through adequately funded and effective policing mechanisms. While we agree with the tenor of the Bill in terms of what it seeks to achieve, we are of the view that it requires amendment.

I propose to share time with the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

In an ideal world, any Government would be reluctant to bring forward the types of extraordinary provision contained in this legislation. This State is recognised internationally for its highly developed sense of jurisprudence and respect for human rights, as enshrined in the Constitution. This is a reflection of our values as a people. We have a deep respect for the right to fair trial, constitutional justice and fair procedures. The question we must ask is whether this legislation reflects our society as it is today.

Deputy Sherlock asked if these measures were needed as they would bring about a fundamental change in our legal system. Our society has changed fundamentally and today we must address whether the provisions in this legislation adequately reflect the changed reality of our society in the first instance and if they reflect the values of our people in their desire to have a response to that changed reality.

Deputy Sherlock mentioned the word "naivety" a number of times during his contribution and I will address that later in my contribution. There is much naivety in this debate as the reality is we are dealing with some of the most ruthless and callous people ever to come into our society. We can see it in my home city at first hand; naivety is something the people of Limerick do not expect of their legislators and they want responses which are commensurate and proportionate to the threat they face.

My city has changed radically in the past ten years. We now have highly organised criminal gangs which do not only operate in the city but which have also committed crimes in Dublin. As these people are prepared to intimidate jurors in my city of Limerick, it would be naive to think they are not capable or willing of intimidating jurors in this or any other city in the country.

I marched with 10,000 people in Limerick a few short weeks ago in response to the callous murder of Roy Collins, and I would have liked all Members of the House to have joined us in that march to see what happened at its margins. People were on the streets with mobile telephones and cameras taking footage of the people of Limerick marching to defend their rights and city. These were not tourists but members of criminal gangs. That is the type of intimidation we are talking about; it is a culture which is all-pervading in society.

It would be naive to think the intimidation we are trying to tackle is just the silent telephone call to a juror at 2 a.m. in the dead of night. This is a collective intimidation of the people and potential jurors in this country. Each year, dozens of people come into my constituency office with a witness summons and I can see the fear in their eyes and concern they have about serving on a jury in my home city. I am almost ashamed to say this but it is the reality we must deal with none the less. We cannot walk away from this and the question is whether our response is proportionate to that changed reality.

Like all Members, we would like an infinite amount of time to discuss this legislation but the threat is real and current. We will have four and a half hours now to discuss the legislation, four hours on Tuesday after the Order of Business and approximately three hours on the following Friday. That will be a total of 11.5 hours. We would all like more time but the people of Limerick when they marched said with a very clear and loud voice that they wanted answers and an immediate response.

What is that response to be? Are we to do nothing and continue with the existing system, which is the logical conclusion of the Labour Party argument? Do we go so far as to introduce internment, which was advocated by many, including some people who marched with me, although I do not personally advocate it? Do we, as Deputy Sherlock mentioned, add significant resources to combat the problem? The Garda Síochána in Limerick has indicated that it has the necessary resources and they are working well. The track record of the Garda in Limerick proves that. Do we give the Garda and the Judiciary the tools with which to deal with these extraordinary crimes?

The Government response is that we treat this threat the same as that which was posed to our country over 20 or 30 years by subversive organisations. There is little difference in the threats if we consider the characteristics of the crimes and the gangs or organisations we are dealing with. One could draw a direct comparison as both groups are ultimately highly organised and the leaders very rarely carry out the acts we are talking about. Their objective is to threaten the people of the State in their individual communities and they see themselves as being above the State.

We are once again in a battle between the State and organised crime so it is logical and reasonable to use the same tools against these nefarious organisations that we used successfully against organised crime in this country. I hope all Members of this House subscribe to that simple logical argument.

The question was repeatedly posed regarding the appropriateness or otherwise of the use of the Special Criminal Court. The tenor of Deputy Sherlock's contribution echoed an organisation's statement that the lawful basis of administration of justice would be undermined by the introduction of this legislation.

I cannot agree with that but if I am misquoting the Deputy, I withdraw my remark.

It is not what I said.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties——

I could clarify it for the Minister of State.

I have a limited amount of time but that is the tenor of the accusation made.

The Special Criminal Court can be used under the existing framework.

I have limited time——

Deputy Sherlock's comments are already on the record.

——but that is the tenor of the allegations made against this legislation. I cannot agree with that as the thousands of people with whom we marched in Limerick have said that if we do not proceed along these lines, the gangs and organisations will ultimately take control.

We deal with the Garda Síochána and the State solicitor in Limerick, Mr. Michael Murray, on a regular basis. Mr. Murray stated publicly this week that he has no doubt whatever that jurors are being intimidated and the gardaí tell us jurors are intimidated even by the mere presence in court of the criminals. It is impossible to get properly constituted juries; hundreds of potential jurors were sought in criminal cases in the past two years in Limerick but it has been very difficult to fill juries. That speaks for itself.

In the limited time available I would like to discuss briefly the other issue which has caused much discussion, the evidence of gardaí regarding the classification of an organisation as a criminal gang. This is an important provision because in order to convict somebody of directing an organised criminal activity as part of a criminal gang, one must prove conclusively that there is a criminal gang. From my personal knowledge of meeting with the gardaí in Limerick, I know they are the most qualified people to give this expert evidence before the court. The fact that they are gardaí does not alter the fact that they are the most appropriate people to give this evidence as they can say this from their own experience.

We must remember that in giving that expert evidence, they can be tested and it is not conclusive. Gardaí can be cross-examined by defence counsel and ultimately it is for the three-judge Special Criminal Court to use the same standards of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. That has not and will never change. It is the manner in which we go about this process in a very changed society that we need to address.

How will witnesses be dealt with in the Special Criminal Court?

It is naive to believe we can do it under the existing system.

I welcome this Bill. The freedom of our society and the protection of what former Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave, called the institutions of the State should take precedent over petty politicking.

Democratic societies must be vigorous in defending themselves against assault or people who regard themselves as above the law. Since the late 1920s, this State has faced many challenges to its authority from armed groups. The traditional jury trial system has not always been able to cope with such challenges. The Offences Against the State Act 1939 and the establishment of the Special Criminal Court in 1972 have enabled State and society to counter ruthless armed subversion with considerable success over the long term. A three-judge court has many merits. The judges, who are all immensely experienced, confer and act collegially and, given that they have the full backing of the State, they are not vulnerable to intimidation. This is not to say, however, that attempts are never made to intimidate them in court. Most importantly, their reputation is linked to their judgments, whereas a jury verdict — right or wrong — has few consequences for the personal reputation of any of its members. Since the 1980s, I am not aware of any allegations of a serious miscarriage of justice in the Special Criminal Court. In many ways, it represents the Irish justice system at its best. It is tough and efficient in protecting citizens from potential anarchy but not at the expense of innocents. I have great respect for its judges.

The rights of citizens, and especially the rights to life, bodily integrity, freedom from fear and a peaceful and law abiding society, are paramount. Gangland warfare is as serious a threat to these rights as paramilitary violence and it is not good enough for the State to act as a helpless bystander. There is every justification for redeploying the tried and tested mechanisms used against illegal terrorist organisations in the fight against drug related gangland warfare. The jury system continues to play a vital role in more traditional criminal and civil court cases, although the number of exemptions from jury service now allowed raises questions about its representative character.

It is not acceptable that only criminal underlings are caught and sentenced whereas gang leaders direct from a distance and derive the biggest benefits from the proceeds of crime. A real deterrent to organised crime is required from top to bottom. We need to demonstrate the sheer stupidity and futility of spending the best years of one's life behind bars. No financial or lifestyle gain temporarily acquired is worth that price. We have to restore communities' confidence that crime will not be allowed to prevail in any part of this State. We have over the years taken many unusual initiatives to combat crime, one of the most effective of which was the establishment of the Criminal Assets Bureau. If the system allows too many criminals to evade justice and flaunt their wealth, extraordinary measures have to be devised and implemented.

Like most of its predecessors, this Bill has encountered libertarian reservations. As shown in respect of Donegal, this State is not afraid where necessary to investigate real or alleged abuses of power by members of its law enforcement agencies. Nobody today condones or tolerates physical maltreatment of suspects or so-called confessions dictated under physical duress or deprivation. While inferences can be drawn from silence, it has to be remembered that avoiding self-incrimination may not always be the motive for silence. People sometimes prefer to be thought guilty than admit to a personally embarrassing alibi or incriminate somebody who might do harm to them.

We should have as much concern for the human rights and liberties of the citizen whose life has been adversely affected, permanently damaged or ended as for those who are accused and before a court. Human rights and civil liberties matter, as is clearly revealed by despotic societies in which people are sometimes driven to the streets to demand change. These rights and liberties are best protected by a rigorous and impartial law enforcement system which does not let anyone become too powerful to evade justice. A long established judicial system will not always be adequate to deal with sophisticated gangs possessing the latest equipment. The criminal justice system not only has to match their systems but must also be capable of breaking them up.

I congratulate the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and his officials on bringing forward this Bill and strengthening the ability of the Garda and the courts to deal with the scourge of gangland crime. What goes on in the nearby city of Limerick is a matter of concern for the people of west Tipperary. I note the Minister's statement that the murder of Roy Collins finally converted him to the necessity of this legislation. We all look forward to the upper tiers of criminal gangs being brought to justice. We once had to listen to near daily reports of fresh victims of the Troubles. Today, news bulletins report the latest victims of gangland crime. The Bill before us can help us overcome that evil. It is time to demoralise criminal gangs and improve the reputation and quality of life in deprived urban areas which also need positive programmes of regeneration. I hope the Bill brings an end to the situation whereby certain notorious criminals walk around with impunity even though gardaí have clear intelligence on their activities. Above all, I hope we can begin to deter young people from the criminal world, where they are literally deprived of their future.

I look forward to the Bill's implementation and to seeing its impact.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill although, like other speakers, I am concerned that the time allowed for debate is not sufficient. Some of us have been calling for this kind of legislation for several years. I have been in this House for more than a few years and can recall the all-night debate that took place on the Criminal Justice Act 1984. Like other Deputies, I raised concerns about civil liberties. However, the advice we received at the time that civil liberties would be seriously eroded by the Act was wrong.

Unfortunately, the rights of ordinary law-abiding citizens have been cast aside and trampled in the past 15 years. This Bill should have been before the House at least ten years ago because the activities of criminal gangs are virtually unchallenged. These gangs have intimidated witnesses, jurors and society and have frustrated gardaí and the courts.

A court in the United States recently sentenced a person to 150 years in prison, which must be a sobering thought for anyone involved in criminal activities. However, it is more likely that a person who committed similar crimes in this country would be rewarded rather than punished. What have we done wrong? The rights of society have been eroded while we watched from the sidelines. People have been shot, maimed and intimidated. Organised money laundering, racketeering and drug smuggling, which we used to associate with criminal gangs in Chicago, are now commonplace here. I have heard stories in this regard from some of my own constituents.

I am not certain whether this Bill is sufficient. I have had this conversation with several predecessors of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It will only work if there is a clear intent by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to ensure that the Bill's proposals are carried out to the letter. Any avoidance of that will cause problems.

Let us look at the way things have happened. We have all had instances where people bring to our attention the fact that serious criminal activity is going on. The media tell us regularly that people have been shot who are "known to gardaí". We ask ourselves how such people can be known to the gardaí, yet nothing happens. We must protect people's rights and entitlements, as well as ensuring that an accused person has a fair trial. It is part and parcel of our society that a trial is fair, but the process must also be fair to society. There is no use in it being fair for the accused, if society is ignored and the public's rights and entitlements are trampled upon. If that were the case, the trial would no longer be fair.

Society is under threat because it is not being protected by the laws of the land. The institutions of the State are under daily threat from organised criminals and nobody is better at doing it than they are. What will we do about this situation? The Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, referred to detention.

He mentioned internment, but I do not think that is the answer. However, I do not see anything wrong with detention while awaiting trial. That must be considered but it will not be considered in this context except by a circuitous route. The Minister has more knowledge of the legal system than I have, but until these people — whether they are major or minor players — are put behind bars while a case is compiled against them, society will not win because they are too powerful. They are virtually an army now with a wide scale of influence. They continue to intimidate the media and did so in the infamous and tragic case of Veronica Guerin. Everybody said how awful it was, yet it happened before our eyes. She was intimidated many times by criminal elements, but she fearlessly pressed on and wrote about them. It took a great deal of guts to do so, but where did it get her? Society let her down. This House then moved to establish the Criminal Assets Bureau and improve the law in favour of society and those who were standing up to criminal elements.

Even now, following all that Veronica Guerin challenged through her writing, investigative journalists are being threatened regularly. They have written about it repeatedly. I often wonder whether the courts are being intimidated as well. The way criminal elements treat the legal system suggests that the courts are also under threat.

Some time ago, together with the late Tony Gregory and others, I visited other European jurisdictions to ascertain the degree to which information was swapped between police forces throughout Europe. Unfortunately, however, it only happens on a limited basis. In the last six months the Joint Committee on European Affairs was addressed by representatives of Europol and Eurojust. From those meetings we learned that the police authorities in some EU member states were able to get more information from the media than from their counterparts or governments in other EU countries. There is something wrong with that situation and the criminal elements well know it. They pursue their activities in a way which puts them above and beyond the law by virtue of the cover they get from that lack of co-operation between police forces. I do not want to go into the benefits that would accrue to the justice system from the Lisbon treaty because that is a matter for another day.

Another issue that must be tackled is the abuse of the bail laws. I cannot understand how somebody accused of a serious criminal offence — where there is clear corroborative evidence to the effect that the person committed a crime such as murder, maiming or extortion — has the right to bail until such time as he or she is proved guilty. This is happening on the basis of a Supreme Court decision way back in the 1960s where it was deemed that all persons were innocent until proven guilty. In theory they are, but if they are a threat to society, including the courts, gardaí and the public, then to my mind they have no right to bail. Their right to bail should be challenged, which will require a constitutional amendment. Whatever it requires, it needs to be dealt with because if not, the kind of contempt we have seen for the courts and the judicial system in general will continue.

I accept that everyone is entitled to a legal defence, but it is the nature of that defence that worries me from time to time. While this is not a criticism of the legal profession, I cannot understand how somebody can go into court to defend the indefensible on the basis of the legal right to a defence. Some of my colleagues are legal professionals and my comments do not refer to them. I cannot understand how somebody in the course of defending someone charged with a criminal offence, can denigrate or defame a deceased victim by purely using a tissue of lies. How can that be countenanced by the legal profession and the courts? There have been a number of such cases in recent times. Whether they concern organised, individual or haphazard crime, it is high time a cold, hard gaze was cast upon the abuse of that right to a defence. That abuse is being upheld and supported by people in the legal profession who know full well that a tissue of lies is involved. In the interests of their own credibility, it must be time for someone to say "Because I know you're telling lies, I will refuse to defend you on that basis, so find another defence".

