I very much welcome the opportunity this debate provides to discuss the measures we have taken to tackle crime in all its forms and to consider how to improve our strategies to protect and support communities throughout the country.
Crime creates victims, and even for someone who is not the victim, crime can be disturbing. It can be frightening when a house on one's road is burgled or a farm down the road is robbed or a gang-related shooting occurs in the neighbourhood, but that does not mean we have to accept it. As Minister for Justice and Equality I have been committed to ensuring that as a State we do all we can to disrupt and prevent crime and to make our streets and our communities safer.
The evil and sinister cycle of gangland violence in our capital is shocking and disturbing. The loss of life, including the lives of those who played no part in gang-related feuds, is intolerable. I am sure everybody in the House agrees with me on that. This violent feud is unprecedented in its audacity. The gangs show no regard for public safety. The events we have seen are outrageous. It should be noted that, prior to the current spate of violence, gang-related murders had fallen from 17 in 2010 to three last year. The murder rate overall was down 43% in the same period. We must not let either this record of improvement or the safety and good name of our capital city be dragged down by the violence and thuggery of these gangs.
Last week, An Taoiseach and I met senior officers of An Garda Síochána and were briefed on the significant progress being made in investigations into recent gang-related murders in the Dublin region. I wish to commend the Garda on its current policing operations in Dublin, including those involving armed units. These operations include a range of responses such as visible policing, the use of armed checkpoints, and targeted and intelligence-based operations, all aimed at disrupting and preventing incidents - although this is sadly not always possible, as we know all too well - as well as detecting and prosecuting those involved. Work is also progressing on the establishment of an additional dedicated 55-strong armed support unit for Dublin, for which I first announced plans in February. There has been an overwhelming response from gardaí in applying for the new unit, contrary to some comments that were made at the time. It is very welcome indeed. That work is under way and in the meantime other units are doing the work. I have assured An Garda Síochána that it has the full support of the Government in its efforts to disrupt gang-related crime and it will continue to access all resources necessary, including extensive overtime, to support it in delivering concentrated visible policing measures to tackle gang-related crime.
There is absolutely no question of any reduction in resources or overtime being made available to the Garda to counteract gang-related crime. However long it lakes, and whatever resources are necessary, the State will take all measures open to it to bear down on the deadly activities of gangs.
As has been pointed out in recent weeks, An Garda Síochána gains from tough legislation to tackle organised crime enacted in 2006 and 2009. The then Ministers are to be commended on its introduction. These Acts set out criminal offences and provide for strong sanctions for "directing the activities of a criminal organisation" and participating in, or contributing to, "certain activities of a criminal organisation". Since the enactment of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 in 2009, 276 arrests have been made, and individuals have been charged with participating in or contributing to certain activities and with directing the activities of a criminal organisation. There have been convictions to date of people who participate in or contribute to certain activities under section 72 of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009. These are extraordinarily difficult prosecutions, but we do have the legislation in place.
The Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 also introduced provisions to respond to the reality of intimidation by criminal gangs which were designed to tilt the balance firmly in favour of the rule of law and justice. I regret that some parties in this House continue to vote annually against the renewal of some of these special provisions and, furthermore, persist in calling for the abolition of the Special Criminal Court. I and the Government were so concerned about this that we decided that we needed a second Special Criminal Court because of the delays in the first. I recently signed the rules of court as the final step necessary to establish a second Special Criminal Court, so that we can start dealing more effectively and in a more timely manner with the current backlog of cases. Given the existence of violent criminals who will stop at nothing in pursuit of their evil objectives, including intimidation of jurors and witnesses, it is clear that the Special Criminal Court must remain as an essential element in our anti-crime infrastructure. I welcome the majority support in this House for that.
The Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, has been invaluable and is playing its part in current operations aimed at tackling criminal gangs. It shows terrific and wonderful commitment to the pursuit and seizure of the proceeds of crime, as illustrated in the 2014 annual report that I published in January. I encourage Members to read that report.
Since its statutory inception in 1996 and up to the end of 2014, CAB has obtained interim orders - that is, freezing orders - to the value of over €79 million, over £18 million and $6.6 million, and interlocutory orders, or final restraint orders, to the value of over €50 million, £3 million and $6 million. It has demanded more than €253 million in taxes and interest, with over €147 million collected, and made social welfare savings of over €7.2 million and recoveries of almost €3.3 million. That gives a flavour of the work that CAB is involved in.
Last year An Garda Síochána established a dedicated new national drugs and organised crime bureau. During 2015, this new bureau arrested 90 people for drug trafficking offences and made 51 significant seizures of controlled drugs with an estimated street value in excess of €24 million, including cocaine, heroin, herbal cannabis, cannabis resin and ecstasy. Tactical investigations by the bureau have resulted in 238 detections and arrests for offences relating to possession with intent to supply. This also shows the scale of the challenge and it is very much an international one.
