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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 15 Jan 2015

Vol. 863 No. 2

Other Questions

International Terrorism

Niall Collins


6. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of Irish citizens engaged in fighting in the Middle East or Africa for fundamentalist Islamic groups; the actions she will take to protect the security of all Irish citizens from the potential terrorist threat represented by these persons; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1400/15]

We are all rightly concerned about the events that took place in Paris in the last week. Associated with that, will the Minister detail for the House the number of Irish citizens engaged in fighting in the Middle East or Africa for fundamentalist Islamic groups?

I share the Deputy's concern and sympathy for the French nation in relation to the recent atrocities. There is considerable concern across Europe and elsewhere at the phenomenon of individuals travelling to conflict areas in the Middle East and the consequential threat posed to national security. This matter will be discussed in two weeks at the informal Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting in Riga.

The horrific events in Paris last week are the latest and the most serious manifestation of this threat. The events show that all states must remain vigilant and attentive to the risks posed by this phenomenon. The Government, on behalf of its people, has expressed its condolences to the people of France, as has the Fianna Fáil Party. We should always bear in mind that the threat does not come from particular religions or communities but rather from terrorists, who alone must bear the responsibility for their dreadful deeds.

Yesterday, I briefed the Government on issues arising from the brutal attacks in Paris last week. While Ireland, like any other democratic country with similar values, is not immune from the threat of international terrorism, I have been advised that there is no specific information to suggest a threat to Ireland. In response to the Deputy's question, it is estimated that between 25 and 30 Irish citizens have travelled to conflict zones since the commencement of the Arab Spring. Some of these travelled for humanitarian or family reasons. However, some are known to have participated in conflicts. At least three have died in the conflicts. A number of individuals have returned to Ireland from the conflict zones. There are also a small number of people based here who support extremism and would try to facilitate it. I can assure that House that the activities of these people are closely monitored by An Garda Síochána. In addition, the Garda has engaged with returnees from the conflict areas in line with best practice internationally. There is also very close and ongoing co-operation with security and intelligence services in other jurisdictions. It is clear that in this instance international co-operation is necessary.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

An Garda Síochána is keeping the level of threat from international terrorism under continuous review in light of ongoing developments and continuing to take all appropriate measures to counteract this threat. In this, it has the full support of the Government, which is determined that all practical steps be taken to deal with any threat. The Government is committed to ensuring that the necessary legislation is in place to address terrorist threats. In this context, I wish to advise the House that the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2014 has already passed all Stages in the Seanad. The Bill, when enacted, will create the three new offences: public provocation to commit a terrorist offence, recruitment for terrorism and training for terrorism. These offences will carry sentences of up to ten years' imprisonment on conviction on indictment and are particularly pertinent to the nature of the threat posed by radicalised individuals and indeed those who incite them to commit such heinous acts as those witnessed last week. It is expected that the Bill will come before the Dáil next month and that it will be passed shortly thereafter.

Ireland has been active on this issue nationally and in an international context for some time now. Indeed, priority was given to the matter during the Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2013. In that connection, Ireland was successful in gaining the agreement of the member states to carry out a review of the EU strategy for countering radicalisation and recruitment to terrorism. A primary point of focus in this review is the issue of foreign fighters. A number of initiatives at EU level have since been developed for member states to combat this phenomenon, including community relations initiatives, media campaigns, enhanced tracking of suspects' movements, engagement with third countries - notably Turkey - and engagement with Internet service providers and social media companies to curb radical online content.

The Minister stated in her reply that an estimated 25 to 30 Irish citizens have travelled to the conflict zones but that some of them did so for different reasons. However, it is also the case that three people died in the conflict zones. We are also aware that the US National Security Agency has passed information to An Garda Síochána in relation to individuals who have travelled through this jurisdiction.

In the main, this is an issue that hugely concerns people. We must remain on our guard and take seriously the threats that these extremists pose to our society and public safety. Has the Minister examined the constitutionality or legality of withdrawing citizenship or passports from individuals who engage in such acts of terrorism abroad?

I do have the power to withdraw citizenship. As the Deputy will be aware, there is a very particular procedure laid out in that regard. The issue of evidence in relation to people who travel and the purposes for which they travel is a complex one. Many people have asked if, for example, people could be prevented from travelling. The majority of those travelling to Syria from Ireland and elsewhere enter that country through Turkey, but it must be noted that Syria may not have been the original destination cited by many of those travellers. They may have travelled to other cities and then travelled onwards. To prevent people from travelling and obtain sufficient evidence of their activities to allow the type of action outlined by the Deputy is a complex procedure. I would not rule out doing so where such evidence is available from An Garda Síochána.

