Leaders' Questions

I will ask the Taoiseach about the report drafted by the PSNI and MI5 for the Northern Ireland Secretary of State and which has been released to the British Parliament. The Secretary of State has spoken to the British Parliament about the report which deals with the structure, roles and purpose of paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland. Its conclusions are of concern. It concludes that all of the main paramilitary groups remain in existence, including the UVF, the UDA, the Red Hand Commando and the Provisional IRA. It states, "Seventeen years after the 1998 Belfast Agreement, paramilitary groups remain a feature of life" in Northern Ireland and "all of the paramilitary groups maintain a relatively public profile in spite of being illegal organisations". These groups have "leadership structures and subgroups across Northern Ireland" and are organised along militaristic lines, using labels such as "brigade" and "army council". The report further states:

Members of these paramilitary groups continue to engage in violent activity, both directed by local leadership and conducted without sanction. Violence and intimidation are used to exercise control at community level.

It states that members of all groups have carried out murders since 1998 and it is further stated that members are involved in other serious criminal activities, which harms communities and damages the financial prosperity and reputation of Northern Ireland. The report goes on to say that this includes large-scale smuggling operations, fuel laundering, drug dealing and extortion of local businesses. It also says, very worryingly, that some weapons have not been decommissioned and that all groups have retained capacity in relation to weaponry. While the report points out a number of positives in the work of the leaders of these various paramilitary groups, it states that despite these positives, "we judge that individual members of paramilitary groups with a legacy of violent activity still represent a threat to national security, are engaged in organised crime and undermine Northern Ireland's post-conflict transformation". The report says that the structures of the Provisional IRA remain in existence, albeit in a much-reduced form. It includes a senior leadership, the provisional army council, which has an overarching strategy.

I put it to the Taoiseach that both Governments have taken their eyes off the ball with regard to comprehensively resourcing their intelligence capacity, particularly on the Garda side, and in terms of what has been going on in organised crime and racketeering. Will a comprehensive, well-resourced joint agency be established at British-Irish Government level to focus on organised crime, particularly by members of paramilitary groups, including fuel laundering and other criminal activities? Quite some months ago, the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly called for such a joint agency to be established on foot of the assembly's report. Will the Taoiseach work with the British Government to re-establish the International Monitoring Commission, given the conclusions of the report under discussion that the PSNI does not have the same level of intelligence that it once had and, as such, there is now a need for such a body to be reinstated?

I thank the Deputy for his comments. It is important to note that the report states at the end:

We judge that the other paramilitary groups on ceasefire will continue to exist and that they will continue to pose a threat to national security and engage in serious crime ... [W]e believe that the level of intelligence coverage is proportionate to the threat posed by these groups. We are confident in our judgements and that these accurately reflect the best intelligence available to us.

The report was commissioned by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on paramilitary groups following the comments made by the Chief Constable of the PSNI. It was also commissioned following the recent horrific murders in Belfast and the very significant fallout for the political institutions that arose from them. Governments here, in Northern Ireland and in Britain will examine the assessment very closely. It clearly raises matters of very serious concern. There are issues with regard to the existence of illegal organisations and command structures, access to weaponry and widespread criminality. These things have no place and can have no place in our democracy. They never did. The future of the peace process depends on their being removed from life on this island once and for all. I acknowledge that we have come a long way over the last 15 to 20 years along the road of peaceful resolution of differences. Everybody can understand that. We need to complete that process. I made the Government's position very clear when I spoke in Cambridge some time ago on the matter; 21 years after the IRA's ceasefire, it should no longer carry any capacity for threat. Statements to the effect that the IRA has gone away or left the stage are simply not credible. There may have been a time when living with constructive ambiguity helped the peace process, but that time has now passed. Paramilitarism in all its vestiges must be removed. I addressed those issues in Cambridge. I repeat in the House today that after 21 years of the IRA ceasefire and ten years after decommissioning and the IRA announcement, it is past the time when it should carry any capacity for threat.

The Garda Síochána and the PSNI will continue to work closely together to combat criminality in all its forms on both sides of the Border. For the information of the House, the Minister for Justice and Equality will publish today the Garda Síochána assessment of paramilitary activities in so far as this jurisdiction is concerned in order that there is a full picture of the respective assessments of the law enforcement agencies on the island. For his part, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade will continue to engage with all parties in Northern Ireland to address these issues. I note, with regard to what Deputy Martin said, that the issue of dealing with criminality, including criminality as a result of the legacy of paramilitarism, is one that the State takes very seriously. I note that 134 filling stations have been closed in respect of fuel laundering. Tobacco smuggling and other issues are a serious priority for the Garda and law and order activities here.

