Leaders' Questions

We will now take Leaders' Questions under Standing Order 29. I call Deputy Micheál Martin.

Yesterday, in response to the barbaric murder of Gareth Hutch, the latest in a series of callous murders across the capital city, the Taoiseach said initially in his response that he could do nothing to stop the killings. Also, one senior Garda said there was no immediate end in sight. An interpretation of what the Taoiseach was saying essentially is that the State is almost powerless to stop this and turn the tide against the criminal gangs and the drug overlords controlling parts of our city and country.

I put it to the Taoiseach that there is a need for the State to really get into the face of these criminals, assert who is in charge of our country and ensure that crime does not pay. The 2009 legislation is in place and its full implementation is required. It created new offences in terms of directing a criminal organisation and participation in organised crime, invokes the Offences against the State Act and the utilisation of the Special Criminal Court, and depends greatly on intelligence the Garda has built up over time. The Garda and the full armoury of the State need to meet these criminals head on and be constantly in their face in terms of ensuring they do not reign with the apparent ease with which they do at the moment when they can run up and murder people in cold blood and in broad daylight. Therefore, the full implementation of the 2009 Act is called for.

Second, with regard to the proposal for a mini criminal assets bureau, I know that in a recent reply the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, was careful to avoid any commitment to its establishment and drew a distinction between the new unit profiling people in Store Street and the establishment of locally based criminal asset bureaus that would, again, get in the face of criminals on the ground-----

We need a question, please.

-----who have unexplained wealth in various localities and who are running the scenes there. That is now in the programme for Government, but there is no real sense of any commitment to it. The community groups we met last week were clear that they got no sense of any commitment to establish mini-CABs. The term "mini" is used, but these would be locally based CABs that were on the ground targeting these individuals and their wealth and making life extremely uncomfortable for them.

Thirdly, if I may-----

Does Deputy Martin have a question?

Yes. I have put two to the Taoiseach already with regard to the 2009 Act and the mini-CABs, because the sense is that the national CAB is removed from the streets now. Its influence is not there.

All right. Thank you, Deputy. The time is up.

The third question, if I may, concerns the Misuse of Drugs Act, which I put to the Taoiseach yesterday. This has been going on for quite some time. The main issue on the streets in the north inner city concerns tablets and Z-drugs, as they are called. A change of regulations is required. The signing of regulations is required to criminalise that activity and to give the Garda the power it requires to arrest those who are distributing tablets across the city. Those powers are not there and, incredibly, the Garda is not in a position to move effectively on that particular phenomenon, which is a huge source of revenue to the drug lords and which is damaging young people in those communities.

First of all, what I said yesterday was that this was a murderous feud between two rival families. We have had experience of this in the past. Pleas to the McCarthy-Dundons, the General and the Gilligan gang did not do anything until intelligence, personnel and investment in resources and capacity were able to take these people off the streets and put them behind bars, and the same applies here now. At least in those cases, in different years, the criminal gangs were based here in Ireland. There is now a strong international connection, with hits being ordered from abroad. This is as much about sending signals internationally about the so-called status of criminal gangs as it is about power and money and misery here. The sending of people to carry out or to attempt killings for what are in some cases very small sums are really signals from those who live with the trappings and shallowness of wealth abroad and do their dirty business from abroad. I say very clearly to Deputy Martin and everyone else in this House that the Government will not back down in the face of this. We have had experience in different counties over the years, and it takes a long time to deal with these things.

In respect of local resources, the Minister met with all the communities, as did Deputy Martin, quite recently. I intend to meet the leadership of the communities and all the public representatives myself when it is appropriate. However, as of 31 March, 598 gardaí are assigned to the Dublin Metropolitan Region - North Central, of which 251 were assigned to Store Street and 186 to Mountjoy, while 33 newly attested gardaí have been assigned to the north Dublin region also.