Deputy Sherlock referred to previous convictions, which is an old chestnut. One readily understands that in a criminal trial a reference to previous convictions could well prejudice the jury. It could create a situation where the accused person appeals to a higher court and gets off scot free on the basis that his or her right to a fair trial was prejudiced. That is grand but there should be some measurement of the extent and degree of the previous activity of the individual concerned — which the Bill does to some extent — in order to come to some kind of fair-minded conclusion as to whether or not it was good for society that this person should be acquitted on this basis.

Not so long ago, I read of a case where a person from another jurisdiction was on trial in another jurisdiction — the heart of this island in fact. He had a string of convictions and was still serving his sentence for some of them. The information had to be withheld from the jury during the course of the trial, and I can understand the reasons for that. However, it was touch and go. Fortunately, the person was convicted of that crime. It was the most heinous crime, and not just one incidence, but several. I am not a legal professional and I am not suggesting that the legal professionals are wrong, but there is something wrong that needs to be addressed in that area.

We should be very careful that in cases where the defence uses the situation to libel the victim, including and especially the deceased victim, or where the defendant has a string of convictions which clearly would lead us to conclude that while he may not have committed a crime, it should be viewed against the background of his professional activity over the last ten years. We should ask a serious question as to whether it would be good for society to ignore that.

I have been involved in various cases over the years in this jurisdiction, and in other jurisdictions, where there was a suggestion of a miscarriage of justice, or at least evidence withheld which was to the detriment of the accused. I am conscious that the degree to which the law satisfies the requirements of the day must be determined by the integrity of the system. By that I mean whether the system can be corrupted, abused or twisted in any way which would create a situation whereby a person could be wrongly accused, convicted and imprisoned. These things have happened, so it is important to ensure that while we protect society from the activities of the criminals, we also protect the system and its integrity from abuses by anybody on either side wishing to misinterpret things to suit them. We need to have a sound system that deals with crime, not a system that abuses people's rights and entitlements. That is where the question of balance comes in. If that balance does not manifest itself in the course of all our laws, particularly criminal law, then we have a serious problem.

Like other people in this House, I have come across cases where certain information was brought to my attention. The Minister of State will undoubtedly say that the Deputy should consult the Garda, but that is not the job of Members of this House. It is the job of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Minister, the Garda Síochána and the legal system. Other Members spoke about intimidation, and there is widespread intimidation at the moment. The Minister of State spoke about intimidation in Limerick, and many of us in this House have known about it for years. I could never understand why society managed to ignore it. Sometimes people say that it does not happen where they live, or that it has not happened to them yet. It was there for us all to see. There have been cases of serious intimidation, not only of jurors or witnesses, but of gardaí as well. It is very simple for the system to become corrupted if a criminal element gets into a position where it can use influence on the Garda. That has happened.

The Deputy has one minute.

We have waited a long time for this legislation and I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak about it. In the old days, one could speak for an hour on issues such as this.

Alas, some of us are here long enough to remember that.

You remember that day too. I want to finish on the definition of a criminal organisation. That will present some fun for the various legal actors on all sides in this business. It is where the weakness exists in this Bill. There are several instances where ordinary, previously law-abiding citizens have found themselves in a situation whereby a criminal gang had been able to dictate to them, intimidate and compromise them in order to meet the requirements of that gang. The criminal gang is currently off screen, and the unfortunate fool who is used as the tool of the trade is the person who gets caught.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Ciarán Cuffe.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on this Bill. I spoke in this House not too long ago on the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Bill 2009, welcoming its passage. I recall saying that I thought it was a measure that started to tilt the law in favour of law-abiding citizens and away from the criminal. That is something that must be warmly welcomed. I applaud the Minister for going even further with this Bill. There is no doubt that the many right thinking people in this country will thank him for what he is doing.

Some will not be so happy with it, such as the Irish Human Rights Commission. On page 6 of its observations on the Bill, the commission states:

The IHRC queries a blanket assumption about the actual or potential level or jury intimidation in Ireland. In addition, to address the risk of jury intimidation, there are numerous intermediate law reform measures that could be adopted, including having an anonymous jury, screening the jury from public view, protecting the jury during the trial, or locating the jury in a different place from where the trial is being held with communication by video link.

Broadly speaking, the views of the IHRC are balanced in trying to set out its side of the story. I do not have any difficulty with that. However, it comes up short of endorsing what the Minister is doing here, but that is to be expected. Its suggestions on what could be done about jury intimidation are naive in the extreme. I was listening to the speech of the Minister of State, Deputy Power, and he has more first-hand knowledge of what is going on than most of us, because of what is happening in Limerick. He referred to the day of the march in Limerick, where people were being video recorded and photographed by criminal elements when they were marching. That is intimidation. How can people say that people will not be intimidated if they are moved off site? Given the resources at the disposal of these gangs, they will easily find out where those people are sequestered and the intimidation will continue. I do not accept that argument.

This morning I read a statement from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties which always seems to take a more hysterical view on what is happening. The heading on its statement read: "The Minister's crime Bill antics abuse the Dáil." What about the abuse perpetrated on the Collins and Geoghegan families in Limerick and on so many other families throughout the country which have been intimated by these people? It seems to worry about the civil liberties of criminals but what about other people's civil liberties? I do not hold any truck with that argument and I am certain the vast majority of the people hold a similar view to me.

Section 5 seeks to target those in a criminal organisation who give the orders. Some of these people may not participate directly in the commission of criminal offences. However, we are including the words "at any level of the organisation's structure". That means we may finally start to get at the people at the top. Until now, we have only been catching the mules and the runners. Everyone asks why we cannot get the people at the top organising these crimes. Like a pyramid, people thought that if we could remove the people at the bottom, the whole structure would collapse. Unfortunately, that has not happened. As we removed those people, more came in to replace them. We must change the way we do things and go after the people at the top, which is exactly what this legislation allows us to do.

Section 5 also mentions imprisonment for life. What does imprisonment for life mean in this country? It could be for as little as eight, ten, 12 or 14 years. We are not tough enough. We watch quite a number of crime series from the United States on television which mirror what is happening in its justice system. Imprisonment for life in the United States means 25, 30 or 40 years. Deputy Durkan mentioned somebody getting a sentence of 150 years imprisonment. That is something at which we will have to look because imprisonment for life must mean something more than it does as it is not a sufficient deterrent.

It is a long time since I heard section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act 1939 quoted. A number of years ago, we heard about it regularly when the IRA was in its heyday. We constantly heard about cases taken under this legislation. The public supported what Governments of different persuasions were doing at that time. I realise there might be a difference in that there was a misplaced idealism among some people at that time which led to many innocent people suffering and being killed. The same is happening now except it does not involve subversive organisations but criminal gangs in Limerick, Dublin and elsewhere, although they seem to be largely in those two cities. The people supported us previously when we used the Offences Against the State Act 1939 and there is no doubt in my mind but that we will get full support from the public for using it once more.

I am reminded of a court case in 1986, the People v. Quilligan. At that time, the Supreme Court said the operation of the above mentioned Act was not necessarily confined to subversive organisations. That was clearly set out in law a number of years ago. It is not confined to subversive organisations and can be expanded and used in other areas. That is the Minister’s intention and I am glad he is doing that.

I read a report in the newspaper in recent days which indicated that the Garda was starting to profile some of the criminal gangs in anticipation of this law coming into force. I do not know what the profiling entails. Does it mean it will also look at the means of these individuals? I am quite sure the Criminal Assets Bureau is looking at the assets of many of these people already as they have considerable wealth, but there are no visible signs of how they acquired it.

As a result of this legislation, I expect we will see many people who have become wealthy through their criminal activities come before the courts. That leads me to the point that, generally speaking, these people go to court, look for free legal aid, as they have no visible means of support, and free legal aid is granted to them which is a drain on the resources of this country. If profiles are being carried out by the Garda and if the Criminal Assets Bureau has information, it should be used and free legal aid refused in such cases. I very much welcome this legislation.

Like other Deputies, I condemn the circumstances in which the drafting of this Bill was necessitated, namely, the savage murder of Roy Collins who was killed because he was a relative of a State witness in a murder trial against a gangland criminal. These organised crime gangs are seeking to challenge the authority of the State in the way we police our country and that cannot be allowed. It is natural that we, as legislators, should seek to toughen our criminal laws to provide as robust a framework as possible in which the Garda Síochána can operate to bring these thugs to justice.

However, what is before this House is a Bill which will have far-reaching implications for the manner in which the State administers criminal justice and I do not believe it is one the House should lightly consider nor do I think it is one which should be rushed through the Oireachtas. In particular, I refer to section 8 which declares that the ordinary courts are inadequate to secure the effective administration of justice and creates scheduled offences relating to gangland crime to be tried in front of the Special Criminal Court in non-jury trials. Our Constitution provides for a right for criminal trial by jury save in circumstances where the ordinary courts are deemed inadequate and ineffective.

My concern stems from the fact the Special Criminal Court will not necessarily solve this problem of trying gangland criminals and publicly at least a clear demonstration that the ordinary courts are inadequate for trying gangland criminals appears to be absent. I can only presume that the situation is so drastic that the Garda Síochána has indicated that there is no other option.

I also distinguish between the intimidation of witnesses, which is the spark of the legislation, and the intimidation of juries. The Special Criminal Court is not the solution to witness intimidation as witnesses will still have to give evidence in a criminal trial. On the issue of jury tampering or intimidation, there are a number of alternate measures which could be considered, including anonymous juries, video-link communication and restricting the jury from public view.

It is interesting to note that under UK legislation, the prosecution must bring forth evidence of real and present danger of jury tampering to secure a non-jury trial. That is stated in section 44 of the UK Criminal Justice Act 2003. I note the temporal safeguards included in the legislation such as the requirement for the House to pass a resolution after one year to keep scheduled offences operable. However, should a more compelling case-by-case approach in which the Director of Public Prosecutions must advocate in each case why the ordinary courts are inadequate, be stitched into the legislation? This may be a better way of proceeding.

Legislation of this significance should not be rushed through the Houses. For legislation as profound as this to be published on a Tuesday morning and to be passed a mere seven sitting days later does not do the House any service. One key role of a parliament——

Maybe Deputy Cuffe should pull out of the Government then.

Deputy Cuffe should come over to this side of the House.

——is scrutiny. I appreciate the urgency of the situation on the ground. However, if we need to sit a few extra days to accommodate legislation which will have consequences as far-reaching as this, so be it. The full implications of this legislation need to be teased out and ventilated.

A more focused discussion of recidivism and the Prison Service in rehabilitation is needed. I attended the annual general meeting of the Irish Penal Reform Trust which discussed the clear measures adopted abroad in using prison services to rehabilitate prisoners successfully. I believe there are many who will not be rehabilitated, who will not move away from a life of crime. Many guests of the nation, however, could benefit from education and training with the possibility of turning away from a life of crime.

Recently I met a 19 year old man who had been a guest of the nation. At the tender age of 18, he had to share a room with four adult males who smoked heroin in his presence. Making a young man, who is still a child in many respects, share a room with four drug users will irreparably alter his future. We should be looking at alternatives and investing more in addressing the causes of recidivism.

This is one of the most important Bills that has come before the House since I became a Member. I was extremely surprised at Deputy Cuffe's remarks on rushing the legislation through. It strikes me as more than disingenuous to condemn the rushed nature and guillotining of legislation when speaking from the Government benches. We spent several months this year debating statements on a variety of issues while waiting for legislation to be brought before the House. Fine Gael has been very clear and vocal in its criticism of how legislation has been handled in the House over the past several weeks. I recommend Deputy Cuffe take his problems to his party Ministers and suggest they do something about it at Cabinet instead of speaking out of both sides of his mouth. Coming into the House supporting the Government while at the same time criticising it——

I do not subscribe to the uno duce, una voce approach to government.

——is utterly disingenuous.

Deputy Cuffe will not shout down other Members.

Gangland crime is a major problem in society, caused by failures of government, the political system and society itself. While we need to examine wide-ranging solutions to deal with the causes of crime and the lifestyle that brings young people into gangs, it is essential tough legislation is in place to deal with the activities of these criminals. With their activities in the past 12 months, and particularly after the murders of Roy Collins and Shane Geoghegan, I am pleased the Government has decided to take up this issue and legislate to give the Garda and courts the powers to tackle this serious problem.

In November when Fine Gael was calling for such legislation, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform said in the Chamber and at press conferences there was no need for it. I am on the record of the House specifically calling for legislation to allow the use of the Special Criminal Court to tackle gangland crime. At the time we were scoffed at. The Minister claimed there was no need for such legislation as he had consulted with the Garda Commissioner and everything was okay. Clearly, it was not okay. Unfortunately, it took more murders and almost insurrection from some of these criminal gangs for the Government to wake up and realise such legislation was necessary.

Gangland crime is now on a par with the paramilitary activity we saw in the 1970s and 1980s. Deputy Cuffe mentioned that this legislation in some way implies the ordinary courts are inadequate to deal with gangland crime. The reality is that they are inadequate. It has been proved that traditional jury trials are inadequate on the basis that it is impossible for the Garda to secure convictions in such court cases. The statistics highlight this. Since 2005, there have been 102 gun murders with only four convictions. In 2008 there were 20 gun murders and this year 15 gangland murders with no possibility of conviction in any case. In 2008, there were 106 incidents involving grenades, pipe bombs and other explosive devices, an increase of 340% in 12 months. It is about time we faced up to these stark facts and tackled them.

Gangland crime is not only a threat to individual security but to our fundamental democracy. It is a threat to people's basic right to enjoy peace and security on the streets and a democratic, just and safe society. The Criminal Justice Act 2006 created the offence of gangland membership. At the time, I welcomed the move but it was inadequate. Often times those gang members on the front line committing murders and ferocious attacks are the fall guys, not the ones directing the criminal activity, pulling the strings and running these gangland organisations. I welcome the Bill's measure which will establish the particular offence of directing a criminal gang. This measure, which both I and the Fine Gael justice spokesperson, Deputy Charles Flanagan, called for last autumn, is a significant step.

The Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Bill 2009 which was passed by the House last week will be a necessary element of the process of helping to secure convictions. The Bill before the House is more significant because it will give additional powers to the Garda, thereby enabling the force to secure crucial convictions.