For the information of the House, the DUP has confirmed that its Ministers will be reappointed next Tuesday and that they intend to go back to the talks. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has made it clear that the place to deal with these issues now is these talks, if we are serious about having the institutions work. For normal politics to apply, one cannot have situations such as those I mentioned. The place to deal with these is around the table where all parties are involved. I hope the talks can be very clear, straightforward and frank, and that they will deal with the issues I addressed in Cambridge and that are referred to in the report from the PSNI to the three-person body and in the report to be published later this evening by the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice and Equality.

The Taoiseach did not answer the specific question I asked about the establishment of a British-Irish joint agency to deal with the widespread racketeering, organised crime and smuggling that has been going on for far too long. The report is very clear that members of these paramilitary groups - the UVF, UDA, Provisional IRA and others - continue to engage in violent activity directed by local leadership and conducted without sanction. Violence and intimidation are used to exercise control at a community level. We know this because after the murder of Paul Quinn, not one person came forward. After the murder of Robert McCartney, no one came forward despite the presence of so many people in a public house. Why is that? It is because control is exercised in a very brutal way. That is not acceptable 17 years after the Good Friday Agreement, and something needs to change. I put it to the Taoiseach that the Provisional IRA army council still exists despite all the denials we have had. The investigation into the murder of Kevin McGuigan is ongoing, but it is judged that the assessment put forward by the chief constable in his public statement on 22 August remains accurate. It also says that all of the groups have committed murders since 1998. As we know, no one came forward and no one was prosecuted or convicted.

There is a problem here, and both Governments, particularly ours, took their eyes off the ball. I am told that in the last three to four years the intelligence capacity of An Garda Síochána with regard to what is going on along the Border and cross-Border area is not as strong as it should be. It is under-resourced and not up to speed. There is a sense that these groups have been allowed to act with impunity. There are individuals ruling the roost in these areas on a continuing basis and there is a well-established organised criminal network involving individual members of paramilitary groups. There is a twilight zone there that we cannot get at. People might not like my saying that, and they may nod their heads, but that is the reality and it is what the report is saying. I put it to the Taoiseach that a joint body, as recommended by the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly some time ago, is needed. That body said more determined action was required North and South of the Border to eliminate the activities of organised crime gangs involved in cross-Border illicit trading, including the establishment of a permanent full-time multidisciplinary task force. Our own parliamentarians from Britain and Ireland are saying that something of that order is required. Will the Taoiseach agree to doing that? Deputy Brendan Smith has published a fuel laundering Bill and is calling for such legislation. Will the Taoiseach give consideration to that at a later stage?

First of all, there is an extensive degree of co-operation between the Garda Síochána and the PSNI in regard to smuggling and criminal cross-Border activities. For instance, there are two cross-Border joint task forces at the moment between the PSNI and the Garda. The cross-Border tobacco enforcement group includes representatives from the Revenue Commissioners, CAB, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the UK's HM Revenue and Customs, HMRC, and the National Crime Agency. Obviously, co-operation also takes place with other revenue administrations, such as the European Anti-Fraud Office, or OLAF, as it is called. Changes were made to the Finance Bills here in 2012 and 2013. For instance, in February of this year, a joint operation was carried out with HMRC in which 14 premises on both sides of the Border were searched. It resulted in a total seizure from both jurisdictions of almost 2.5 million cigarettes, 12 tonnes of tobacco and a manufacturing plant, and the arrest of five individuals. There have been 99 individuals up before CAB, with over €28 million taken from persons in that regard before the Special Criminal Court.

I would also mention that the extent of smuggling and fuel laundering is an issue that has been very much to the fore for the Revenue Commissioners, the Garda and the PSNI. One hundred and thirty-four filling stations have been closed.

To answer Deputy Martin's question, I am not opposed to it, but I think we should wait for the publication of the report from the Garda by the Minister for Justice and Equality. The Commissioner and the Chief Constable of the PSNI should speak. We should examine in the talks in Belfast the two cross-Border anti-fraud, anti-smuggling, anti-criminal joint task forces that are there at the moment, and if I deemed it necessary or it was deemed appropriate that we should have a further joint operation, then I would not be opposed to it, but what we do need to say very clearly is that the rule of law has to apply, and what has happened, as Deputy Martin well knows, is that the legacy of the Provisional IRA has poisoned society in many cases along the Border.

