I will reply first in respect of the matter raised by Deputy O'Donnell. There has been a great deal of misinformation regarding what a later section provides in respect of expert evidence on the existence of gangs. In addition, a number of individuals have misconstrued the position in this regard. Such evidence does not in any way go to the guilt of a person. It is merely evidence provided by a garda — perhaps an officer of ordinary rank — who would have knowledge or information in respect of the existence of a gang in a particular area. However, this is not opinion evidence that can be used to attribute guilt of a person against whom charges have been brought. There has been a misconception in respect of this matter and some of the amendments that have been tabled betray a misunderstanding of what constitutes expert evidence.
As matters stand, there are no provisions in existing legislation or in that before the House which would allow opinion evidence — allied to surveillance evidence — to be given by a chief superintendent in respect of someone directing a criminal gang. Such a provision does exist in respect of those who direct terrorist organisations but we have not gone that far in this Bill.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh is opposed to both the section and the Bill. Following the murder of Shane Geoghegan, I was criticised for not taking sufficient action. I am in possession of quotes relating to that matter which were made by various people, both inside and outside the House. On 13 November 2008, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan stated in the Dáil that "people want us to do whatever is necessary to smash these gangs". She went on to state:
The overall message that must emanate from this House is that we are determined to treat this matter [gangland crime in Limerick] with urgency. I am not sure that sense of urgency is evident in [any]one on the Government side ... Every measure . . . should be taken.
On 11 November 2008, Deputy Gilmore stated in the Dáil: "The public wants to get a sense that these gangs will be smashed." He then stated:
We do not want to hear the reasons certain things cannot be done. We need to see, led by Government, which my party will support in this, definitive measures taken that will solve and address this problem.
Last week on Second Stage, I quoted Deputy Rabbitte's comments, made after the Shane Geoghegan murder but before that of Roy Collins, in which he stated there must come a tipping point. He went on to state:
I acknowledge that these are exceptional powers that the Dáil has now been asked to provide to the gardaí, but, subject to proper oversight, they are necessary to deal with the exceptional threat being posed by armed criminal gangs, which have claimed 11 victims so far this year.
I agree with the Deputy. Deputy Kenny also stated: "Treating them with an easy hand and a bland response is not good enough." He also said: "The Government response to this latest atrocity has been too bland and too easy." He then stated: "This is a war; win it." I have to hand copious other quotations from Members of this House.
At the time, I believed we had in place all the requisite legislation and resources. On the issue of resources, I have seen allegations in the media recently that I wish to nail to the effect that the Garda Síochána does not have the requisite resources. I assure the House that it does and that every available resource will be made available to it. The Garda Síochána will get everything it seeks in respect of this issue of gangland crime, regardless of whether it is in Limerick or anywhere else on this island. The Garda Síochána has all the resources it requires and will receive more if it requires more. I wish to nail that allegation on the head.
Moreover, I have not picked this legislation out of the sky. I refer to the murder of Roy Collins and wish to emphasise a point because I read an article in a newspaper during the week in which it was stated that Roy Collins was killed because he was a witness in a court case. However, he was not a witness. He was killed because he was the son of a witness in a court case, that is, someone who was doing his duty. I thought long and hard after the murder of Roy Collins and discussed it initially with the Garda Commissioner at the funeral of the garda who was killed in a car crash in County Donegal. Consequently, I asked that we should meet the Attorney General within a couple of days, which we did. At that time, I clearly indicated publicly that I intended to consider the types of measures that previously had been applied to paramilitary organisations and was giving strong consideration to applying them in this respect.
Two months ago, on 13 May, I issued a detailed statement as to what was being proposed in this Bill. As the contents of that detailed statement have been replicated in the Bill before the House, I reject any suggestion that it has been plucked out of the sky or that Members have been given insufficient time. The only way in which it differs from the contents of the statement issued on 13 May is that the issue of membership of a criminal gang has been removed, due to the difficulty of producing evidence and proving in court the membership of a criminal gang. Instead, the offence of directing a criminal gang has been proposed. Moreover, it is a requirement, under the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime, to have in our legislative suite an offence against directing a criminal organisation.
We also considered the issue under discussion by Members at present in respect of this amendment and section, namely, how to make easier the proving of participation in a criminal organisation. I believe the Government discussed this issue at least three times in recent weeks before publishing the legislation. The Government discussed it at length with the Attorney General and with the Garda Commissioner's management team to ensure that it got this right. That is the reason each section addresses particular issues that have come to the Government's attention. While I have heard people commenting to the effect that this constitutes a colossal change in legislation, that is not the case. Much of what I have proposed is already contained in existing legislation and, on examination, people will find this is not a seismic change in respect of the manner in which such offences will be tried.
The Government believes strongly that the Oireachtas must send a strong signal to these criminal gangs that they cannot usurp the State or the people who live in it, which is what they are doing at present on a daily basis in places such as Limerick, Dublin and elsewhere. I referred during the Second Stage debate to a convention that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform generally is constrained in what he or she can say regarding issues of which he or she has knowledge on foot of discussions with the Garda Commissioner and his team. However, when the Garda Commissioner tells the Government that, given the Garda's experience in recent years, it is necessary to introduce some of the issues that are being dealt with in this Bill, I disagree with Deputy Ó Snodaigh. Moreover, this does not simply pertain to the issue of scheduling offences but also to other issues pertinent to this legislation.