I would like to speak about the section of the Bill that provides for a new offence of directing a criminal gang or organisation. I am disappointed that life imprisonment is the maximum sentence that can be given to a person convicted under the section. The Government should consider providing for life imprisonment to be the minimum sentence for this offence. As we all know, mandatory minimum sentences have been ignored or very liberally interpreted by the courts in many cases. A bar has to be set. By providing for a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, we are not sending as powerful a message to the Judiciary as we would if we provided for life imprisonment as a minimum sentence. I ask the Minister to consider my proposal.

It is obvious that the provision that certain offences should be deemed to be scheduled offences which will be tried in the Special Criminal Court is one of the most crucial elements of the legislation. I strongly believe this is the only way to deal with this type of criminal activity. I do not think we can quantify the extent of the intimidation of, and interference with, juries. While we will never fully know the extent or scale of it, we know it has been happening. Those who serve on juries, or their families, may still be at risk from vindictive and dangerous people five or ten years later. I welcome the decision to take certain trials out of the hands of juries and into the hands of the Special Criminal Court. Non-jury trials offer a much greater opportunity for proper and meaningful trials to end with the securing of convictions. It is necessary for justice to be done in this manner, particularly in the interests of the victims of criminal activity. This measure will go some way to eliminate the risk of jury tampering which has been a significant problem during the years, especially in court cases involving gangland crime.

I accept the point made by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and other bodies that alternative approaches are needed if we are to protect juries. As Ireland is such a small country, I do not think any of the measures proposed by such organisations would go far enough to protect the identity and security of jurors. Other associated problems such as the fact that many people are able to get out of jury service have also been raised. The lack of broad representation on juries was not much of a problem in the past, but it has become a major problem in recent times. The legislation before the House will ensure such problems are avoided in the future.

I welcome the decision to allow Garda expert evidence to be admissible. Anyone who deals with the Garda on a reasonably regular basis will be aware that professional criminals know what they are doing. They know how to circumvent the law and are aware of issues such as the admissibility of evidence. They know how to get around many of the obstacles we put in their way. The Garda finds it almost impossible to build a book of evidence that puts the Director of Public Prosecutions in a position to go to trial and ultimately leads to convictions being secured. It is extremely difficult. I really welcome this measure because it is essential for us to be able to rely on the evidence of gardaí. The members of the force who deal with these gangs all the time have the knowledge the courts are looking for. They know exactly who the gang members are and what they are doing. This legislation will enable the Garda to ensure gangs are brought to justice.

I welcome the application of the Bail Act 1997 to these offences. The Minister is well aware that the legislation in question which was significant and required a referendum was introduced by the rainbow Coalition Government in 1997 in the wake of the murder of Veronica Guerin. If we are to keep gang members off the streets after they have been arrested and charged, we need to apply the 1997 Act to offences such as those under discussion. It is obvious that it all depends on the level of anger or risk associated with the person in question. As a result of this legislation, if there is a significant risk of interference with or intimidation of witnesses, the option of keeping certain people in detention and thereby ensuring they are not on the streets while awaiting trial can be used. That is very welcome.

I have focused on the elements of the Bill that I support. While I am broadly in favour of the various measures contained in the legislation, as I said, we need to have a major debate on certain issues not covered in it. When we discuss the issue of juvenile justice, for example, we should focus on the best way of encouraging people not to get involved in criminal gangs at a young age. However, that will not happen through rushed emergency legislation of this nature. Other issues need to be examined by the Government in the context of future legislation. I spoke briefly about jury intimidation. While that is a problem in trials relating to gangland criminality, it is not exclusive to such trials. It goes on all the time, as does intimidation of witnesses. We need to take a long and hard look at how we solve such problems. I would like to give an example of the problems associated with intimidation. It is worrying that just 28 convictions have resulted from the 132 cases brought against people suspected of intimidating witnesses or jurors. If the number of proceedings being taken against people suspected of interfering with witnesses is quite small, the rate of success or conviction is minute. We need to consider how we can assist the Garda as it tries to secure convictions successfully.

I agree with the proposal to allow Garda expert evidence to be used. We have to ensure the Garda's internal systems are robust, particularly in the light of what happened in County Donegal, as reported on by the Morris tribunal. Although there have been systems failures in the force, matters have improved since the establishment of the Office of the Garda Ombudsman. If we are to ensure there is no risk of the new powers we are providing for being abused or misused in any way, we have to ensure the Garda complaints system is strong and robust and that the force as a whole is as professional as possible. We have a long way to go before the recommendations of the Morris report are implemented in full.

I would like to speak about an important issue that has been raised by Deputy Flanagan in recent days. This legislation will have a crucial role in enabling the Garda to do its business, but it is even more crucial for the force to be funded adequately. The budget of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions has been cut by 3% in the last 12 months. Cuts across the board are inevitable at this time, but if we are serious about dealing with criminal activity and stamping out gangland crime, we must ensure that gardaí are equipped, resourced and in a position to take on and deal with the problems they are being confronted with. Overtime has been cut and there are fewer gardaí on the beat. All of these things are very important, particularly in the types of disadvantaged communities where most of this activity is taking place. There is a significant problem regarding Garda visibility and generally in terms of numbers and resources. This is something that, perhaps, the Minister might look at again in the light of this legislation and the massive challenge facing us in terms of securing our streets and ensuring that innocent people are safe in their communities.

Another point the Minister should consider is the enormous challenge facing us from the criminal activity emanating from within prisons. Deputy Cuffe was talking about rehabilitation within prisons and so on, and I believe this is important. Last year, however, I submitted a question about the number of mobile telephones in prisons and despite new technology and so on, more than 2,000 mobiles were seized in 12 months. That is simply not acceptable. It literally means that while the prosecution of criminal gangs takes place in the courts, eventually securing convictions, there is every possibility that those same criminals, whether in Mountjoy or wherever, still control these gangs and direct their activities.

Deputy Durkan mentioned the issue of cross-Border crime gangs. Obviously, there is a major problem regarding Irish gangs operating in Spain as well. I urge the Government to reconsider Ireland's position in opting out of the justice and home affairs aspects of Lisbon, but that, perhaps, is an issue for another day.

We have heard a great deal about civil liberties and I get very worried when I hear people beating a drum for the civil liberties of criminals without too much regard for those of innocent victims, particularly the family members of murdered individuals such as Roy Collins, Shane Geoghegan, Donna Cleary and others. These are the people about whose civil liberties I am concerned. These are the people we have to defend. That is our role and the role of the Garda Síochána. I do not believe we are in a position to pander to the "PC brigade" at the expense of innocent people, who are being threatened, intimidated and in some cases murdered by criminals acting with absolute impunity.

I wish to share time with Deputy Thomas Byrne, with the permission of the House.

I, too, am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill and I commend the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for the speed in which the legislation has been drafted and for his determination to have it enacted as quickly as possible.

This is one of a number of Bills dealing with our response to organised crime that have come before the House this year. We have also had a number of Private Members' debates in recent months on the same topic. It is a sad reflection on society that we are in a position where organised crime has become such a focus of attention for the Oireachtas. A small number of gangs have contaminated inner city communities, particularly in Limerick and Dublin — they operate with impunity around the country — and view themselves as untouchable. Anyone who saw the recent YouTube video uploaded by the leaders of one of the country's most prominent criminal gangs will have been shocked by the blatant bravado shown by these criminals and the fact that they obviously think they are so far above the law that they can broadcast a two fingered salute to civilised society over the Internet. This House owes a duty to the local communities such people come from to remove them and their poisonous activities from the streets of Ireland.

I support the previous speaker, Deputy Lucinda Creighton, regarding the comments made this morning by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties. One sometimes wants to question what planet these people are on. I, too, worry about the civil liberties of the victims of crime, and those of the witnesses, the jurors, the gardaí and society in general. Those are the people we need to protect and that is what this legislation is primarily about.

In researching for this debate I looked up a number of different articles and studied methods that were used in other countries. I will refer to a couple of them during my contribution. I recently read an interesting newspaper article about the growth of organised crime. The author said that crime "uproots and destroys communities, deprives people of their livelihoods, takes young men away from their families and habituates them to violence". The author was a Sudanese journalist named Muawad Mustafa Rashid. He was writing about crime in his own country and in the developing world generally, but his words could easily be applied to the situation that has developed in some of our inner city suburbs.

The criminal gangs who are terrorising parts of our cities have led us to the situation where descriptions of a criminal culture in certain parts of the developing world are now interchangeable with what is happening in parts of Ireland. Mr. Rashid concluded his article by stating: "crime prevention is inseparable from social development. Violence and crime are usually the result of inequality and poverty, and they certainly breed fastest in the society characterized by extremes of inequality and social exclusion."

Again, while he was discussing conditions in his own country, his words could equally apply to those areas in Ireland that have suffered most from a gang culture in recent years. He is right that crime and poverty are linked and that social exclusion provides a breeding ground for criminality. That is why as a society we need to take a "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" approach and why I believe that initiatives such as the establishment of the Limerick regeneration agencies and the ongoing work of Ballymun Regeneration Limited are just as important in defeating a criminal culture as any criminal justice legislation we debate in this House.

This raises a serious question about the type of society we aspire to, and we must examine our conscience in this regard and reflect on the part played by wider society. There is one significant difference between the criminal culture which Mr. Rashid describes in Sudan and the type of organised crime which has developed in Ireland in recent years. In developing countries, the middle classes do not fund the activities of criminals. Unfortunately in Ireland, the middle classes are among the main funders of these criminal gangs. We must look deep into our hearts at all levels of society in Ireland. They are either completely ignorant of the damage they are causing to many communities by their actions or they simply do not care because they do not have to look at this damage every day and live with its consequences.

The reality is that every time a student takes an ecstasy tablet in a nightclub, a solicitor or an engineer picks up a line of cocaine on a Friday night or a doctor or nurse smokes a joint at a party, they are putting money into the pockets of these criminal gangs. They are financing their weapons buying trips and playing their part in the desecration of inner city communities. Until such time as the middle and upper classes in this country are willing to take responsibility for their actions, until the time comes when they accept that their selfish recreational weekend drug use is the main source of income for these criminal gangs and that their drug use provided the money which paid for the weapons which killed Anthony Campbell, Brian Fitzgerald, Shane Geoghegan and Roy Collins, we will be fighting a constant battle against these gangs. Unfortunately, the recreational drug user does not have to wake up each morning and face the damage that is being inflicted on communities such as Ballinacurra and Moyross. He or she can feign shock and complete innocence when another innocent victim is gunned down.

We should reflect on what is happening. People are losing their lives, families are being torn apart at the loss of sons, daughters, husbands, wives, mothers and fathers. We must look at the cost in human terms. I strongly welcome this Bill and I hope it is passed as soon as possible. In many ways there are not many new proposals in the Bill. We are taking much of the legislation we have successfully used to combat terrorism and fine-tuning it in the fight against organised crime. This initiative recognises that some of these gangs pose almost as big a threat to the well-being of the State as the various terrorist organisations did in previous decades.

Terrorists and the criminals have many similar ways of operating. Both types of organisation make themselves overlords in marginalised communities, accept no opposition or criticism from the communities they come from, indoctrinate their members at an early age and view themselves as being above the law. It is fitting that similar laws should be used to combat similar organisations.

I am very supportive of the proposals contained in this Bill which would allow many of the offences connected with organised crime to be regarded as scheduled offences and to be tried in the Special Criminal Court. The Special Criminal Court was one of the most effective weapons this State had to protect itself against terrorists in the past and I am glad that it will be now used against the latest threat to the security of the State, organised criminal gangs.

One of the criticisms I have heard of this proposal is that there is no need to bring these crimes before the Special Criminal Court because there is no evidence that these gangs have been involved in jury tampering. It would be naive of us to think that the day will not come when these gangs will try to interfere with a jury. We are aware of many instances. If that day came and this legislation was not in place, opponents of this Government would be in uproar because we had not guarded against gangs interfering with juries.

In 1972, when the current version of the Special Criminal Court was being introduced, the proposed legislation was strongly opposed by many of those who have now come out against the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill. The then Minister for Justice, former Deputy Des O'Malley, was asked in this House if he had any evidence that juries had been tampered with and he replied that he did not. He still went ahead and established the Special Criminal Court and the subsequent history of this country has shown that the Government in 1972 was right to do so. I have no doubt that time will prove the current Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, is taking the right path in extending the Special Criminal Court to cover offences committed by organised criminal gangs.

In 2002, the then deputy commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police Service, Mr. Ian Blair, appeared before the British Parliament's select committee on home affairs. At this meeting he was questioned about his knowledge of jury tampering. He said that at the time, seven years ago, the Met was paying approximately £4.5 million a year to protect juries and that jury tampering was becoming an increasing problem. One comment he made is of particular relevance to this debate. He said that jury tampering "is usually connected with the organised criminal level because they have, not only if you like, the willingness to tamper with a jury or attempt to interfere with a juror, but also the ability to do it".

We have had many examples, as I mentioned earlier, of jury tampering in this country. Intimidation in the form of the late night telephone calls, people sitting in the front rows of courts and a general presence. Earlier, the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Peter Power alluded to the fact that the march in Limerick was being filmed not only by video cameras but by people with mobile telephones. It is an appalling vista.

The charge of directing terrorism was introduced in Ireland in the wake of the Omagh bombing and it has been operated effectively over the past number of years. It has succeeded in taking out the leadership, and in many ways the brains, of one of the remaining Irish terrorist organisations. I only regret that this same charge had not been introduced 25 years earlier because it could have helped imprison a number of terrorist leaders who were happy to give the orders but who did not want to get their hands dirty or be accused of carrying out these orders. A similar charge of directing a criminal organisation is now being introduced in this Bill. This new charge carries a penalty of up to life imprisonment and will pose a serious threat to the untouchables who have benefited most from their criminal activities but who could not be tied to it because they got their more gullible followers to carry out their orders.

This is a similar provision to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act which was introduced in the United States in 1970. That Act has become known in America as RICO and has effectively crippled and wiped out the Mafia in that country. The American Mafia is only a shadow of what it once was because of RICO and if the provision of directing organised crime is used effectively in Ireland, it will leave many of our criminal gangs leaderless and rudderless.

A commentator this week said the Bill "tramples upon the rule of law". It sets out to uphold the rule of law and to protect innocent citizens whose lives are being destroyed by these criminal gangs. If anyone is trampling on the rule of law in Ireland it is these gangs and their members. They have shown in the past they will not listen to reason, will not abide by the standards expected in a civilised society and have no respect for the rule of law that this commentator was talking about. These gangs will be defeated only by the strong arm of the law, and this Bill gives the Garda the extra powers needed to put many of their leading members behind bars for many years. I urge all Members of the House to support this Bill.