There is careful monitoring in this area by An Garda Síochána. We cannot be complacent. There are many international travellers passing through Ireland all the time. Monitoring is important. This is a threat. We need to gather as much intelligence and security information as we can in relation to it, but there is no evidence to suggest a specific threat against Ireland or that Ireland is being used as a transit hub for people engaged in this type of terrorism.

It was reported recently that an individual who frequently features in international terrorism bulletins and is heavily involved in financing Islamic State has been living in south Dublin for more than 15 years. The Minister's colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Charles Flanagan, during a recent interview on the "The Pat Kenny Show", stated:

That's true - we're not immune. It's important that people remain vigilant, and that any information of a criminal nature is passed on to An Garda Síochána.

In light of the report in the Sunday Independent and the comments of the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, will the Minister examine the idea of utilising the Criminal Assets Bureau in tracking down individuals who provide financial support to the Islamic State organisation?

The key point in response to the Deputy's question - I have checked this out - is that it is important to follow the money, as CAB has effectively done. The legislation in place in relation to money laundering and the type of activity outlined by the Deputy would allow us to do what he suggests. If there is evidence of that type of activity, that legislation will be used. As I said, one must first have evidence, and where evidence is available the Garda Síochána will monitor, follow up and prosecute. I cannot comment on the particular case cited by the Deputy, but if there is clear evidence that a person in Ireland is supporting terrorism through financial activity the matter will be investigated and dealt with. The new legislation, which has been already passed by the Seanad and will come before this House in the next week or two, provides further powers in relation to anybody who is involved in recruiting, supporting or financing terrorism.

Crime Prevention

Brendan Griffin


7. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality her views on the way to reduce and prevent incidents of ramming of Garda vehicles; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1280/15]

I am concerned about the frequent incidents of deliberate ramming of Garda vehicles by criminals, which practice is being reported on the news all too often. I fear that the result of this will be further incidents of serious injury or worse among our gardaí. While I appreciate that there are a number of legislative provisions in place to deter this activity, they are not, unfortunately, working. I would appreciate the Minister's views on how this problem can be tackled and how we can better protect our gardaí.

I thank Deputy Griffin for tabling this question. Like the Deputy, I consider the deliberate ramming of Garda vehicles to be a very serious matter and can assure him that the safety of gardaí and the general public is of paramount importance. I can also assure the Deputy that all incidents of this nature are subject to full investigation by An Garda Síochána.

It is a matter of great concern that individuals deliberately ram Garda vehicles, whether in the course of evading arrest or for other criminal purposes. All appropriate operational and safety precautions are of course taken, but where an individual is intent on causing such a collision, prevention will inherently be difficult. Where these incidents do occur, it is important that such persons are brought before the courts.

I have previously outlined for the Deputy the range of robust road safety and other legislative enforcement provisions available to the Garda authorities in such circumstances. These include the assault offences contained in the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 and for which penalties range from up to five years imprisonment to life imprisonment, depending on the seriousness of the offence involved. In addition, section 19 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 provides for specific offences relating to assaults on peace officers which includes members of An Garda Síochána. The penalty for this offence was increased from five years to seven years imprisonment by the Criminal Justice Act 2006. Section 2 of the Criminal Damage Act 1991, provides for the offence of damage to the property of another person for which the penalty is a maximum of ten years imprisonment. Provision is made for very serious sentences for those kind of offences which can be used in the situation as outlined by the Deputy. A sentence of up to ten years imprisonment can be given for a person involved in the ramming of a Garda car. If such ramming were to cause death, an offence of attempted murder, murder or manslaughter, may be considered applicable with the resultant penalties including mandatory life imprisonment for a conviction for murder. Legislative sanctions are in place to deal with those involved in this dreadful activity which often has very serious consequences for gardaí.

I thank the Minister. I acknowledge the raft of legislation in place. The punishment for those guilty of such offences is very strict and severe but, unfortunately, this message does not seem to be hitting home. Would the Minister agree it would be advantageous to create a specific offence of deliberately ramming a Garda vehicle and applying a serious custodial sentence?

Apart from trying to prevent this crime we need to accept that it will continue to happen. Perhaps we need to consider ensuring that all Garda vehicles, rather than some, are larger, more robust vehicles and that there should be additional safety features provided such as the reinforcement of the vehicles. Ramming of Garda vehicles is happening and we need to equip our gardaí to ensure they are safe when this occurs.

I acknowledge the Deputy's interest in specific legislation relating to this issue which he has sent to my Department and which we are examining. He refers to the further use of mandatory prison sentences. I refer to the Law Reform Commission report on sentencing and its views on the existing presumptive mandatory minimum sentence provision for various offences. The recent report on penal policy stated that no further mandatory sentences or presumptive minimum sentences should be introduced. However, those issues are under consideration by my Department.