As Deputy Martin knows, Operation Hybrid has been put in place to manage the recent increase in violence and these murderous activities by gangs. More than a thousand lines of inquiry are being pursued, a significant number of statements and exhibits have been gathered and widespread searches have been carried out. Arms are being seized, people are being brought before the courts and cases prepared, and the courts will do their duty. As I said yesterday, more than a thousand extensive armed checkpoints have taken place since February, which is more than 80 a week, and no more than 500 patrols and 400 searches have been conducted under this operation across the Dublin region. Those checkpoints and patrols are significantly supported by armed support groups such as the emergency response unit and the regional support units.

I need the Taoiseach to conclude, please.

A significant amount of CCTV and mobile phone traffic is being examined and every investigation is overseen by a dedicated team and investigating officer. Arrests have been made, including on 24 May in connection with the shootings of Eddie Hutch Senior and Gareth Hutch, respectively. This situation is reviewed on a weekly basis. I have asked the Minister for Justice and Equality, the Garda Commissioner and the assistant commissioner to come at 7 p.m. this evening for a full security briefing, particularly in respect of the extra facilities and resources being made available in the north inner city to deal with this issue. I will inform the House of the ongoing activity. Believe me, Deputy Martin, the State and the Government will not lie down in front of this intimidation.

We have one minute for a supplementary question from Deputy Martin.

I thank the Taoiseach for his response. I point out that, notwithstanding that huge effort - I accept the bona fides of the Garda in everything it is trying to do - and notwithstanding everything the Taoiseach has said, there have been seven murders within 100 days in our capital city. That says it all about the state we are in right now and the degree of power that these people are currently wielding on our streets. The Taoiseach did not answer the questions I put to him.

Under the 2009 Act there is stronger capacity to really make life uncomfortable for many of these criminals, who are well known to the Garda from intelligence work and so on.

Is the Taoiseach really committed to the excerpt in the programme for Government dealing with the establishment of locally based Criminal Assets Bureau units? They could really get stuck in to people on the ground, including the lower and mid-level drug pushers who have unexplained wealth, obviously from the proceeds of crime, and who are ruling the roost in their local communities. They are giving up to €200 or €300 to 13 year olds and 14 year olds to distribute tablets on the streets.

Will you conclude, Deputy, please?

That is what is going on in the streets of the north inner city. Young children can earn a fortune. They are told to bring a packet to a certain place and they will then get €200. They are telling the other children that they are mugs not to be involved because it is lucrative and so on. We have to listen to the people there. That is most important.

I did not get a reply today or yesterday to a third issue. Deputy Shortall raised this question as well. The Garda needs powers to arrest people who are selling prescription drugs on our streets. The Minister for Health needs to sign in to law new regulations under the Misuse of Drugs Act. That is why I called for a multi-agency approach yesterday. It is not all about security.

Thank you. Deputy, you need to conclude.

When can we expect this legislation to come on-stream to give the additional powers that the Garda needs? We are being told by community activists that gardaí are saying to them that the force does not have the power to tackle this particular issue.

Does the Taoiseach agree that there is a need for a multi-agency task force to be put in place involving the local public representatives in the areas as well as community activists? Does he agree that we need to take a multi-faceted approach, above all, to make life extremely uncomfortable for those who are ruling the roost at the moment?

The last point Deputy Martin raised has been discussed with the Minister for Justice and Equality and all of the groups in the communities. This is very important. Some of the groups have been in existence in different parts of the country for many years. They may need to be reinvigorated in terms of the work they do and so on. That issue is under discussion.

Let us be clear on this point. These gangland crimes and killings, including the orders and attempts to kill, are not being done on a whim or decided in the corner of some kitchen in inner city Dublin. They are being directed from international sources. There needs to be a far greater connection and far more vigilant operation with international police forces and intelligence in respect of such gangs. I will make the point again. What is happening internationally is as much a signal being sent to other international criminals about the status of a gangland crime from Ireland, involving the Kinahan gang or whatever, and about what they can do. These gangs are intent on retaliatory killings in Dublin. My concern is for the people living in these communities and their children in particular. A school had to be locked down yesterday.