I am delighted to speak on this Bill, representing as I do what has become a commuter belt constituency. Many professionals and workers have moved to my constituency but, unfortunately, some of the boyos and girls targeted by this legislation have also moved to my constituency from Dublin. We have a problem, a minor problem compared to some areas, with gangland criminals in our area. While many of the robberies and murders are not targeted directly in our area, there have been shootings and the fall-off from "tiger kidnappings" and the appalling consequences that arise from them in my constituency.

This Bill is very important for the whole country. It is one regrettable feature of the commuter belt phenomenon that some criminals have also decided they would like to live outside Dublin and destroy the peace and quiet in some cases of the communities in which they have decided to live. I will not name them, but they know who they are and where they live.

I am very pleased with the extension of the Special Criminal Court. A number of offences in the legislation will be triable only in the Special Criminal Court, including directing a criminal organisation, participation and contribution to certain activities, commission of a serious offence for a criminal organisation and commission of an offence by a body corporate. There is much disquiet about the Special Criminal Court but I do not understand this. It is a conservatism in human rights jurisprudence that there is worry and fear about the Special Criminal Court.

The jury trial system is to a large degree, although not for everybody, constitutionally protected here. It is a tradition from the British system and is in widespread use in Britain and America. However the jury trial system is not in widespread use throughout the world and is not protected by the European Convention on Human Rights or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is not recognised in every country and many countries have single, double or triple judge courts. They are commonplace for ordinary offences.

While the jury trial system is an important part of our tradition, it is important not to view it as some kind of sacrosanct right in every case or assume it is the best case. In some countries there is a constitutional right to a jury trial in a civil case. We have abolished this for the most part, except for some aspects of civil law, and the justice system seems to move along quite well on the civil side. It is better that we do that for these really serious crimes. We propose to protect the constitutional right to jury trial and the British common law tradition from which it derives. However where there is a danger to the general public, jurors and the administration of justice, let us put these boys and girls in front of the Special Criminal Court with three judges from different levels of the court hierarchy. Let those judges hear the evidence and decide on the guilt or innocence.

Not everybody in the Special Criminal Court is convicted. The reason for putting people before the Special Criminal Court is not to get more convictions but to ensure justice is administered. Let us remember we are administering justice and trying to decide on the evidence whether somebody is guilty or innocent. We are not trying to find somebody guilty when they are not. That is very important to remember. It is just a different way of making the decision. It is a very effective way and reduces the threat to life.

We cannot spend a huge amount of money protecting jurors. The witness protection programme does not work in this country because everybody has relations in every county. If one walks down a street in some far off part of this country one is bound to meet somebody one knows, no matter who one is. It is almost impossible to move somebody abroad if they have no language. While witness protection may work well in America which is so large and has one language, one accent almost, it will not work here.

We can protect and guard the judges who participate in the Special Criminal Court in a more cost-efficient way than protecting a large body of jurors who would not like to be in that position. I would not like to be on a jury deciding on the guilt or innocence of somebody who had probably murdered, or directed organisations that had murdered, many people. While the Irish Human Rights Commission and others have expressed disquiet, and this sort of disquiet is always recognised, and there have been miscarriages of justice in this country, the rate of miscarriage of justice in the Special Criminal Court would not be high, if it exists at all. I do not have the facts on that. There is no need to worry. We have chosen to protect the jury system in our Constitution but not every country chooses to do this.

Aside from this issue, and this may be something for another day, it is important we send out a message in general that it is one's duty and obligation to take part in a jury when one receives a summons. The first thing many do on receipt of a jury summons is go to their Deputy to see whether they can get out of it. It is not wrong if people cannot serve, but we should not encourage such evasion; certainly, I would never do so. Jury service should be seen as a duty and a privilege. It should be open to more sections of society than it is and, indeed, to us as Teachtaí Dála. There is no reason we should not be involved — Tony Blair was called to a jury trial at one stage.

The Special Criminal Court is really important. We are sending out a message today. The guillotines are criticised, but by passing this legislation quickly and by recognising that we are doing so because really bad things have happened — lives have been lost — we are sending out a message that we are tackling this. We are sending out a message to the Garda that we are giving it the armoury it needs. We are sending out a message to the courts system that it has all it requires as well to ensure that guilt or innocence is decided in these cases.

The Bill includes new provisions and amends existing provisions. Section 7 gives gardaí of whatever rank the opportunity, if they have the appropriate expertise, to give evidence as to the existence of a criminal organisation because these organisations are difficult to know about. An organisation, I suppose, is a group of people — three or more — coming together, but these people will not have rule books, anthems and meetings. They will use telephones and perhaps meet in coffee shops. They will not be reading minutes of previous meetings in line with a normal organisational structure and I suppose legislation must recognise that.

The organisations with which we are dealing today are substantially and radically different from criminal organisations of times past and it is important that legislation moves forward and recognises changing circumstances, that a sort of legal conservatism does not constrict us. We must recognise the way matters are moving in the criminal world and we as a Legislature must change the law if that is necessary — in my view it is very necessary to do that in this case.

I would say to those who are wary of this legislation, those who criticised it and those who asked us to reconsider that we cannot because lives will continue to be lost unless these "boyos" and "girlos" who have committed the crimes are locked up in prison. These gangs must be decimated and people must be allowed to get on with their daily lives. We must get back to a situation where ordinary people can feel confident giving evidence or know that sitting on juries will not endanger their lives. We are sending out that message today and I fully support the legislation.

This Bill was published on Tuesday last. It defies belief that we should be asked to dispatch it in the way it is now before the House. In this rushed last-minute Bill, Members of the Oireachtas are asked to declare "that the ordinary courts are inadequate to secure the effective administration of justice and the preservation of public peace and order" in gangland offences. Does any Member of this House honestly believe that statement to be true? Do we believe that the Garda Síochána really believes it to be true? Do we believe that the Judiciary believes it to be true? Does the DPP — who already has the power, should the circumstances warrant it, to refer such cases to the Special Criminal Court, and only rarely does so — believe that the ordinary courts are inadequate to secure the effective administration of justice and the preservation of public peace and order?

No Member of this House, including the Minister, has been able to produce any evidence of intimidation of juries. On the other hand, there is evidence of intimidation of witnesses. How does this Bill protect witnesses by sending these cases to the Special Criminal Court? Witnesses are required to give evidence before the Special Criminal Court. The Special Criminal Court is not merely a sentencing tribunal, which is the impression being sent out by the Minister.

I come to this debate as a member of a former Government whose Minister for Finance, my colleague, Deputy Quinn, established the Criminal Assets Bureau to go after the wealth of the crime bosses. I speak as the former Minister of State who in 1996 established the national drugs strategy designed to reduce demand for drugs. As we will be aware, profits from drugs trafficking drive most serious crime.

I speak as the Deputy who, on behalf of the Labour Party, in 2007 published the Garda Síochána (Powers of Surveillance) Bill to help deal with the intimidation of witnesses, a Bill which was initially dismissed by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform but which has now been replicated by the Government. Labour was the first party to identify the risk of witness intimidation and the need to establish a programme for the State protection of witnesses involved in criminal investigations and prosecutions, and in 2007 I published the Witness Protection Programme (No. 2) Bill, which the Government opposed.

The Labour Party supported far-reaching criminal justice Bills enacted by former Minister, Mr. Michael McDowell. Labour knows well the misery which crime inflicts on communities, both urban and rural. We have consistently advocated and supported strong measures to combat crime, particularly violent crime and offences against the person.

The pivotal change in this Bill in seeking to refer new scheduled offences to the Special Criminal Court is fundamentally dishonest. There is no evidence of interference with jurors or tampering with juries. The DPP already has discretion to refer the trial of any serious offence to that court. For example, drug related crime offences, without any subversive connection, have been sent to and tried by the Special Criminal Court.

It is now proposed that gangland crime offences will automatically go to the Special Criminal Court but the DPP will have discretion in each case to decide to send it instead to an ordinary court to be decided by a jury. I do not understand, and I challenge the Minister to tell me, how it is argued that a DPP's discretion to send particular cases to a jury court is meant to sit compatibly with a declaration by the Oireachtas that the ordinary courts are inadequate to deal with these offences.

The Special Criminal Court does not operate a different system of law, does not take shortcuts, and is not a mere sentencing tribunal. Roughly 20% of cases before the Special Criminal Court result in an acquittal or dismissal of charges. What is special about the Special Criminal Court is that it sits without a jury, and there is one justification only for a non-jury court, that is, where jury members are being intimidated. There is no evidence that jury members are being intimidated.

I have listened to this debate. I have listened to the Minister on "Morning Ireland". I have heard him align witnesses and jurors in the same sentence. I have heard him evade and dodge when pursued for evidence of intimidation of jurors, which he did not provide. He refers to witnesses and jurors in the same phrase knowing it confuses the public. He knows many members of the public do not readily pick up the difference between witnesses and jurors.

No evidence has been adduced in today's debate to indicate intimidation of jurors. I have taken great care to check that fact with a range of practitioners and others who should know. I am in contact with people involved at all stages in the public prosecution system, both in Dublin and throughout the country. They include gardaí, State lawyers and defence lawyers. However, I cannot identify from all those contacts a single case where it is argued that jury members were intimidated or at serious risk of intimidation. Should such a case present, where there is a real danger that such intimidation may occur the DPP already has the power to refer it to the Special Criminal Court. It is therefore cynical in the extreme to hold out this measure as a novel innovation that will somehow permit the Garda to round up gang members and refer them to the Special Criminal Court for sentencing, thereby allowing the witnesses to stay at home.

That is the message the Minister has already sent out, and that is the message sent out by his agents, officials and spin doctors. Some newspapers have suggested that as soon as the legislation is through the House the Garda is waiting to round up the usual suspects and they will be in prison before the August break. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Special Criminal Court is not a sentencing tribunal. It does its business like any other court. The only difference is that there are no jurors. The only justification for that is if juries are being intimidated. We do not have that evidence and the Minister has presented no such evidence. The Bill is not about the Government, having considered all the advice available to it from the Garda Síochána and the DPP, arriving at an evidence-based decision that it could justify in court. Nor is it about a decision that can be changed when the evidence no longer justifies it. This Bill is about asking the Oireachtas itself, without any relevant information given to it by Government, without any committee hearings or reports, to arrive at a fundamental decision encroaching on basic constitutional rights and violating basic international human rights norms, which will be reached in a whipped party political vote after a guillotined debate next week.

The reason for that is nothing to do with preserving law and order but it has everything to do with populist demagoguery. Both the Constitution and international human rights law require us as legislators to determine in accordance with law, on a factual basis, whether the ordinary courts are adequate to enforce effectively the administration of justice and to preserve public order and peace. If we are satisfied on the evidence that ordinary courts are inadequate, because of jury intimidation or tampering, then we have the option to set up special courts but we must first have the evidence. The right to jury trial is not just a Constitutional right, it is enshrined in international human rights jurisprudence. In that regard, this country must be unique in that we established a human rights commission but once it was established we did not pay a blind bit of attention to it. We are now able to say in the appropriate international fora that we have a human rights commission. Has it influenced one line of one Bill in this House since it was established, or one line of any Bill published by the Minister? No it has not.

We accepted amendments on its advice the other day.

No, it has not.

Deputy Rabbitte was there. We accepted amendments on its advice the other day.

The Minister pays no regard to it. I presume if Niall Crowley was its boss the Minister would have had him sacked by now and the commission closed down.

We accepted amendments based on the recommendations of the Irish Human Rights Commission the other day. Deputy Rabbitte was present at the committee but, yet again, he has a very poor memory.

The Minister did not listen to the commission in recent times.

The Deputy should be allowed to speak without interruption.

I cannot stand by and let him make misleading statements.

I am just trying to keep order.

As the Irish Human Rights Commission has drawn to our attention, it is noteworthy that in the United Kingdom the prosecution may apply for a non-jury trial in cases where it can show evidence of a real and present danger of jury tampering. Why can we in this country not take that course if we think that in some very special instances there is such a real and present danger? Why do we not have regular references, such as we had in the Gilligan case, to the Special Criminal Court if this fear of tampering with juries is as widespread as some speakers have said without producing a shred of evidence?

I know why the Minister is smiling. He is smiling because he is on the side of the angels. Everybody is going to support the attempt to clamp down on gangland criminals and the Labour Party is raising points of law about departure from the usual trial by jury. It is a political winner. It may be. The Minister may be right. He may have reason to smile——

I am certainly not smiling.

——but it is a disgrace that in the dying days of this term that a Bill of this character should come to the House and be rushed through in this fashion. It is a fundamental departure from the normal jury trial and what is enshrined in the common law for so long.

The Minister did not produce any evidence in his script this morning. He did not even seek to do so. On detailed points in the Bill, which I hope we will have some time, albeit short, to discuss, he has given quite misleading explanations. For example, he stated, "It allows for the evidence of a member of the Garda Síochána with appropriate experience and knowledge as to the existence of a criminal organisation". He said that was not opinion evidence, that it was expert evidence. That is not expert evidence. As a lawyer the Minister knows that.

I do not take great issue with evidence on the existence of a criminal gang because we all know that, unfortunately, there are too many criminal gangs and I want to see them put behind bars. On many occasions I have set out our position in that regard. That is why I published the Garda Síochána (Powers of Surveillance) Bill, so that we could have intelligence-led policing to put the criminals behind bars. That is why I published the Witness Protection Programme (No. 2) Bill. It is also the reason that when in government we introduced the Criminal Assets Bureau and the national drugs strategy. When I and Deputy Howlin, who has just left the Chamber, first argued in this House with the then Minister, Mr. McDowell, that there ought to be a crime of directing a criminal organisation, we were told it was too amorphous, that one could not do that. Now it is included in the Bill. When the Minister was confronted with the true scale of these problems he resorted to the temptation to reach for the quick-fix solution. However, this is not a problem about legal technicalities or sleepy judges. It is not just an issue of sentencing. It is not just that we need more or stricter laws, we need to tackle the phenomenon of this abuse in society and directly on the ground. What we are now experiencing is, to a large extent, a consequence of decades of under-investment in neglected areas. The idea that we can solve these problems without reaching into our pockets is an illusion.

It is clear that the drugs epidemic is a worldwide crisis affecting developed and developing countries. The drugs problem has its roots in poverty, unemployment and social disadvantage. The interaction between organised crime and the drugs trade is a major threat to society, not only to individuals but to the pattern of life in entire communities.