The Deputy asked about the number of gardaí who have been injured in such incidents. I do not have those figures to hand but I will supply them to the Deputy. I can provide information on the number of Garda vehicles rammed in recent years. In 2010, 66 vehicles were rammed; 55 vehicles in 2011; 61 vehicles in 2012; and 63 vehicles in 2013. These are serious incidents which occur every year. I take the Deputy's point about investment in Garda vehicles. More upgraded Garda vehicles are available as a result of the increased funding. I hope this will ensure that the Garda vehicles in use are sufficiently robust. Nevertheless, the actions of criminals have the potential to cause serious injury or death in the circumstances described by the Deputy.

The figures are shocking and worrying, as is the information that there are approximately three incidents every fortnight. I thank the Minister for considering the draft legislation I have sent to her Department. If part of that legislation could be implemented or included in any future legislative provisions it would be helpful, in my view. Anything we can do to protect our Garda force would be very advantageous.

While I very much appreciate and welcome the investment in new Garda vehicles we need to focus on the quality of the vehicles rather than on quantity alone. It is important to have the very best vehicles for safety and handling when dealing with criminals. For example, the odds are stacked against a garda driving a 1.5 litre diesel car attempting to apprehend a criminal in car with a 2 litre or higher petrol engine. We need to focus on quality as well as on quantity.

Thanks to the improved economic situation there has been an increase in the justice budget for the first time in a number of years. Some 300 gardaí have been recruited and the next group will go to Templemore in the next two weeks. There has been increased investment in Garda vehicles by this Government of up to €27 million over the past number of years. I believe these measures will make a difference to the robust nature of the fleet with regard to the issue outlined by the Deputy. The ramming of Garda cars is a serious issue. Prevention can be extremely difficulty when dealing with those intent on criminal activity which often involves the ramming of Garda vehicles. I note the points made by the Deputy. We will examine whether it is possible to incorporate extra provisions in the legislation. However, strong points have been made against mandatory sentencing for an offence such as this. However, I will consider the points raised by the Deputy.

As the Deputies concerned are not present, Questions Nos. 8 and 9 cannot be taken.

Questions Nos. 8 and 9 replied to with Written Answers.

Garda Strength

Bernard Durkan


10. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if she will address issues such as any reduction in Garda strength arising from the economic downturn in the coming year; her plans to address the most pressing cases where crime rates are a particular concern; if she is satisfied regarding the availability of the necessary resources to deal with such issues; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1274/15]

This question seeks to ascertain the extent to which the Minister hopes to enhance Garda strength in all areas throughout the country, with particular reference to areas that have shown an increase in crime of various forms.

One of my priorities is to maintain and enhance the capacity of An Garda Síochána to protect the public, and in particular to prevent and detect crime. It is true that Garda strength has been affected by retirements and that is why I was pleased to be able to secure approval from this Government for the resumption of Garda recruitment. One hundred new recruits entered training at the Garda College in Templemore in September 2014, the first intake of Garda recruits since 2009. This is as a direct result of the improved economic situation which has allowed recruitment to take place. A further 100 new recruits entered in December and a further intake of 100 is due to enter training at the end of this month. This will bring to 300 the number of recruits in the Garda College since last September and is a measure of Fine Gael and Labour's commitment to An Garda Síochána. The first intake of recruits will attest as members of An Garda Síochána in May of this year and they will be assigned to Garda stations by the Garda Commissioner. In my reply to the previous question I spoke about the increased budgetary allocation for modern, fit-for-purpose vehicles which are of significant importance to the work of An Garda Síochána. We are also providing an additional €7 million for this purpose in 2014 and €3 million in 2015, to allow the procurement and fit-out of approximately 400 new Garda vehicles. These vehicles will come on stream in the coming weeks.

It is a key objective of the Garda Commissioner to allocate all of the resources at her disposal in a manner which maximises their impact on the protection of the public and on the prevention and detection of crime. In that context, Garda management keeps under continuing review developments in relation to security assessments, crime trends and policing priorities so as to ensure the best possible use of resources. This is an issue for the Garda Commissioner. The Garda Síochána Inspectorate report made the point that there needs to be more attention paid to the allocation of gardaí, depending on crime trends in a given area, on the changing population in an area and whether an area has changed from a rural to a more urbanised area. These considerations must inform where police are deployed during a particular period.

