The motion is self-explanatory. It says a great deal about the Government's attitude to gangland crime that it requires an Opposition motion to have this crucial matter debated in the Dáil.
The tentacles of gangland crime have such a far-reaching grip in society that we require a whole package of solutions, rather than a piecemeal gesture here and there, designed to convince the public that the Government is getting to grips with the problem. The decision of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to introduce harsh new laws last year reflects his Government's approach: talk tough at the microphone but remain silent and in the background when it comes to crucial issues such as Garda resources, Customs and Excise and Revenue checks or the non-existent conviction rates for those held responsible for brutal organised crime murders.
If the State is to take on organised crime with a hope of winning, we require a well-resourced, comprehensive strategy across a number of Departments, but especially the Departments of Finance and Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The first step must be to cut off the source of gangsters' money, power and influence. That requires stemming the tide of drugs flooding the country. It is clear there is a lack of will on the part of Government to do that, which is why, to quote the Taoiseach in what has become an already hackneyed phrase that we hear from a procession of Ministers on a daily basis, "We are where we are".
We are where we are as far as murders are concerned. In the first three weeks of this year, there were five so-called gangland gun murders. John Paul Joyce, Brendan Molyneux, Paddy Mooney, Noel Deans and Gerard Stanton lost their lives. Paddy Mooney had no involvement in gangland crime; he was the unfortunate victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is not the first innocent victim to be hit by a bullet fired by a gangland criminal and no doubt he will not be the last. There appears to be an unspoken attitude that as long as organised criminals kill each other, it does not matter — it is one less criminal about whom to worry. The Minister might say that is not the case but the conviction rates suggest otherwise.
Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform figures from May 2009 reveal that no convictions were secured for firearms murders between 2007 and 2009. I would like the Minister to explain to the House what the conviction rate is now. For example, how many convictions have been secured for the 20 gangland gun murders that took place last year? Who has been convicted for the following murders which took place between January and October 2009 — Michael "Roly" Cronin, his driver, James Maloney, Stephen O'Halloran, Graham McNally, Michael Hendrick, John Carroll, Michael Murray, Seamus O'Byrne, Liam Carroll, David Fred Lynch, Roy Collins, John "BJ" Clarke, Charles Sinanapayen, Paul Smith, Tommy Joyce, Wayne Doherty, Anthony Cannon, Pierce Reid, David Thomas and Jason Egan? Who has paid the price for murdering innocent bystanders in recent years — people who were not known to the Garda and who were not involved in organised criminal activity? Who has been convicted and jailed for murdering Roy Collins, Sean Poland, Darren Coughlan, Anthony Campbell and Eddie Ward? The late Donna Cleary's alleged killer died while in custody and, therefore, her family did not see justice done in that case either.
The few gangland criminals that are placed behind bars clearly do not see prison as an obstacle to carrying on their business. This week in the newspapers it was reported that in July 2008 two searches of the prison cell of Mr. John Gilligan resulted in the discovery of a number of interesting items, among them a mobile telephone, a charger, a SIM card, a syringe bar and eight and a half blue tablets. A total of 2,174 mobile telephones were seized in prisons in 2009. It is evidently easy to smuggle mobile telephones into prison and easy for gangsters to use them and direct their operations from behind the bars of their prison cells. One could ask why the criminal justice system is failing.
We are where we are in terms of Garda resources. A glance at the most recent report of the Garda Inspectorate might shed some light on the problems faced by the State and the correlating advantages enjoyed by criminals. In a report published last week, the Garda Inspectorate revealed disturbing findings, including the fact that as many as 1,650 gardaí are required each day to provide administrative services to the public at Garda stations, that is, 14% of all members of sergeant and garda rank assigned to divisions. More than 3 million hours in overtime were clocked up in 2007. That is the equivalent of adding 1,737 extra gardaí to the force. Much of that time was spent on attendance in court. After many years of promises and commitments, it is clear that little has been achieved in introducing new systems to ensure that gardaí do not have to waste time hanging around court houses. What will the slashing of overtime mean to the service provided by the Garda? It will mean less visibility of a Garda presence. There will be fewer gardaí on the front line and fewer on the beat on the streets.