From my experience as Minister of State with responsibility for establishing the State's anti-drugs strategy, I am aware that action to combat crime, particularly violent and drug-related crime, requires significant financial resources, co-ordinated planning and management across agencies and services and co-operation and support from local communities. The fight against crime includes the straightforward targets of seeking to prevent it, improving detection and arrest rates, efficient and fair processing of trials and the correct balance of deterrence, punishment and rehabilitation. This, in turn, involves effective policing, reforms in the way the courts work, additional prison places and greater emphasis on the probation service.

Effective policing does not merely relate to the number of gardaí on the beat, although that is a vital element. Effective policing also involves smart policing, using the tactics of the 21st century to penetrate and bring down organised gangs of motivated and ruthless individuals, acquiring and using the intelligence to identify the network of local dealers and suppliers as well as the major players.

Nobody should be in any doubt about the scale of the threat posed by organised crime, nor should there be any doubt about the investment required in the context of time, personnel and equipment to tackle these gangs. However, to hold out the hope to grieving relatives and communities tortured by this menace that because we are engaging in such a fundamental departure from the normal criminal law, the members of these gangs will be rounded up and put in prison is essentially misleading.

For the Minister to come before the House in the penultimate week of this session and produce a measure of this nature, without permitting Members to consider it in detail at all Stages, is the wrong way to make law. This is not the first occasion on which that has happened. We have continually been confronted with similar behaviour. There have been weeks of the year when the legislative cupboard has been bare. Now, however, we are being presented with this legislation in a last-minute rush. We have not had the opportunity to take expert evidence, hear from groups operating at the coalface or the members of the communities affected or to explain to people that sand is being thrown in their eyes in respect of the lumping together of witnesses and jurors as if they were the same and in the context of this Bill being a panacea. This legislation is not a panacea and I regret that we are departing from the established precepts of criminal law in this fashion and at such short notice.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this important Bill. There is no doubt that it is of critical importance to the constituency I represent.

Much of the opposition to the Bill seems to centre on the provision which states that gangland trials will automatically be referred to the Special Criminal Court unless the DPP decides otherwise. I will make a few preliminary points in that regard. What is being done in the Bill does not represent a permanent change to the criminal law. The provisions will apply for one year. Following that period, the Minister will be obliged to produce a report on how the measure is working and a resolution must be passed to allow it to remain in operation. The latter will give the Minister and both Houses of the Oireachtas an opportunity to judge how the legislation is working on a yearly basis.

We have that already. The Bill is a sham.

I did not interrupt anyone. The Deputy should have the decency to allow me to contribute.

My second point is that despite what Deputy Rabbitte stated, this Bill does not represent a fundamental and seismic change in the criminal law. The DPP will still possess absolute discretion to refuse to refer a case to the Special Criminal Court. I have no doubt he will consult the Garda, the local prosecutors in areas in which crimes are committed and carry out whatever other investigations he deems necessary. Thereafter, he will decide whether ordinary courts will be able to function properly if particular cases are tried before them.

The main focus of opposition to the legislation has come from the deliberations and pronouncements of the Irish Human Rights Commission. I have great respect for the commission and am an avid reader of its various reports. It is something of an understatement, therefore, to say that I am bitterly disappointed by the commission's approach to the Bill. At a media briefing on Tuesday, 30 June, solicitor Michael Farrell — who I know and for whom I have a great deal of personal regard — speaking on behalf of the commission, advanced two arguments in respect of its opposition to it. His central argument was that the Bill "strikes at the centuries-old right to trial by jury, without any data being produced on the existence of jury-tampering." He also stated that "It would not solve the problem of the intimidation of witnesses who are identified in the Special Criminal Court in the same way as in ordinary courts". It is true to say that witnesses are identified in the same way in both courts.

When one examines Mr. Farrell's arguments, one discovers that there is not really much to them. His second argument in respect of witnesses is a classic example of erecting a straw man and then knocking him down. The avowed intention behind section 8 is not to deal with the intimidation of witnesses; it is to solve the problem of jurors being intimidated or of being afraid to sit on juries. The section relates to jurors. We recognise that there is a widespread problem regarding the intimidation of witnesses and we do what we can in other ways to deal with that.

Mr. Farrell's contention that there is a lack of data on the existence of jury tampering raises an obvious question as to the data one can produce in this regard. If people are afraid to serve on a jury, there is no office to which they can report their fears. The concerns of potential jurors cannot be logged and counted in the same manner as statistics are compiled in respect of murders, rapes or firearms offences. If someone serves on a jury and the criminals get to him — there are some cases of this happening with which I am familiar — he is hardly going to advertise that fact. It is not possible to produce figures in respect of jury tampering. The notion that one might produce annual statistics in respect of such behaviour is risible. I am disappointed because I suspect that, like everyone else, Mr. Farrell and his colleagues in the Irish Human Rights Commission are aware of that.

If I am disappointed by what the commission has stated on this occasion, I am completely incredulous with regard to the position adopted by the Labour Party. What I have heard from its Members during this debate and what was issued in a statement earlier in the week, constitutes one of the greatest examples of a volte face in Irish parliamentary history. The party’s statement of Tuesday last states “There is no evidence that tampering with juries is an issue in our criminal justice system”. This parrots, almost word for word, the conclusion of the Irish Commission on Human Rights. In other words, the Labour Party has fallen for the commission’s conclusion hook, line and sinker.

There is no such evidence.

I did not interrupt the Deputy. I have already informed him that it is not possible to collect evidence on jury tampering. I explained the position but I will do so more slowly if he so wishes.

Can this be the same Labour Party whose Front Bench spokesperson — and my constituency colleague, for whom I have a personal regard — Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, during statements on the killing of Shane Geoghegan in this House on Thursday, 13 November 2008, said "I attended his funeral yesterday and the words on everybody's lips were "Please do something" I ask the Minister to do something."? During that debate, the Deputy also said "People want us to do whatever is necessary [legislation or action] to smash these gangs, take away their power and put them behind bars where they belong." By April this year, Deputy O'Sullivan was lambasting the Government and me in particular for not bringing forward legislation to "make it easy to convict gangland figures". Here is legislation that makes it easier to convict gangland figures.

What do we get from the Labour Party? We get opposition because it is concerned about the human rights of the people——

The Minister is entirely misrepresenting the Bill.

I did not interrupt the Deputy and listened in silence to him.

The Minister is talking claptrap.

In fairness, the Minister is entitled to make a statement.

The Labour Party is now trying to defend and advance the human rights of the people who have ordered at least two dozen murders in Limerick of which we know.

The Minister should not be ridiculous. That is scurrilous.

Deputy Rabbitte, the Labour Party's justice spokesman was just as forceful during that debate. He said:

The public mood is to assent to measures in the present crisis that people would not otherwise tolerate . . . There must come a tipping point where the State asserts its democratic mandate and asserts decent values [what lofty words] . . . The people are saying that enough is enough. It is the Government's duty to put the gangs out of business.

I repeat that today.

The Deputy indicated willingness to support whatever is necessary. If one can get past the pomposity, I agree with the sentiments. The Labour Party was right then. Unfortunately it is wrong today. There is no point in wishing the ends without being ready to will the means. I disagree fundamentally with Deputy Rabbitte's Private Members' Bill on witness protection. It would make witness protection more difficult.

That is not true.

It would make it much more difficult because it would remove all the flexibility.

That is what those on the Government side said about the surveillance Bill.

Because it was badly drafted.

Sorry, colleagues.

Deputy Rabbitte mentioned the English system. While I do not know how well he understands the English system, under that system if the prosecution decides to refer a case for a non-jury trial, it must give reasons. That is impossible in Irish law because it would prejudice the position of the defendant.

The Minister is going on as if he is speaking ex cathedra.

That is based on legal advice.

Deputy Rabbitte should go and take a tutorial.

That is complete nonsense.

Sorry, Deputies.

The other fundamental difference between this and the English system is that here the Special Criminal Court has been in operation for a long time and has vast experience of dealing with criminal cases. In England the reference would be to one judge alone.

I am very familiar with the situation in Limerick and the mid-west generally and I can say this without fear of contradiction. The unfortunate truth is that there is widespread anecdotal evidence of jury intimidation — not just witness intimidation — in Limerick. While it is impossible by definition to produce hard statistical data on this intimidation, it is easy enough to find firm evidence of its results and implications. Jury intimidation in Limerick is now so widespread and all pervasive, that it is now virtually taken for granted that if the State attempts to hold any gangland-type trial in Limerick, potential jurors will feel intimidated and it will not be possible to form a jury.

If the Deputies opposite are looking for data and evidence, let me give them some facts to back that up. In 2003 six men, leading members of one of the most vicious, violent and vindictive gangs in the country — unfortunately headquartered in Limerick — were put on trial for the murder of rival gangland leader, Kieran Keane. It was decided to hold a special sitting of the Central Criminal Court in Limerick. Up to that time, when a criminal trial took place in Limerick, the county registrar sent out five summonses on the basis that four people would turn up. It was expected that one would be excused for illness or other absence. In this case 729 people were called for jury service, but the State found it impossible to get 12 people to serve. Immediately prior to this trial, four out of every five were turning up for an ordinary criminal trial. When they were called to try leading members of a certain gang, 729 summonses went out and it was not possible to get 12 at which point the county registrar gave up. Why did this happen if juries were not being intimidated? Perhaps everyone was suddenly too busy. After all in 2003 the Celtic tiger was at its height. Activity may have been so hectic that even 12 out of the 729 summonsed could not be bothered to show up. I suspect, however, that the truth lies elsewhere.

In 2000, the number of jury trials, including ordinary criminal trials and gangland trials, coming before the Limerick Circuit Criminal Court was 67. A jury of 12 is needed for each trial and the mathematics are quite easy; when 67 is multiplied by 12 the total number of people needed was approximately 800. That year the court's office summonsed 1,000 people and was able to hold 67 trials, on the basis that four out of every five people called would turn up. By 2008, the number of trials had risen by approximately 95% from 67 to 124, yet the number of people who had to be called as potential jurors had risen to almost 7,000 — a seven-fold increase since 2000. This year I am told the number will exceed 8,000 and it will keep increasing. Last year the number of jurors turning up for trials included a growing number of people seeking to be released from jury service for reasons of stress and anxiety. In other words instead of four out of every five people turning up as heretofore, the State now calls five people and only one shows up — and that is diminishing. Why is this happening? Why have the sense of civic duty and the willingness of the people to serve on juries evaporated to such an extent in the mid-western region? There is no evidence in any other walk of life that it has.

Can the Minister compare these with national figures?

The DPP could refer that case to the Special Criminal Court.

The fact is that jurors feel intimidated and are being intimidated.

They cannot be compared with national figures because there are no national figures.

It is not possible to compile statistical evidence on that as the Deputy well knows. This morning Deputy Charles Flanagan told us——

The DPP could refer that case to the Special Criminal Court as it stands.

I will come back to that point and deal with it. This morning Deputy Charles Flanagan told us that because the new Central Criminal Court complex in Parkgate Street, which is due to open in the autumn, has special provision for jurors — they have entirely separate facilities from the moment they enter the building ensuring they cannot be contacted by members of the public or criminals' associates — everything is fine. I remind the Deputy that they need to get to the building and leave it again. They have families, friends and loved ones.

No studies have been done. It is all anecdotal.

The Deputy believes it is alright because they are safe while in the building. People continually tell me that they are afraid to serve as jurors in any type of criminal trial in case the defendant would have any connection however tenuous with anybody involved in gangland crime. In the years following the Kieran Keane trial more than five out of every six people called for jury service in Limerick sought to be excused. There was a significant increase in the number of medical certificates submitted, particularly from women, stating that they were suffering from stress and anxiety.

In answer to Deputy Rabbitte's point, ultimately, the Keane trial was moved to the courthouse at Cloverhill, Dublin where it was possible to empanel a jury and the culprits were convicted. There was an eyewitness and they received a life sentence as the Deputy knows. While the Deputy may have spoken to people, I have taken the trouble to speak to a wide variety of people in the criminal justice system particularly in the mid-west. The opinion is now unanimous that it would be impossible to do this now, six years later, in similar circumstances. The reason is self-evident.

The reach of the gang whose members were on trial in that case has expanded enormously since 2003 and they have very strong associations with a number of criminal gangs in Dublin. The gang suspected of carrying out the murder of the unfortunate woman, Baiba Saulite, is the same gang suspected of ordering the murder of Roy Collins, Kieran Keane, Brian Fitzgerald and Shane Geoghegan. Baiba Saulite's murder occurred in Dublin, allegedly at the behest of a Dublin-based criminal who reportedly engaged this gang to carry it out. I had the experience while out canvassing with one of our local election candidates, who is a solicitor here in Dublin, of being followed around everywhere I went by a Garda car because he is under full-time protection here in Dublin from that gang.

Some of these victims were friends of mine. The late Roy Collins died in the Mid-Western Regional Hospital, choking in his own blood after being shot in the back at point-blank range as a result of trivial incident that occurred five years earlier. Shane Geoghegan, whose family is devastated, was mistaken for somebody else, was chased into waste ground and was shot dead as he pleaded for his life. Moreover, the word on the ground is that just before the gunman pursued Shane Geoghegan, he rang the person who had issued the orders and said he was uncertain whether they had the right man because the fellow before him had a beard. However, the response was to shoot him anyway because even if they had the wrong fellow, they could return and get the right one later. I think of Brian Fitzgerald who did nothing except to try to keep drugs out of a nightclub in Limerick lying on the ground having been wounded in the first attempt. A hired gunman then walked up and calmly shot him in the head, while his hysterical wife looked on from the window and as the babies slept in the back room. These are the high profile examples and, as I noted, there are at least two dozen cases.

Members should consider the case of a man called Michael McNamara who fell foul of the same gang and was lured into a trap. As a result, he fell into the hands of the gang on a piece of waste ground beside the Southill estate in Limerick and was done to death. One of my close friends happened to be working in the undertaking business in Limerick at the time and had the unfortunate job of taking care of the body. He told me he almost became physically ill when he saw the state of the body. Moreover, the medical evidence suggests it took the man eight hours to die.

I mention these cases to pose a single question. Would any jury from Mizen Head to Malin Head, whose members' identities, movements, domiciles and places of work would be known, as would be their spouses' movements and children's schools, be prepared to stand up, no matter what was the evidence, and convict the people behind the scenes in such cases who are capable of such vindictiveness, inhumanity and depravity? I am not confident that it would.