Based on concerns expressed by various Deputies, I have asked the Garda Commissioner to ensure the allocation of policing is subject to continuous review, because priorities change. I commend the Garda authorities on the implementation of Operation Fiacla, which began in 2012. It was a national operation to tackle mobile gangs who were moving around and committing crimes throughout the country. This led to 11,405 arrests, and 6,549 people have been charged as a result of this operation by An Garda Síochána. Perhaps we do not pay enough attention to this type of work and the outcome of these operations. This very specific operation had a good outcome.

I thank the Minister for her comprehensive reply. Does she think it might be possible, in further deployments of gardaí throughout the country, to take account of the specific levels of crime in particular areas when enhancing the strength of various Garda divisions? Might it be possible to focus on the extent to which the counties and areas adjoining Dublin seem to be at the mercy of criminals in recent times to a far greater extent than the average throughout the country? This is due to a number of factors, including mobility and motorways. To take County Kildare as an example, the reduction in the number of gardaí in stations in recent years seems to have led to an increase in crime. Would it be possible to address these particular issues when deployments take place?

At present, a total of 301 gardaí serve in the Kildare area. The Deputy outlined very clearly that one of the increasing issues with regard to crime in this country is that mobile gangs use very good transport links to facilitate crime by moving in and out of an area quickly, committing a series of crimes there. The Garda is very aware of this issue and is working to address it. A number of the initiatives it has undertaken in recent years and months, such as Operation Fiacla, to which I referred, are being used specifically to target the very point made by the Deputy. I agree with him that the allocation of Garda resources must be linked to the amount of crime in a particular area. This has not been done as effectively in the past as it needs to be now. A key point outlined in the Garda Inspectorate report in terms of the allocation of gardaí to particular areas is that it ought to be linked to population, crime figures and the threats in a particular area, whether urban or rural.

Are the best internationally accepted police practices being made available to An Garda Síochána at present? These include the ability to alert a large number of the force at short notice to respond to a particular situation that might arise. Internationally, this has become more common than it was in the past. I am anxious to know the situation.

I want to draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that in the past week the Garda Representative Association, GRA, issued a serious statement with regard to Donegal. It is concerned about staffing issues in the county. Gardaí based in rural areas are being drafted to Letterkenny, which is the main town in the county. In fairness, for operational reasons the GRA has not identified the locations, but it states that some rural Garda stations have no gardaí because they have been drafted into Letterkenny. There is clearly a massive issue. It also states that in some parts of the county Garda numbers have been reduced by 25%. Will the Minister examine the situation in Donegal and speak to the Garda Commissioner about what is happening there?

I thank the Minister for the fact that gardaí are being recruited once more. As has my colleague, I met the Deputy Commissioner in the past and stressed the importance of Garda numbers in Kildare. While resources are just sufficient at present, they are at stretching point. Many retirements have taken place. We seem to find it difficult to get gardaí to transfer to Kildare because each Garda division seems to hold on to its allocation. I would appreciate if the Minister would speak to the Commissioner about the point my colleagues have made with regard to the number of gardaí and the allocation of gardaí, particularly in Kildare.

The key point I make with regard to the issues raised by the Deputies is that clearly the economic situation we inherited had an impact in that gardaí were not recruited. This is the bottom line. The situations outlined by the Deputies were a direct result of the economic situation in which the country found itself. Due to the actions of the Government we are in a far better economic situation at present, although we have more work to do. This has allowed the Government to take the decision to begin recruitment again, which will be the first recruitment since 2009. I emphasise this. We have already recruited 200 extra gardaí and another 100 will start in Templemore. The situation will be kept under review, depending on the number of Garda retirements and the needs of An Garda Síochána.

I could speak about different areas, and Deputies will be particularly sensitive to the situation in their own area, but the overall situation is being improved by the recruitment of new gardaí. This means the Garda Commissioner can take the types of operational decision that Deputies Durkan and Lawlor from County Kildare have highlighted, which also relates to the point made by Deputy Mac Lochlainn. The best operational decisions can be taken by the Garda Commissioner if she has more resources at her disposal.

I have already stated that we are examining the IT requirements of the Garda. We want to see more efficient deployment of the resources we have. I have the support of the Minister, Deputy Howlin, to examine the technological needs of An Garda Síochána, which have been outlined by the Garda Inspectorate. All of these actions are designed to ensure we have more effective policing in every county in Ireland and that citizens are protected in a more comprehensive way. This is the goal of the Government and it is what we are working towards. The combination of initiatives we are taking on the recruitment of gardaí, the changes to IT and implementing the Garda Inspectorate report will ensure a better and more efficient service locally and that crime will be detected and citizens kept safe. This is the goal of the Government and it will be the result of the actions we are taking.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.