Society in the North has been on a journey from conflict to peace, and it is the responsibility of all political leaders to help to complete that journey. It is clearly not a task for a hurler on the ditch like the leader of Fianna Fáil. I wish he would do everyone a service and for once engage positively on the North and the necessary process across this island.

Today, I attended the funerals of Willie Lynch and Tara Gilbert, of their children, Kelsey and Jodie, and their unborn baby, and of Jimmy Lynch, all victims of a fire that killed ten citizens in the Travellers' halting site in Carrickmines. There were widespread expressions of sympathy after that, which provided some hope that the treatment of Travellers, not just in terms of housing, could begin being addressed in a serious way. Unfortunately, that hope was dented by the familiar negative attitudes as attempts were made to rehouse the families of the Carrickmines victims.

This underlines the need for a fundamental review of the treatment of Travellers and their community in Irish society, which should be Government-led. In the past seven years, funding for Traveller accommodation has been cut by 93%. Some 1,536 families are in overcrowded or unsafe conditions. Many Travellers have no access to basic facilities such as sanitation, water and electricity. They fare badly on all key indicators of disadvantage, including unemployment, poverty, health, infant mortality, life expectancy and education. At the root of all of this are the prejudice, discrimination and social exclusion experienced by these citizens. Public representatives of political parties in this Chamber have campaigned against the housing of Traveller families in their constituencies.

I have raised this matter with the Taoiseach a number of times. Will he consider establishing a genuinely island-wide forum at a State level with a Northern appendix as a matter of great urgency, involving Travellers, political parties, the Government, local authorities, the health and education sectors and media organisations, which would make recommendations on how this major issue of inequality could be tackled and addressed.

First of all, our sympathies go to the families again. The national flag flies at half mast on all public buildings today as a mark of sympathy and solidarity with the families that have lost their loved ones, all ten adults, children and an unborn baby. Clearly, the issue of Traveller accommodation has been very much to the fore. An audit is now being carried out of all Traveller halting sites throughout the country. Deputy Adams will be aware that accommodation is provided for Travellers through a range of measures, including the standard local authority housing financed by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government; Traveller-specific accommodation initiated by the Department; private housing assisted by the State, including local authorities and voluntary organisations; and Travellers' own resources.

The 2014 annual count of Traveller families showed that, of the 10,226 families that were accounted for here, the majority, 35%, were accommodated in standard social housing, 26% were in private rented accommodation, 5% were in assisted private housing, and 6% were housed under their own resources. Thirteen percent were in group housing, 9% were in shared accommodation, just 1% were in transient sites, and 4% were in unauthorised sites. Clearly, accommodation is an issue. I find, having dealt with this over the years, that where communities are engaged with and have the situation explained to them, be it an emergency or not, generally - although not in all cases by any means - there is a willingness to work with local authorities.

Deputy Adams is aware that the Government will provide funding for Traveller accommodation, but it is best delivered through the local authorities, where the local representatives know the local people and engage with Traveller families that may be accustomed to or have lived in a locality for quite a long time.

As to the point that the Deputy raises about the cross-Border issue, I do not think it is necessary to set up a new forum here. Both sides of the North-South forum - the ministerial forum - could actually have fed their views to the Traveller accommodation personnel, who would prepare a report on that. Maybe Deputy Mac Lochlainn does not agree. I am not sure that having another separate administrative operation is the way to go here. We have a system that does address a whole range of problems. I do not see why the Cena group or the Traveller accommodation groups down here could not work with their counterparts and feed in their views through the various Ministers for local government, the environment or whatever. Perhaps at the next meeting we might have an item on the agenda dealing with this to see how it might proceed.

I take the point about inequality and the treatment of individuals who happen to be Travellers, along with other groups that might be deemed to be fringe groups also. It is a serious challenge.

With respect, the Taoiseach does not take my point about inequality. These people are treated in a shameful way. Babies on the side of the road, no toilet facilities, no water, no beds, no prospects and no hope. That is how they are treated. It is good that the flag is flying at half mast, but this week the Connors family will bury loved ones: Thomas, Sylvia and their children Jim, Christy and Mary. There is nowhere to live. The masses will be on Thursday, the burials will be on Friday and the families will still be homeless. That is our responsibility.