On 10 May this year, together with Deputies O'Sullivan and O'Donnell and a number of local councillors, I marched with thousands of other Limerick citizens in support of the family of Roy Collins, whom I know personally. I am reporting the evidence of my own eyes when I solemnly state in this House of Parliament that as I marched down O'Connell Street in Limerick to the county courthouse and city hall, I personally observed a number of known individuals along the route who were taking photographs and recording video footage on their mobile telephones as the solemn march passed by. These were people I associated with certain gangland organisations. In other words, those behind the fear and intimidation were determined to make their presence felt, even as people gathered to reject such intimidation. This is a metaphor for the problem that appears to have besieged our city. The gangs are trying to intimidate people from showing publicly that they wish to bring to an end the malaise being caused by the gangs. Such is the brazenness and bravado of these gangs that they now seriously believe they have won and that they hold the entire city and region to ransom. As the gangs genuinely believe this, our duty as the democratically elected regional and national representatives of the people is crystal clear. It is to send a strong, universally recognisable and unmistakable signal that they cannot, must not and will not prevail. That is precisely what this legislation proposes and that is the reason I am proud to commend it to the House.

The Minister is aware that signals alone will not succeed.

It is interesting to listen to the Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea. It is a pity he did not read the script read by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, as he might have taken on board——

Do the Deputy's objections have anything to do with Nial Binead or Kenneth Donohue?

I did not interrupt the Minister.

The Deputy did interrupt me.

Sinn Féin cannot tell a word of truth about anything, even going back five minutes.

Colleagues, Deputy Ó Snodaigh might——

I said one word and stated I would hold my peace until my opportunity came.

It is incapable of telling the truth.

I encourage Deputy Ó Snodaigh to proceed.

I have two names for the Deputy: Nial Binead and Kenneth Donohue.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh should proceed.

Does the Minister intend to continue or does he wish me to continue and explain to him the reason he is at odds with his own ministerial colleague who is sitting next to him?

It is of little interest to me whether the Deputy continues.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform introduced this legislation to protect the criminal justice system from intimidation of criminal witnesses. I note the Minister for Defence is running away now that he has finished bullshitting Members.

I will get the script.

Slán and good luck. The Minister should not listen to the truth as it would hurt him.

No data have been produced to provide any grounding for this odious emergency legislation. The Minister who has just fled from the Chamber because he cannot listen to the truth stated this legislation would not be permanent. Nothing on earth is permanent and no law is permanent as it can be changed. The problem, about which the Minister is attempting to sow confusion, is that these are temporary provisions. Temporary provisions are emergency legislation and there is no emergency in the State. There are major problems to which I will revert, but there is no emergency. The State has been condemned repeatedly by the United Nations for having in place emergency provisions such as the Special Criminal Court and the more recent amendments to the Offences Against the State Act. However, this legislation gives two fingers to the United Nations. It states we do not care what it desires or about its laws or recommendations as we intend to introduce more emergency provisions that will be more oppressive and further undermine the foundations of a justice system that can work.

I will return to one of the points I was about to make to the Minister for Defence before he ran off. I hope he went back to Limerick where he might do more to solve the problems, rather than pontificating about them. He asked whether any jury would convict in the horrendous cases he raised and the answer is yes. Juries throughout the country take on cases that are just as horrendous on a daily basis and thankfully they find guilty the criminal elements in our society. I refer to those who are holding communities to ransom, whether in the Minister's constituency in Limerick, in my constituency in Dublin South Central or in Tallaght which is represented by the other Members present.

Criminal gangs are operating at a level that is unprecedented and are better armed and resourced than ever before. Members should consider the position 20 or 30 years ago when warnings emerged from communities that the State needed to do something about the drugs trade and the huge amounts of wealth and resources being gathered by certain elements in our society. These warnings emerged nationwide, organisations were set up and the State turned on them. I refer to Concerned Parents Against Drugs, CPAD, and the subsequent establishment in the late 1990s of another organisation, Coalition of Communities Against Drugs, COCAD. In addition, the State finally took heed and set up the drugs task forces. While some movement took place, drugs had taken hold by then and the amounts of money and resources that these criminal gangs already had amassed were vast.

In the past ten years the response to the gangs and their criminal empires has not been as appropriate or as well resourced as it should have been. An array of weapons has been found in every single drug shipment the Garda or the customs service thankfully have confiscated. Our society is suffering as a consequence of its failure to provide proper resources for the Garda Síochána or Customs and Excise which has done some tremendous work to tackle the drugs trade. Even the Naval Service has not been given the proper resources to prevent the enormous scale of the drugs trade. The Celtic tiger appears to have fuelled the trade, the use of cocaine in particular. Huge amounts of money were made on the back of the Celtic tiger for the criminal gangs and not enough has been done in this regard.

These are the areas on which we should focus in the first instance. Where is the Garda communications network that was demanded ten years ago which could not be interfered with or listened to by the criminal gangs? It still is awaited and has not completed its pilot phase, even though most other European states have in place the TETRA system or a similar digital radio communications system for their police services. Until last week where was the surveillance legislation to allow the gardaí to carry out the proper surveillance of those who were possibly intimidating witnesses or juries? We have only passed it. There has not been time to see if it had the desired effect of ensuring the gardaí had another way to put surveillance in place to address some of the intimidation the Minister claims cannot be quantified. He did a good job of trying to quantify it, he spoke repetitively on that matter.

It is a fact that it is more difficult to get people to sit on juries but not just because of intimidation. In smaller areas, such as Limerick, people know each other better than they would in Dublin, where they are more anonymous. It would, therefore, be easier to find a jury elsewhere. That is not down to the nature of the cases, it is due to the size of the city and the potential pot of jurors. People were also busy and concerned about their livelihood in recent years.

I profoundly object to the manner in which this Bill was introduced. This now happens every year, no matter who the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is. The previous Minister was a serial legislator but the present Minister has matched, if not exceeded, him in the number of Bills he has produced.

I was accused by Deputy Charles Flanagan of inertia.

There is no danger of that. We need only look at the amount of legislation that has come from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

I seem to agree with Deputy Ó Snodaigh more often than I agree with the two other Opposition spokesmen.

That is a good thing, it means I might be right once in a while.

Producing legislation is not wrong in itself but if it rushed through at the pace the Minister is trying to rush this legislation, there are dangers because we are not looking at the alternatives. There are alternatives to this and we should have tried them before introducing this Bill.

Some of the alternatives were discussed when Michael McDowell was Minister. The need for practical protection for juries and witnesses is still not in place, an issue I raised with the then Minister in committee more than four years ago. Here we are, however, introducing new legislation while still ignoring the need for practical protection for juries and witnesses. Even with this legislation that is not happening.

We should explore the idea of making juries more anonymous or segregating them more, with trials being relocated away from trouble spots. It is already happening in some cases so it can be done on a more regular basis. That does not interfere with the basis of the jury system as a rule. We should have considered it, tested it and agreed it works. Juries in Ireland have a higher conviction rate than those in any other jurisdiction in Europe.

The system works, it can convict, but we must develop a full spectrum witness protection programme and place it on a statutory footing. I recently met people who thought they were being protected as witnesses but their lives have been shattered by the experience because they cannot continue to work after giving evidence that led to a conviction. That disproves what the previous Minister claimed.

We must also put in place arrangements to upskill and educate the relevant gardaí and officials from the DPP's office on how to use the new provisions of the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act to best effect in investigations and prosecutions to achieve sound convictions. That was the reason I supported the surveillance Bill, so that it could be used to ensure proper convictions in cases like those the Minister mentioned. We must allow time for that legislation to take effect and for the gardaí to be properly resourced.

The bans on overtime, recruitment and promotions will do nothing for the gardaí's ability to use the surveillance legislation, or even this legislation, in the future. Morale is so low in some parts that many gardaí will leave the force because of recent restrictions. Acceleration of civilianisation would free up more fully trained gardaí to tackle crime, that is why they join the Garda Síochána, not to stand at static checkpoints outside the Dáil.

I mentioned the roll out of the secure digital radio service. The Minister spoke about anecdotal evidence but the anecdotal evidence in Limerick is that more people tune into the Garda radio frequencies than tune into RTE Radio 1. This has been a problem for more than ten years and it could have been addressed many years ago. The TETRA system has been with the gardaí but roll out is not likely to happen for at least a year if not longer.

There should be an increase in the numbers of criminal assets profilers to ensure proceeds of crime are confiscated from these gang figures and their families so they do not become the focus of young people's admiration because they can see the wealth they have amassed, especially in a recession. Some people look to that wealth and see it as easy pickings.

We must guarantee the future of the "dial to stop drug dealing" scheme. Many people are afraid to give information directly to the Garda Síochána. This mechanism ensured they would remain anonymous because it was a non-Garda phone-line. When it was operating it produced the conviction of drug dealers, those behind much of what the legislation is supposedly targeting. The practical steps should be taken first, ensuring the gardaí and the DPP, the Courts Service and the State forensic laboratory are properly equipped to detect, investigate and secure sound convictions.

Despite having very little time to scrutinise this Bill in detail, I am satisfied my initial concerns were well founded. It is a pity that it is being rushed through next week because on Committee Stage, we would be able to prove to the Minister the folly of the Bill.

The Human Rights Commission and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties have both agreed with the position I adopted when I heard of the full effects of the Bill. Particularly odious sections include the introduction of non-jury trials as a default for a range of broadly and vaguely defined offences. Section 8 contains a blanket declaration that the ordinary courts are insufficient to secure justice for the new scheduled offences. The Government has shown no evidence that supports this contention. There are no facts or figures, only supposition or the claims of the Minister.

The Garda Commissioner has also expressed his concern on these measures. He and his predecessors demanded a radio system, more gardaí and the other points I have made but he did not get them. Just because the Garda Commissioner demands something does not mean he will get it. It is a pity we did not listen to the practical steps suggested by Garda Commissioners over the years that could help them in their fight against crime.

The evidence in this case points in the opposite direction. Irish juries have demonstrated a high conviction rate. The Minister quoted the 2003 trial for the murder of Kieran Keane. In this instance, the public fear of the people of Limerick resulted in the trial being abandoned because the State could not select a willing local jury.

The solution to that problem was not to eliminate the right to a jury trial altogether. It was simple. The trial was relocated and the jury ultimately convicted those accused of that crime. Jury intimidation and witness intimidation are two different things and there is no evidence to suggest that jury intimidation is a problem requiring a response of this magnitude. I have mentioned simple steps that can be taken, namely, segregation from public view, the use of video links and trial relocation in appropriate circumstances may well be sufficient to address many of these concerns. Another possibility is anonymous juries. Although the intimidation of witnesses and violence against their families and whole communities is a major problem, this Bill ignores it and does not do anything whatever for witnesses. Those families who have been intimidated and have suffered fatal consequences, such as the Collins family, will see that this Bill will do nothing for them or any other family caught in such a situation and looking for protection. A witness protection programme is not provided for.

When it suits it, the Government likes to quote the Hederman committee, which conducted the review of the Offences against the State Acts, but the Minister is not quoting it today. When the committee considered the constitutionality of a similar declaration contained in the Offences against the State Act which underpins the use of the Special Criminal Court — that is, non-jury trials — the committee minority report recommended that the Special Criminal Court be dispensed with altogether, but the majority of the committee concluded:

The constitutional jurisdiction to try an accused in the non-jury courts rests on an assessment in that individual case that the ordinary courts are inadequate and that these constitutional requirements are not satisfied by the scheduling of certain offences by the Oireachtas itself since the very act of scheduling permits the trial of those very offences ... without any consideration of the individual merits of the case at hand and whether or not the ordinary courts are inadequate to try that particular case.

The Hederman committee thus advised the Government not to go down this route.

Sections 7 and 21 of the Bill greatly extend the use of and reliance on Garda opinion evidence. The non-jury court will be relying on the word of a garda as to whether a criminal gang exists, subject to a dangerously vague and loose definition of what constitutes a gang. There is no minimum Garda rank requirement for giving opinion evidence. In addition, in the context of the new secret hearings, uncorroborated Garda and hearsay evidence is to be relied upon.

The supposedly new offence of directing any activity of a criminal organisation and definition of criminal organisation contained in sections 3, 5 and 6 of the Bill are objectionably vague and also unnecessary. The activities covered are already offences under criminal law, both common and primary. Offences of conspiracy and accessory already exist. With regard to the definition of a criminal organisation, this very week three years ago the previous Fianna Fáil-led Government rushed into being an equally impractical and almost identical definition which has never been used.

As I said, my area has suffered greatly due to gangland crime. I would love to be here welcoming a Bill that incorporated a witness protection programme and provided the additional resources required to tackle and extinguish the criminal gangs that are holding communities to ransom and operating ruthlessly. This is not that legislation. It is a publicity stunt which will not affect the drugs trade or the criminal gangs one iota. What we need is proper legislation and resourcing of the Garda Síochána to tackle head-on the crime gangs, which seem to be developing and re-arming continuously while sitting on vast fortunes. The State has not had the desired effect to date.

Something needs to be done but, ultimately, this is not the way forward. When the Bill is enacted and comes into operation it will leave us open to condemnation by the UN again and again. As I said, this is not a temporary measure. This can be seen from the fact that when the Offences against the State Acts are reviewed every year they are given a cursory glance by everyone in the House and go virtually unopposed, except by ourselves. Sufficient time is not given to debate and it seems that once emergency legislation is introduced there is no desire to remove it from the Statute Book and return to a proper justice system.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill and I commend the Minister, Deputy Ahern, for introducing it in such a speedy fashion. I listened to Deputy Ó Snodaigh and before that to Deputy Rabbitte. Like the Acting Chairman, Deputy O'Connor, they share a constituency that has seen major crime activity, including gangland killings. If they were speaking on behalf of the vast majority of law-abiding citizens they would be welcoming this legislation. Clearly the public at large expects the laws of the land to be used to good effect in dealing with gangland crime. The public wants to see the speedy passage of this Bill through the Houses of the Oireachtas. It amazes me to hear the comments about guillotining the Bill, not giving proper time and so on. For quite some time the public has demanded that the Garda be provided with the necessary powers and backup through legislation, as in the recent Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Bill. We should not have a courts system which cannot put these criminals behind bars when they are clearly engaging in intimidation of witnesses and of the public.

The criminal gangs show total disregard for our communities in the way in which they intimidate them. The case of the late Roy Collins in Limerick is particular proof of that. I commend the way in which the Collins family have spoken out against mass intimidation in their own city. I listened to the Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, outlining the numerous areas with problems. He was not speaking only about intimidation. At a recent march, videoing of participants was carried out openly by known criminals. If that does not prove the case for this law, nothing can.

The Bill will be warmly welcomed. The people to whom I have spoken in recent days certainly believe its speedy passage is welcome. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, in his remarks today, said that the activities of organised crime gangs have intensified and they have shown an increased ruthlessness in how they deal with each other. The Acting Chairman's own constituency has seen evidence of this. These gangs have no compunction about taking the lives of members of their own and other gangs as well as, unfortunately, innocent members of the public. If a survey were done today or tomorrow — quite often as politicians we rely on surveys to inform us of public opinion on Government actions — I have no doubt the vast majority of the public would support what the Minister is doing. We have a duty as a Parliament to reflect those views.