Recent high-profile gang-related crimes have regrettably manifested themselves as gun crime. I note, however, the substantial progress that has been made over the past ten years in tackling gun crime in Ireland. The number of offences relating to the possession and discharge of a firearm has fallen by 52%, from 745 in 2005 to 356 in 2015, while incidents of assault, burglary, robbery and murder involving a firearm are down 28%, from 455 to 329.
This reduction in gun crime is welcome, and I commend An Garda Síochána on its work to reduce crime in Ireland. However, one crime involving a gun is still one too many, something with which I am sure Deputies would agree. We will continue to do all we can to support gardaí in tackling gun-related crime and will not let the recent upsurge in violence deter us from this goal.
Now is the time for expansion in An Garda Síochána. The last Government ended the moratorium on Garda recruitment and reopened the Garda college in Templemore for new recruits. Since September 2014 we have provided for the recruitment of 1,150 new gardaí, including 600 this year. Deputies will know that, as Minister, I have been consistent in my commitment to ongoing seamless recruitment and, subject to agreement being reached on the formation of a Government, my party has agreed to commit to increasing the strength of An Garda Síochána to 15,000. Recruitment is, of course, just the beginning.
As we know, gardaí need to be mobile, visible and responsive in communities, not stuck behind desks. We need gardaí policing our road network and tackling mobile criminal gangs. That means investing in vehicles. As everybody is well aware, the economic downturn affected An Garda Síochána, as well as every other sector of society. Now, given the improving economy, we have been able to begin to make the necessary investments in order to have the kind of organisation in An Garda Síochána that can respond to the many challenges facing policing.
We have invested over €34 million in 1,300 new Garda vehicles since 2012 and 720 vehicles have come on stream since the start of last year. Much ground needs to be made up because of the lack of investment and the recent economic situation, which is why investment is urgently required. The age profile of Garda vehicles has increased and the capital plan has allowed for a further €46 million investment, which is substantial. I accept that the investment has not necessarily been seen all over the country just yet, but anybody who speaks to local gardaí will acknowledge that the investment in vehicles is beginning to be seen around the country. More work and further investment are required, both in recruitment and the facilities required by gardaí.
We have also invested in new night-time surveillance equipment for the Garda air support unit to track and disrupt burglars and criminal gangs from the air. The service was missing for a number of years and is now back. It is very necessary and important in terms of tracking and disrupting criminal activity throughout the country. There is a commitment to the new Garda headquarters and technology. It is very clear that the Garda, as the Commissioner said recently, is far behind in terms of technology. We have already committed to the necessary investment in technology, a total of over €200 million. Towards the end of last year, a number of new initiatives regarding technology were tendered for and are coming on stream, with some advance money being made available. More work is required.
Deputy Collins and many others have discussed the Garda's need for new technology, the updating of the PULSE system and other initiatives. Money is now available for those projects, but things will not happen overnight. For the first time there is a plan, which was brought about by detailed work between the Departments of Justice and Equality and Public Expenditure and Reform and An Garda Síochána, and there is now a costed plan in place so that the technology needs of An Garda Síochána can be met incrementally. We will accelerate that process as resources allow.
It is also very important to provide resources from the point of view of international security and being able to exchange the kind of data that we now need to exchange with other countries in order to deal with the terrorist activity and security concerns that are so prevalent in Europe today. These systems are urgently required in order to ensure that the State is secure.
I will not have time to go into the details of Operation Thor, but I have circulated to Deputies some of the results we have already seen. It involves very focused policing in regard to burglaries. It is clear that in order to tackle crime in today's world we needed to have very focused initiatives from the Garda, depending on the crime trends at any one time. As we know, in this country we dealt with subversive activity for many years which involved a large amount of Garda resources. Unfortunately, the current trends relate to burglaries, but the statistics coming from the work done by Operation Thor are very encouraging. The work, which will be enhanced by further CCTV networks, will continue.
Like every Deputy in the House, I am very aware of the impact of crime on local communities and held discussions recently with An Garda Síochána on the impact on local communities where most murders take place. It will do everything possible to liaise effectively with the communities concerned in order to provide supports. We have also doubled the funding for local anti-crime initiatives, including the Garda text alert system and schemes for rural communities. I understand more targeted funding could be very helpful for communities throughout the country in order to encourage their tremendous voluntary efforts.
I have circulated my speech to the House. I have also referred to the review of stations and boundaries and new legislation. It is important that the House acknowledges the dedicated and selfless work in which all members of An Garda Síochána who oppose criminals and support and defend local communities are engaged. That is extremely important. The Garda is the first line of defence. The service has not been without its difficulties in recent years, but it still enjoys the widespread support and appreciation of the majority of our people.