While Garda stations have computers, they are stand-alone personal computers without Internet access or email facilities. There is no GPS system and, therefore, there is no way of knowing where Garda cars are at any given time, which is crucial in the text of organised and gangland crime. The absence of data on demand for Garda services is unacceptable, and must be addressed as a priority. The Garda Inspectorate noted, "Such absence is exceptional in modern police services." The Garda Síochána does not have systems in place to routinely collect and analyse workload data for individual units across the organisation. There is no dedicated Garda team or individual responsible for monitoring workload and advising Garda management on deployment. The rostering system is completely outdated and outmoded.
What has happened to the Garda Reserve? We have not heard about it in a long time. I believe I have never heard the Minister speak on the subject. The Garda Reserve lacks a clearly defined role, matched by appropriate training and direction. While criminal gangsters have top of the range technology at their fingertips, the gardaí who face the grim task of defeating them are operating in a time warp. The Garda Inspectorate has made 27 recommendations. I expect the Government will ensure they are implemented without delay. I take this opportunity, as will other Members, to congratulate Chief Inspector, Kathleen O'Toole, and her team on an excellent report, which is one of many. The excellence of the reports will be seen only in the manner in which the Government is prepared to implement the recommendations as contained therein.
A new problem faced by the Garda this year involves garda retirements. The cumbersome way in which the Government dealt with the issue of increased taxation led to an unprecedented exodus from the ranks in 2009. Figures from November 2009 indicate that three assistant commissioners retired, 12 chief superintendents, 28 superintendents, 31 inspectors, 170 sergeants and 464 gardaí, totalling in excess of 700 members of the force, almost triple the amount compared with the previous year. I would like the Minister to inform the Dáil of how many of those gardaí have been replaced to date, not how many he would like to replace nor how many he intends to replace, but how many of those vacancies have been filled, as of 2 February 2010. Are we still operating with three fewer assistant commissioners, 12 fewer chief superintendents and 28 fewer superintendents? Is the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the special detective unit still without a dedicated superintendent in charge? Are community Garda levels still a mere 6% of the force? Introducing tough new legislation and then expecting a Garda force with outmoded resources, a hole in its senior ranks and depleted morale to enforce this legislation is not a recipe for success. It is simply a means of shifting the blame for the Minister to the Garda Síochána.
We are where we are in terms of the Customs and Excise service. The gardaí who are charged with defeating gangsters are at the end of a chain. The first link in that chain is drug smuggling. I have no doubt that being an Irish drug smuggler is wonderful. Until recently, there was only one Revenue cutter to monitor 4,300 km of coastline. We now have two cutters but the Naval Service patrols that supplemented Revenue have been slashed by 200 days recently. This country has the dubious distinction of being the drugs gateway for the whole of western Europe, so easy is it to import illegal drugs into the State. Smuggling drugs in via a port is relatively straightforward. One simply finds out which ports are going to have the container X-ray scannerin situ that day, and one chooses an alternative route. It is a stroll in the park. Alternatively, one could use a private airport. According to figures supplied by the Government, the majority of private airports never or rarely see a customs patrol or officer. It appears that it is too expensive. Last year, a private airport, Weston Airport, experienced 50% fewer customs checks compared to the previous years.
It is ironic that it was also last year that Judge Hunt expressed concern that private airports were being used to smuggle drugs into the State. He made this warning as he sentenced John Kinsella for conspiring to import €7 million worth of heroin and cocaine through Weston Airport in 2007. Judge Hunt further stated that the customs systems in place at ports and large airports are "set at nought" if private airports allow such controls to be bypassed. The systems at large airports to which the judge referred also deteriorated last year. Customs checks fell by almost 500,000 at Dublin Airport and fell by 68,100 at Cork Airport in 2009 compared to the previous year.