The backing of the Garda Commissioner, who has told us these new laws are necessary in order to deal with the criminal gangs, focuses our minds on bringing in the legislation in a timely fashion. From what I have read in the newspapers, and from listening to other Members talking about incidents in their own constituencies, I know there has been an unwillingness on the part of jurors to come forward. The Minister for Defence mentioned in his contribution that out of 729 potential jurors issued notices, only 12 came forward. That stark and horrendous statistic entirely vindicates the stance the Government is taking. It proves that intimidation of witnesses is taking place to such a degree that they feel obliged to excuse themselves from jury service. The Minister went on to refer to a figure of 1,000 which would reduce the percentage further.

The reality is that this Bill is needed now and must be signed into law without delay. I am firmly of the view that we as politicians cannot stand by and let the entire judicial system be undermined. That witnesses are intimidated to the extent that they refuse to present for jury service justifies these measures. I do not accept the views expressed by Members opposite that the legislation is being brought forward in too hasty a fashion and that it fails to take account of certain human rights issues. The contacts I have had with members of the public indicate there is a general acceptance of the necessity for this law. The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, indicated this morning that he had discussed the proposals with human rights groups. He is satisfied, as are the Garda authorities, that the Bill does not impinge on human rights.

We have a duty to impose these provisions. If there are issues to be addressed in the future, we will tackle them as they arise. We cannot allow a situation where the State takes no action against criminals who execute people at random. The establishment in 1996 of the Criminal Assets Bureau was welcomed by all. However, 11 years later, gangland activity is escalating, with some gangs now being led by teenagers. In Dublin city some weeks ago, a 19 year old with convictions under the Criminal Assets Bureau was assassinated by a member of his own gang. These are the types of people with whom we are dealing. Younger and younger people are joining these gangs and there is always a replacement to step in when a gang leader is assassinated. We must have in place the legal provisions to allow the Garda to put such persons behind bars for their own good and for the benefit of society.

As I said, this Bill does not represent a threat to human rights protection. Deputy Ó Snodaigh referred to our obligations as a member of the United Nations. I would challenge the UN authorities to argue the case that the gangsters who are committing horrendous crimes on a daily basis should effectively be left to roam our streets and kill not only other gang members but also innocent victims. It is our duty as parliamentarians to ensure there are laws in place to deal effectively with serious crime and the perpetrators thereof. It is unacceptable that our Statute Book should include laws that will not stand up in court. There is no point in introducing laws if gardaí are hindered in their approach to dealing with evidence in court. It is ridiculous that criminals should go free, as happened in Limerick, because witnesses retract their evidence out of fear and intimidation. If we are not prepared to deal with this situation, we will fail in our duty.

The Bill makes no provision for witness protection.

I disagree with the Deputy's view on this point.

The Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, admitted there is no such provision.

Deputy Kennedy should be allowed to continue without interruption.

Deputy Kennedy is misleading the House.

These criminal gangs have used every method in their possession to intimidate witnesses and to seek to evade justice. They have thwarted the criminal justice system at every opportunity. As legislators, we have a duty to deal with this in a timely fashion.

The measures introduced by the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, are both timely and necessary. As I said, he cannot ignore the advice of the Garda Commissioners and the Garda superintendents who deal with these issues on a daily basis. To ignore that advice would place us in dereliction of our duty and subject us to deserved criticism from the Opposition, media and public. We must deal with realities and take all necessary action to protect citizens. As such, I expected this Bill to have almost unanimous support from the House, as was the case some weeks ago in respect of the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Bill 2009. I am particularly disappointed this support is not forthcoming from Deputies Rabbitte and Ó Snodaigh, both of whom represent constituencies in which there is a serious problem of gangland crime, with gangsters roaming the streets.

We need more resources, not more laws.

The laws are there.

Precisely. That is my point.

The problem is that there is a difficulty in obtaining convictions in the courts.

As I said, it is a question of resources.

That is one aspect. People are being brought before the court but, as in Limerick, witnesses are not turning up and defendants are walking free.

Yes. What is required is a witness protection programme.

These people are giving two fingers to the entire judicial process, to us as public representatives and to the general public. This is unsatisfactory and it must not be allowed to continue.

The Garda Commissioner has given his professional opinion, supported by the evidence of his colleagues, that the Special Criminal Court approach is necessary. I have no hesitation in putting that advice into practice. We will deal with any future human rights issues as they arise. If this Bill saves one life, it will have done a good job. It will be more than worthwhile if it succeeds in discouraging young people from a life of crime. Unfortunately, some young people begin as drug users before going on to become drug pushers. The Oireachtas has a duty to ensure such persons are given every opportunity to become law-abiding citizens, receive an education, obtain employment and contribute to society rather than destroying their own lives and those of others.

Deputy Finian McGrath referred some days ago to the abuse of drugs by members of the middle class. I agree this is part of the problem. People who take drugs tonight or tomorrow night as part of their social celebrations are lining the pockets of drug barons.

Following from that are the unfortunate cases where the different gang leaders decide they want a bigger cut of the action, more money and profits and decide to take out other gang leaders. That may be okay but unfortunately innocent bystanders quite often get caught up in the process. As legislators, we should ensure that we deal with the problem in an effective manner. I do not have any hesitation in saying this new Bill will help that.

We already have laws dealing with offences and have given the Garda Síochána investigative tools with the new surveillance Bills. There are also penalties but it is important to ensure prosecutions. I speak for the vast majority of society in saying there is nothing more galling than criminals known to the communities and in many cases to public representatives walking scot free from the courts, giving two fingers to the system. As Members of the Dáil and Seanad and legislators, it is our duty to ensure we give every assistance to ensure there are successful prosecutions when these gangsters are brought before our courts. Talking about the UN and human rights is not an issue at this stage.

We have previous experience of the Special Criminal Court from the 1970s and 1980s, when it was used to deal with the subversive organisations. It dealt with them efficiently, by and large, and what may have been awkward positions for our State in the 1970s and 1980s were avoided as certain people were put behind bars. Normal law and order was maintained and we ensured there would not be a second army in the State.

Today we are discussing the use of the Special Criminal Court against ordinary criminal gangs, as distinct from the former subversives. I am convinced this is the proper action and I do not have any doubt that the biggest threat to our society today comes from these ruthless gangs. Unfortunately, the middle class is contributing to their wealth and prominence through the use of drugs. I want to see this Bill pushed through both Houses at the earliest date so that the Garda Síochána will be able to successfully prosecute these people in court for the betterment of society.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this important legislation, the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2009. Of course, I share my colleagues' valid concerns about the way the Bill is being rushed through and the lack of detailed analysis in the Oireachtas. However, we must also deal with the reality of organised crime, murders, intimidation and the lack of support for communities, particularly those which are most disadvantaged. This should be the thrust of the debate today and it is where I will begin.

The right to life and the protection of our citizens should be the top priority in this legislation, and that is my bottom line. When we hear people talking about intimidation of witnesses, I often wonder if we have considered closely the reality for many of these people. Intimidation is not limited to Limerick and is widespread in many communities. A number of Deputies have mentioned that it goes on in all our constituencies. When we hear of violence, threats, fear and murder, we must respond in a strong and decisive way.

Gangs, particularly those involved in organised crime, are armed to the teeth. There is intimidation in flat complexes throughout this city and even in my own constituency. For example, women trying to live a normal life are intimidated and threatened along with families. We must consider the reality behind this important piece of legislation.

A number of colleagues mentioned the Criminal Assets Bureau, which was a positive and constructive development. My late colleague and former Deputy, Tony Gregory, was always pushing this agenda. His idea was that when the assets of the drug barons were confiscated, they should go back into the communities to help the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, whether by means of health schemes, youth projects or education. The resources of these organised criminals should go directly to the community.

In considering the legislation we must look at a policy of quality policing and the role of the Garda Síochána. There are many examples of good practice in tracking organised crime and in recent days we have seen that being used to its maximum potential as leading drug dealers were arrested throughout this city. We must also consider the ethos of our public service, the role of the Garda Síochána and the way communities assist the Garda and feel protected in return. The Garda Síochána also has a very important responsibility and it must win the respect and trust of its communities. There are many areas where this is not the reality so we must consider the successful projects, like Operation Anvil.

The Garda must go into the local communities and win their respect. This debate is about the protection of people's lives but it also concerns the protection of communities. Organised crime is destroying whole communities rather than just particular individuals or witnesses. The game is bigger and broader and the destruction is horrific.

I mentioned the word "intimidation" earlier. When one meets intimidated families, one can see the look of fear in their eyes. I have met many such people over the past 20 years who were intimidated by a local gang or people involved in organised crime. It is unacceptable that citizens have to put up with this. We have had enough guff on this issue for the past number of years, particularly in this House. We need action on the ground, and I have already mentioned the decisive action taken over the past 48 hours. This is what is required to win the trust and confidence of the people.

I heard a number of Deputies speak about Limerick and it is right to give priority to the victims and families suffering under these organised gangs. I would always give such people priority in the debate on the protection of their rights as against the broader community. This is a bigger issue than Limerick, however, and there are massive problems. In responding to organised crime, the Minister must listen to the advice of top gardaí and people directly involved in the drug squad. Part of the final informed decision should come from listening to the communities, and I welcome the fact that the Minister has met some of the victims of these organised criminals. There is nothing wrong with listening to those who have concerns about human rights.

One hears a debate on having more witness protection but for many people, once they enter such a process, that is the end of their natural family lives. I wonder if people speaking in this House understand that if people enter a witness protection process, it is the end of their relationship with family and friends. There are many disadvantages. I know many people refuse to enter such a process, so we must be more creative in defending these people, as they cannot just be banished because they are in a witness protection programme.

I welcome the fact that several communities are standing up to oppose criminality. A massive crowd took to the streets of Limerick recently to support the families. Marches and rallies have taken place in communities throughout Dublin over the past 20 years to protest against drug gangs in Dublin's north inner city in particular. It is important that members of the community march with their neighbours and friends. It is not acceptable that these protests are filmed by gang members. Why were they not arrested for this intimidation? We need to be proactive in preventing crime as well as dealing with legislation.

The primary purpose of this Bill is to introduce additional measures targeted at combating organised crime. We cannot sit on the fence on this issue. I welcome that the Bill targets those who direct the activities of criminal organisations and those who participate in the activities of such organisations. We need to do more to weed out the senior figures who often use vulnerable people, including addicts, to do their dirty work. Some of the people who do gangland hits are so strung out on cocaine that they do not even who they are shooting at. That is the sad reality.

The Bill also addresses the increasing levels of violence and intimidation directed at witnesses and other members of the public. It is our duty as Members of the Oireachtas to protect witnesses and defend the public. The emphasis of this debate should be on the right to life and the protection of our citizens. The Bill provides that the Special Criminal Court can be used for hearing particular organised crime offences unless the Director of Public Prosecutions directs otherwise. It also amends Garda detention, re-arrest and search powers. However, we do not want another Nicky Kelly case.

Section 3 amends section 70 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006. Subsection (1) amends the definitions of "criminal organisation" and "structured group" contained in that section. Subsection (2) defines "a person ordinarily resident in the State". Many young and misguided people have fallen into bad situations but the experienced gardaí employed in the drugs and serious crime squads can help to remove them from the picture. From speaking to the parents of these young people, I am aware those who want to get out can feel caught between gang leaders and gardaí.

Section 5 seeks to target those in a criminal organisation who give the orders. Some of these people may not directly participate in committing criminal offences. By including the words "at any level of the organisation's structure" in subsection (2), it is ensured that persons directing the activities need not necessarily be one of those at the top of the organisation or that they be shown to be such. These are important provisions.

Section 6 amends the Criminal Justice Act 2006 by substituting a new section for the existing section 72 which relates to participation in organised crime. The new section will simplify the existing offence of participation in a criminal organisation. The members of these gangs are nasty people with an horrific history of violence. I am particularly disturbed by the way they destroy communities. It is not acceptable that they should have such power. Section 6 makes a good attempt at dealing with this issue.

It is a pity Deputies do not have more time to debate the Bill because, while some aspects of it are very welcome, others may give cause for concern. Section 7 inserts a new section after section 71 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 to provide for proof of the existence of a criminal organisation. This will enhance the ability to bring prosecutions for offences of directing or participating in organised crime. Subsections (1) and (2) allow for the admissibility of expert opinion evidence of a member of the Garda Síochána in determining the existence of a criminal organisation. Many Deputies will be aware of the activities of criminal organisations in their respective constituencies.

Section 10 amends section 73 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 to increase the penalty for the commission of an offence for a criminal organisation from ten to 15 years. I support that provision. In America, an individual was recently sentenced to 150 years in prison for swindling billions of dollars. Many people say that if one commits a murder or stabs somebody in the eye or face in Ireland, one will be in prison for ten or 12 years.

He may have had a jury trial, however.

Issues arise in regard to sentencing and justice. We have to ensure that people have respect for the justice system. I do not respect those who are still walking around despite ripping off the State for millions of euro. A woman who owed €18,000 to a credit union was brought before a court. There is not sufficient clarity or equality in this regard. People have the right to raise these issues.

When speaking about violence and fear, it is important that we do not forget the victims. The purpose of this debate is to get justice for victims.

Section 22 amends sections 50 to 52, inclusive, of the Criminal Justice Act 2007. Section 50 provides that a person suspected of committing murder involving the use of a firearm or explosive, murder to which section 3 of the Criminal Justice Act 1990 applies, an offence under section 15 of the Firearms Act 1925 or an offence under section 15 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 involving the use of a firearm may be detained for up to seven days for the proper investigation of the offence, including 48 hours under Garda authority and a further 120 hours under judicial authority. Concerns have been expressed about this section. It is legitimate to ask questions about these detention periods. However, if people are suspected of involvement in violence or intimidation, it is not acceptable to do nothing. The issue is to get the balance between that kind of approach and the broader one. This morning, for example, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties had a go at the Minister and was concerned that legislation was being rushed through the Dáil. That press conference was attended by someone for whom I have great respect — Michael Finucane, the son of the murdered solicitor Pat Finucane. He has a great work record on human rights. The Minister should not dismiss those people as windy, liberal lefties or pinkos. They are people who have a genuine concern about human rights.

The Deputy has covered all the bases there.