On other issues in the past, the Taoiseach has shown leadership. He stood up and said that this was what we needed to do. Our society can be defined by the treatment of these citizens. The talks with the residents of Rockville Drive continue without resolution ten days later. It is time for an intervention. These families will only start to pick up the pieces when the funerals are finished, yet they still have nowhere to go to try to heal, mourn their loved ones and rebuild their lives.

I am suggesting a forum in this State, as there is none. I suggest that it be an all-Ireland forum, because at least some Travellers are nomadic. In the North, they have the status of an ethnic minority. In England, Scotland and Wales, they have the same status, but not here. I am not suggesting that this would be a cure for all of the problems, but the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality made a number of recommendations that still have not been acted upon 18 months later. I ask the Taoiseach to intervene and act on this issue.

I will return to what I was suggesting, namely, the bringing together of whomever the Taoiseach believes is appropriate. I have just made suggestions. The consultation must clearly involve the Travellers themselves, along with all the other responsible agencies and the Government, to deal with what the Taoiseach said was an issue of inequality. Some good can come out of these ten dreadful deaths, but only if the Government acts.

It will not bring back any of those who lost their lives, obviously. The carrying out of a national audit will bring its own revelations, I would expect.

A new housing approval body, Cena, has been set up and is to be in operation shortly. Every local authority has a five-year rolling programme in terms of what it proposes to do about Traveller accommodation, be it through the provision of social housing, private rented housing or halting sites. There are local Traveller accommodation consultative committees in every local authority area. They comprise people elected by the people to discuss the question of Traveller accommodation, education, social services, etc. They assist in the preparation of the five-year programmes that are to be set out and implemented by every local authority. The National Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee is in place. Its members are appointed by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government under the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998. It has an independent chairman and comprises representatives from the various Departments and the County and City Management Association, and it is the national platform for Traveller accommodation consultation. It supports the local Traveller accommodation committees, it commissions relevant research on Traveller issues, such as those raised by the Deputy, and it provides an advisory role regarding national policy and strategy issues.

With regard to the unfortunate tragedy that occurred in Carrickmines, the programme to review fire safety and Traveller accommodation is always of particular importance. Some authorities have held initial meetings about the plan to prepare for the review or to take appropriate action to improve the position in halting sites or other forms of Traveller accommodation. That is not yet finalised.

There is a national body but the point is that while it is all very well to talk in here, it is the making of decisions that will allow for Traveller accommodation to be provided that meets resistance. I would have believed that, following this horrific tragedy in Carrickmines, the local authority wanting to put in place temporary accommodation for a six-month period in a location close to where the temporary halting site has been in place for eight years would have been acceptable under the conditions set out. I regret that has not happened. There are probably still discussions ongoing between the local authority and the people living there. I assure the Deputy that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, devoted considerable time to trying to achieve closure on this in the hope that the matter might have been sorted out before the funerals. Unfortunately, it has not been. Therefore, it is a question of being able to make decisions that will allow for appropriate accommodation and the provision of all the necessary facilities for Traveller people. After all, they are of the same nationality as ourselves.

The majority of Irish people no longer have confidence in NAMA. Yesterday, I asked An Garda Síochána to investigate, under section 19 of the Criminal Justice Act, why NAMA did not report the discovery that US investment fund PIMCO had been requested to pay £5 million to a former member of the NAMA Northern Ireland Advisory Committee, Mr. Frank Cushnahan. Despite this, NAMA told the Committee of Public Accounts on 9 July that if PIMCO did not withdraw, NAMA could not permit it to remain in the sales process, yet it refused to report the matter to the relevant authorities.

For the life of me, I do not understand how the Government can still be comfortable with the idea of NAMA selling Project Arrow to Cerberus. Cerberus is under criminal investigation in the United Kingdom and United States. When I queried NAMA on this issue last week, Mr. Frank Daly replied to me, "I am not aware that Cerberus is under criminal investigation in any jurisdiction". The same Mr. Daly admitted to the Committee of Public Accounts in July that the purchase of Project Eagle was being investigated but now he is not aware that the actual purchaser, Cerberus, is being investigated. Is it not little wonder that the people have serious questions about NAMA? They would like the Taoiseach to initiate a commission of inquiry.

Aside from the investigation by the National Crime Agency in the United Kingdom, in the United States the Department of Justice is investigating the role of American companies in the Project Eagle transactions. The investigation involves the Attorney General's office in New York, the New York office of the FBI and the US Securities and Exchange Commission, yet NAMA believes Cerberus is not being investigated.