Comparing 2009 to the previous year, the figures show that customs checks at airports fell by 73% at Waterford Airport; 50% at Weston Airport; 40% at Shannon Airport; 33% at Kerry Airport; 27% at Galway Airport; 21% at Cork Airport; 15% at Donegal Airport; and 11% at Dublin Airport. One can only conclude it is easier to be a drug dealer in Ireland than to run a legitimate business. The blame for this must lie fairly and squarely on the Government's shoulders. It is not good enough to expect the Garda to take on and tackle dangerous drug barons on the streets while, at the same time, the Government cannot be bothered to seize drugs at the point of entry to the State. Until the deficit in customs and Revenue is addressed, the Garda will be always fighting a losing battle.
I refer to the social cost of where we are. Drugs are tearing our communities apart. Recently, a senior Garda officer, Chief Superintendent Gerry Phillips of the Dublin northern division, stated juveniles as young as 14 are being caught by gardaí holding guns and drugs. They do so as a means of ingratiating themselves with gang leaders because they wish to follow suit and become like them with the SUVs, gold rings, money, power and fear that they instil in communities. One can only imagine the havoc visited on a community when a gangland murder takes place such as those this year in Pearse Street and Coolock in Dublin and in Cork.
These murders are a stark illustration of the impact of drugs but there is also the scourge of drug addiction. Heroin has "spread to every county" in the State with a increase of 130% in treatment cases outside Dublin since 2002, according to a report published last September by the Health Research Board. Carlow, one of the smaller counties, has almost the same incidence of cases of heroin treatment as Dublin, followed by my county of Laois and the Minister's county of Louth. Merchant's Quay Ireland has echoed the findings of the Health Research Board, stating that heroin use has become a national crisis. In 2008, almost 20 new drug injectors attended the charity every week for needle exchange services.
Meanwhile, the national advisory committee on drugs has highlighted that the number of opiate takers outside Dublin soared by 165% in the period 2001-06, although Dublin remains the greatest heroin blackspot. Merchant's Quay Ireland delivers services in many locations outside Dublin including Carlow, Westmeath, Longford and in my own constituency of counties Laois and Offaly. There has been a near doubling of cases for cocaine treatment across the country while crack cocaine addiction is also on the rise.
Criminal gangsters have gained a strong foothold in this State. They have done so with the tacit consent of a Government that is not willing to take the steps required to stop them. We in Fine Gael have a range of proposals aimed at crippling gangland crime and bringing a halt to organise crime. They are contained in the motion. I have dealt with the problems tonight and I will deal with the solutions tomorrow night. We are calling on the Minister to fill senior Garda vacancies immediately. We do not want him to tell us he will do it or he will talk to the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Finance about it. It needs to be done now, given it should have been done weeks ago.
We in Fine Gael pledged ourselves to support the robust, harsh gangland legislation introduced by the Minister in a blaze of publicity last summer. He promised action during the summer. The passing of the legislation could not even await the summer recess because the Minister had lined up a posse of top gardaí to act on his behalf to round up the criminals and put them all behind the bars. Will the Minister give us a progress report on the legislation before the conclusion of the debate? Will he introduce legislation to act as a deterrent to the crime of murder? Life in this country has been cheapened because of gangland and gun murders and organised crime. That is why a mandatory minimum life sentence of 25 years should be introduced for gangland murders. I was horrified by a comment from a witness in a murder trial who swore on oath about a conversation he had with the defendant who was ultimately convicted. The murderer, a foreign national who had lived in a number of jurisdictions but who had settled in Ireland, said to the witness, his brother-in-law, "If you're going to commit a murder, commit it in Ireland because you'll be out after a few years". That is a sad indictment of the criminal justice system over which the Minister presides.
I would like him to introduce new measures in prisons for those who are convicted. For example, full body scanners should be used and screened visits should become the norm to prevent gangsters from operating behind bars. If people are convicted of having contraband in prison, penalties should be imposed on them such as non-contact screened visits and the withdrawal of privileges enjoyed by many in our prisons.
Community policing should be enhanced by implementing quotas and incentives, as Fine Gael has proposed. I will outline our proposals in greater detail tomorrow night and I would like the Minister, for once and for all, to deal with gangland crime and organised criminals in a manner which to date he has sadly neglected to do.