Yes. They have also published documents on setting out a rights-based alternative to tackling the problem of organised crime. They have published a paper on crime and respecting the rule of law, as well as human rights-based alternatives to the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill. As Deputy Rabbitte said, I have covered all the angles. I always do my best in that respect to bring some balance to the debate.

Last week, I raised the issue concerning the market for drugs, organised crime and people who are very well off in society. A number of people referred to my comments, including Deputy Michael Kennedy. I am sorry that Deputy is not present in the Chamber now. I did a number of interviews as a result of that speech and I was criticised for labelling celebrities, including radio and television stars, as being involved in the drugs trade. In reality, however, I was saying that some sections of the media and celebrities, including high-profile musicians, were involved and are part of the problem. In the past, there have also been certain people who were associated with politics. We must fight to ensure that the drugs market for organised crime is rapidly diminished. It is essential to stand up for these things.

With regard to section 23, subsection (1) amends section 4 of the Act by inserting a new subsection 8B. Section 4(8) provides that any time a person detained under section 4 is absent from the station for the purpose of hospitalisation, they are to be excluded in the reckoning of the detention period. The new subsection 8B seeks to address the situation where a detainee is assessed as unfit for questioning but does not require hospitalisation, for example where the detainee is intoxicated. It is proposed that where a medical practitioner certifies that the detainee is unfit for questioning no questioning shall take place during the period certified. Basically, therefore, there are protections within that section.

I welcome this important debate which has underlined positive elements in the legislation, although I would prefer if its provisions were broader. At the same time, I respect the fact that the Minister is dealing with the situation. In addition, public opinion wants to see citizens being protected. Violence and intimidation are devastating communities and must be stopped because people are sick and tired of the situation.

The Legislature must take seriously special emergency legislation such as this, but we must also ask how we got to this point. How has society reached a stage where professional hitmen are being hired to kill people? What is it in society that led to this? The Bill shifts the balance against professional criminals and organised crime generally, which is welcome. We must change the balance away from those people. I am concerned about what is happening, however, because it seems that the more people we lock up, the more there are to replace them. Those replacing older criminals seem to be younger, more vicious and callous than those who were there previously.

A number of years ago, the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell, said the legislation he was introducing would solve the problem. He also said that the activities going on were like the last sting of a dying wasp. We have continued to enact legislation but I doubt if it is having the desired effect. The Bill before us is draconian in nature and grants many powers to the Garda Síochána. All of this is important but we have been here repeatedly in recent years and the situation seems only to be getting worse. When we lock up older criminals a younger, more vicious group takes their place. While I agree the legislation is necessary to rebalance the scales of justice, we also need to examine urgently what it is in society that is leading to this. Deputy Kennedy referred earlier to the use of drugs by the middle class, an area we need to start working on.

I am concerned that the Government has cut back on funding drug prevention programmes. It has been brought to my attention that funding for youth organisations has also been cut back. We need to start attacking this at all levels. I was speaking to some people recently in a community close to where I live. They are working extremely hard but they said the battle must start at preschool level. One must begin engaging with the parents of children at preschool who may grow up to be the kind of criminals we are dealing with. Unfortunately, however, we are not doing that. We are cutting back funding at that level so children are going onto the streets and have no activities to engage in. As a result they become engaged in petty crime which grows into more serious crime. In many instances, getting a conviction becomes a badge of honour rather than a deterrent or something to be ashamed of.

I implore the Government to take a long, hard look at trying to stop children from getting involved in crime from a young age. We should start at preschool level and work up from there. We have not been doing that, however, and our youth services are totally under-resourced across the State. In addition we are cutting back expenditure on drug prevention programmes. For the relatively small amount of money spent on such programmes, one could save an enormous amount later in trying to track hardened criminals and imprison them for long periods. It costs an absolute fortune but the human cost is of far greater concern.

Earlier in the debate, Deputy Charles Flanagan said the gardaí need enough resources and equipment to deal with crime. The DNA database has been promised for quite some time, while Garda radios are not up to standard. The PULSE computer system is not the best, and I am told that the State laboratory and the DPP's budget have been cut. Simple things such as one-way glass at identity parades might help.

I live in a coastal area and in west Cork we have seen evidence of people bringing drugs ashore in the dead of night from yachts and other vessels. More must be done to combat that activity. I have spoken before about establishing a coastal watch to do something about that.

I welcome the Bill's provisions for bringing tougher penalties to bear on someone for directing a criminal organisation. For many years we have said we must go after the godfathers who are making a lot of money out of such criminal activity. Anything we can do in that respect will be useful, including this emergency legislation. I would have a concern that we are bringing forward more and more legislation all the time. I would like to see a review of the effectiveness of the legislation that we have brought forward to date. I would like the Minister to bring a report before the House on the effectiveness of these various Bills that we were told would work. Have they worked? If not, why not?

We need to be hard on directing crime. We have heard about people directing crime from inside prison by using mobile phones. The ordinary man on the street cannot understand how they can get their phones into prison and direct their empires from inside.

We always must maintain a balance between the human rights of people and the protection of communities. We are giving very strong powers to the Garda Síochána, and rightly so. We must clamp down on hardened criminals. The vicious thugs must be put away. We must, however, do what we can to prevent young men from getting involved in this activity in the first place. Perhaps our society is very unequal, but we need to start looking at that as a matter of urgency. No matter how much legislation we enact or how many powers we give to the Gardaí, unless we stop the flow of people into this type of activity, it will continue.

I thank the Deputies who spoke earlier on this debate. Some are suggesting this legislation is being rammed through and not being given enough time. We had five hours to speak on this, and quite a number of Deputies have spoken. The majority of them have been from this side of the House. I had a discussion with the Chief Whip yesterday on the need for more time on the Bill. It is now agreed that we will sit to tease out the intricacies of the Bill for a considerable amount of time on Tuesday and Friday next.

That is not the issue.

People are saying we are ramming it through and not giving it enough time. We had five hours today and we have run out of speakers. I have risen to speak before my time.

It is not a question of hours. It is a question of convention.

We are giving extra time for the consideration of Committee and remaining Stages. I am disappointed with the tenor of the debate and the accusations made by Deputy Flanagan about what he claims to be my inaction and inertia. To be fair to Deputy Ó Snodaigh, he said I was a serial legislator. He said exactly the opposite to what Deputy Flanagan said. I can put on record the 15 Bills which I have either initiated, published or passed over a relatively short time as Minister——

They have been rushed through, as the Minister himself has been quoted as saying.

Those Bills include the Intoxicating Liquor Bill, the Legal Practitioners (Irish Language) Bill, the Landlord and Tenant Bill, the Legal Services (Ombudsman) Bill, the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Bill, the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill, the Enforcement of Court Orders (Amendment) Bill, the Defamation Bill, the Fines Bill, the Arbitration Bill, the Prevention of Corruption Bill, the Property Services (Regulation) Bill, the Criminal Procedure Bill, and the Multi-Unit Development Bill.

Some of those were not initiated by the Minister.

I reject the Deputy's accusation that there is inertia on this side. I thought we would have a good debate on why this Bill is necessary, but all I got was a personal diatribe of 15 minutes from the Deputy, with no real constructive suggestions. The other three speakers from the Deputy's party were supportive of the Bill.

That is the old line.

Deputy Rabbitte does himself no credit. He said this was a flight of fancy on my behalf and was some sort of PR spin. I reject that completely, and it does Deputy Rabbitte no credit. He engaged in that with his usual pomposity. I will remind him what he said after the murder of Shane Geoghegan.

The Minister had them lined up.

He said, "the public mood is to assent to measures in the present crisis [after the murder of Shane Geoghegan] that we would not otherwise tolerate". He went on to state that "the first test of any Government is the protection of its citizens." He said, "This cannot go on, Minister. There must be some tipping point where the State asserts its democratic mandate and asserts decent values. I hope that the shocking murder of Shane Geoghegan would be such a tipping point, and that people are saying that enough is enough, and that it is the Government's duty to put gangs out of business." As I did not intend to come in on this vein, I did not have time to look up what Fine Gael Deputies said after the Shane Geoghegan murder or the Roy Collins murder.

The Minister will get the time.

The Deputy, without interruption.

This is not a flight of fancy by me. I take my job very seriously. The reality is that this has been strongly recommended by the Garda Síochána. There has been a convention in this House when the Garda Síochána management has given advice on serious issues affecting the security of this State, that the view expressed by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is understood by the two major political parties opposite, but that did not seem to apply to Deputy Rabbitte's comments on a lack of evidence. I stated quite clearly that the Garda Síochána has given very strong advice to the Government.

There is no evidence. The Minister said so himself.

The Government met on numerous occasions on this Bill. We had detailed consideration with the Attorney General, detailed meetings with the Garda Commissioner and the assistant commissioners. I did not take this just from the top management. Everywhere I went in this State, especially in the difficult areas in Limerick and Dublin, I asked ordinary gardaí about what they needed.

The Minister gave a three and a half line response to a question in here.

After the murder of Shane Geoghegan, I resisted calls from the Deputies opposite to do more. I felt that as we had passed laws in 2006 and 2007, we had more than enough. However, what changed my mind, and that of the Government and the Garda Commissioner and his staff, was the awful murder of Roy Collins. I would suggest to the Deputies opposite to look at the letter in The Irish Times today, where a gentleman——

I am glad the Deputy saw it. I will read it out to him. It states:

Following the deaths of Shane Geoghegan and more recently, Roy Collins, the Opposition got firmly behind calls from the public for tougher measures to tackle crime. Now that the Government has heeded these demands, Fine Gael and Labour are trying to stall progress in this area.

I could not agree more.

I would say the Minister did not see that for the first time just this morning.

Allow the Minister to finish.

This is a democratic assembly.

That is why he must be allowed finish, without interruption.

When the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has come into this House over the years, giving strong advice based on detailed consideration by the Garda Síochána, there is a convention that it is accepted. However, one could also have listened to the testimony of the two Deputies from Limerick, Deputies O'Dea and Power, who gave very eloquent explanations of the difficulties they have experienced as representatives of the people in that particular location of this country. In spite of the fact that Deputy Rabbitte still continues to say there is no evidence adduced on this issue, Deputies O'Dea and Power said that almost on a daily basis people come in with jury summonses and that they are having difficulties with this. The Deputies are now trying to interrupt, which is the usual tactic.

Allow the Minister to finish, without interruption.

On a point of order, 20 Members are not in the House. There are Deputies in the bar and elsewhere who might like to sit in on this.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

As we have a quorum, we will resume.

I thank Deputy Ó Snodaigh for getting me an audience.

It is a very serious issue.

The Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, and the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Peter Power, outlined very dramatically the difficulties their constituents face on a day to day basis. We should not take lightly the comments of the two Deputies from the Limerick area who spoke on Second Stage. The Garda gave a very strong recommendation to the Government which it discussed on a number of occasions since the tragic killing of Roy Collins.

This was confirmed by the State solicitor, or the prosecutor, for Limerick who said on RTE recently that these people started to intimidate witnesses and then made life uncomfortable for jurors. He went on to state that in the recent past, he certainly had one case in which he was so concerned about the level of intimidation of the jury that he had to report to the Garda authorities and ask it then to investigate a case where a person was acquitted in circumstances where it was clear to him that the jury was afraid. He also stated that there has been a distinct reluctance on the part of people who are called to participate in juries and that they dream up all sorts of excuses to get off the jury panel. That is confirmation of what the Garda told us about the difficulty it has had in Limerick and in areas of Dublin over the years. I totally reject the assertion that this is a whim of mine or any sort of spin.

I have heard much play made of the fact that in Limerick in recent days, there was no requirement for an empanelled jury. I wish to inform those who allege there is no difficulty with juries that is because none of the cases called had any gangland connections or implications. Any time there has been a gangland-related trial in Limerick, there has been difficulty getting juries empanelled. The Minister for Defence outlined that clearly in what he said about the jury trial of Mr. Kieran Keane which had to be moved to Cloverhill because a jury could not be empanelled. The experience is that each time there is a gangland-related trial, the number of jurors coming forward drops dramatically but that it rises again when normal criminal trials are at issue.

I wish to deal with some of the issues raised by the Irish Human Rights Commission, for which I have much time. Deputy Rabbitte tried to state that this Government totally ignores it. The other day I accepted a number of amendments to the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Bill 2009 which were recommended by the Irish Human Rights Commission. In regard to its views on organised crime, it accepts that it is a major problem in this country. It also states that it has the potential to cause great harm in Irish society. In considering the criminal justice system, the Irish Human Rights Commission expresses views without the benefit of the information the Government and the Garda have.

The Minister for Defence referred to the difference between the English model and ours and the assertion we should follow the English model. In the English system, where there is a trial without a jury, there is a single judge. As the Minister for Defence said, our system is tried and trusted and the Special Criminal Court comprises three experienced judges who have much expertise in trying criminal trials, which ensures the full protection of an accused person's rights.

The Irish Human Rights Commission suggested that alternative measures should be looked at. The Government's view is that none of those methods would provide full protection to members of a jury. The Minister for Defence gave an example where a lady was murdered in Dublin. It is suspected that she was murdered by a gang from Limerick. These people have tentacles all over the country and are able to get to jury members, no matter where they are in this State.

The employment of these alternative methods would inevitably send a signal to the jury which is incompatible with the accused person's presumption of innocence and it would convey that the State has very strong grounds to believe the jury's safety is in jeopardy. Judges by their very nature and training do not allow any of these matters to influence their thinking. There is a real danger that the suggestion of alternative methods could undermine the benefit of the presumption of innocence to which the accused is entitled. Members opposite, in particular Deputy Rabbitte, have made out that this is a huge change. Many of the procedures and changes in this Bill are already in existing legislation and we are merely extending them to organised crime.

I refer to letters from Stephen Collins, the father of Roy Collins. He wrote to my predecessor, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, on 8 February 2008. It was a cry for help, which he subsequently got. He was complimentary on the way in which the Garda responded to this cry for help. He said having given evidence, they were assured they would always have the full support of the State to protect them and that they were told the State owed them a debt of gratitude for their help. Unfortunately, subsequent to writing that letter, his son was murdered in April this year. He wrote again to me on 18 May, shortly after his son was murdered, and I outlined to him what we were doing. He asked me to get the proposed new laws passed as a matter of urgency. He said himself, his family and the whole country were depending on me. Again, I cannot add to what he said publicly in recent days. He said his family cannot wait three months. I believe the country cannot wait three months. He finished his letter by saying that the only people who have to fear from this legislation are the criminals, not the ordinary citizens. I urge those Deputies on the other side of the House to support this legislation.

Question put.

In accordance with the Order of the Dáil yesterday, the division is postponed until immediately after the Order of Business on Tuesday, 7 July 2009.