A question, please.

Can the Taoiseach explain that to me? He might remind his friend Mr. Daly that these boys in America are not in the wedding planning business.

Will the Taoiseach do this country a service and suspend the sale of Project Arrow, now rather than later? A serious amount of assets, over half of which are residential, are in the Republic. God knows, we could do with them to address the housing crisis. They will be sold for a fraction of what it will cost NAMA to build units. The agency is saying it will cost €225,000 to build each of the 20,000 units. The assets in Project Arrow will be sold for a pittance. The Taoiseach should freeze the sale now. Under no circumstances is it a legal process given that Cerberus is under criminal investigation.

I have reminded Deputy Wallace before that there are a number of investigations ongoing in regard to this matter. NAMA has appeared before the Committee of Public Accounts on several occasions. The matter has been discussed on at least three occasions. The Deputy himself was invited to appear before the Committee of Public Accounts and, for his own reasons, has refused to do so. I have said to him before that I acknowledge he is properly elected to the Dáil and has the rights and privileges that go with that but he should go before the Committee of Public Accounts. He was invited to do so by the Chairman, Deputy John McGuinness. If Deputy Wallace has further information, or other information, the committee is the place for him to give it. It is through the Committee of Public Accounts that NAMA is responsible to the Oireachtas.

The question of the American company that withdrew was made clear. The Deputy said on the last occasion that I was involved in a cover-up myself over this. He now tells me that I am a friend of Mr. Daly. He makes these allegations without any foundation or backup. If he has something to say, I advise him to say it to the Committee of Public Accounts, which is the duly elected and appointed body in which to do such business in here.

The Taoiseach is giving out about me not going before the Committee of Public Accounts, but he does not seem to have any problem with Mr. Daly misleading the same committee. I have gone to the Garda, I have been interviewed by the National Crime Agency and I have offered to go to New York. I do not actually believe the Taoiseach could possibly try to make out that the Committee of Public Accounts has more teeth than those three organisations. Last week, I asked NAMA how it could have allowed-----

I am sorry to interrupt the Deputy. This is Leaders' Questions; it is not an interrogation and it is not a question of making allegations. We are taking questions to An Taoiseach. If the Deputy has questions, he should please put them.

Last week, I asked NAMA how it could have allowed the Project Eagle transaction to proceed knowing that Brown Rudnick and Tughans were involved, given that the same players were involved in the PIMCO deal in which the fixtures fee of £5 million had been sought for Mr. Frank Cushnahan. When I asked NAMA about this, Mr. Frank Daly replied, "Our advice is that such fee payments are not illegal". Could the Taoiseach confirm for me who NAMA received the advice from? Did that advice cover the laws of the United States and the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland? If NAMA was so sure this was not illegal, why did its board decide that if PIMCO, one of the largest investment funds in the world, did not withdraw from the process, NAMA would force it out? How could it possibly have decided this if everything was rosy in the garden? Can the Taoiseach explain that to me?

The Taoiseach should answer the questions.

As I said, the Deputy has already made allegations here that I was involved in a cover-up about this.

The Taoiseach did not answer the question.

The Taoiseach does not care-----

I would like him to address that.

This is Leaders' Questions, a Cheann Comhairle.

Hold on a second.

The Deputy did not refer to the very detailed, strong and clear response Mr. Daly gave to his allegations in this matter. He chose not to refer to that at all.

The Taoiseach has not answered the question.

I repeat for Deputy Wallace that every time he comes in here, he comes with very specific allegations.

And every time the Taoiseach refuses to answer any questions.

I am saying to Deputy Wallace that the appropriate place for him-----

There is no argument about the fees.

-----to make his allegations and to have NAMA respond to the Committee of Public Accounts is at the Committee of Public Accounts.

There is money in an offshore account.

For everybody's sake, in respect of all those people who are giving him pieces of information-----

(Interruptions).

-----which they are entitled to do, will he bring his allegations before the Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts and its members? NAMA is duty bound to respond-----

It has not responded so far.

It does not want to answer questions.

-----to that body in reference to the Oireachtas. I ask the Deputy please to take up the invitation to him.

The Taoiseach does not want the truth.

He has refused three times to go before that committee.

The Taoiseach is stonewalling.

The Deputy just takes people's good name.

(Interruptions).