Deputy Martin made a number of other points. The Misuse of Drugs Act deals with licensed tablets. We need primary legislation to deal with an extension of the provisions. That is being prepared by the Minister for Health.

This has been going on for years.

We cannot introduce the regulations until we have the primary legislation. There was a particular case.

You need to conclude, Taoiseach.

When it comes, I hope the House can agree to deal with this.

It is a scandal in itself that it has taken this long.

Deputy Martin asked about the mini Criminal Assets Bureau units. The Garda Commissioner has appointed local investigators in different parts of the country to deal with this issue. They act as mini CAB units in different locations throughout the country. I will meet the Garda Commissioner this evening at 7 p.m. for a full security update, including what is being provided and whether the Garda Commissioner and the police force need other resources to deal with this issue. I intend to meet all the public representatives and community leaders when it is appropriate to do so in respect of dealing with it. I expect we will get support from all Members because the issue affects everyone.

Last Tuesday, Teachta McDonald and I, along with several hundred citizens of Dublin's inner city, took part in a public vigil at the monument in Buckingham Street against criminal violence. The Taoiseach may recall that a memorial was erected in 2000 to remember the 150 people from that community who died during the previous 20 years from heroin and other drugs. I commend the organisers of this act of solidarity for a community that has suffered grievously from significant violence and criminality.

A total of seven men have been murdered as part of a so-called criminal feud. People are living in fear. Whatever else we may disagree about in this Chamber, it is important for us to state clearly that the small minority of criminals involved do not represent the communities we serve. These are not ganglands; these are wonderful communities victimised by criminal gangs. They are caring communities that deserve better. They need social and economic regeneration. In particular, they need the Government and An Garda Síochána to allocate resources and personnel to achieve this end and put those responsible behind bars.

This lack of resources did not happen by accident. The Fine Gael Government, during its last term, closed Garda stations, as did Fianna Fáil. In the north inner city of Dublin, there are now 140 fewer gardaí than in 2010.

Who was arrested yesterday?

In the south inner city, there are 160 fewer gardaí. I commend An Garda Síochána on the work it does in difficult circumstances, but additional gardaí are needed, as is funding for projects and a comprehensive plan for the community in respect of jobs, councillors, children, in particular, teachers, addiction services and youth groups. A range of community services that intervene with young people at risk or those with drug addiction have had resources cut. That did not happen by accident either. The Fine Gael Government and Fianna Fáil did that as well. Will the Government commit now to increased funding and an integrated plan for the social, economic, educational and community development of the north inner city?

I agree with Deputy Adams in that the people who live in these inner city areas have every right to have at their disposal proper facilities and opportunities for their children. I agree with Deputy Adams about their commitment to make that opportunity available for their children and families. Why not? I saw and felt as much when I was at the funeral mass of Martin O'Rourke. People came up to me and made the very point Deputy Adams has made, and I agree with it completely.

It is a fact of life and I have said this already. I intend to see that, in so far as this Government can, with the help of everyone, we turn our face towards dealing with social disadvantage and unfairness. The children growing up in these areas are at a serious disadvantage to others in many places throughout the country. We have a position whereby the economy is in a position to deliver better than before. Really and truly, I hope to make progress by meeting with the community leadership and giving the Garda the resources and facilities to do its job in dealing with gangland crime. It is exceptionally labour-intensive, costly and a drain on the taxpayer, but it is necessary for the safety, protection and opportunity of communities throughout the country. We intend to stand by that, and I know Deputy Adams and Sinn Féin will support us in that regard.

It is distressing to read of the lock-down of schools and the fears of parents, who are afraid of what is going to happen to their children. Perfectly innocent young people have been gunned down in the madness of inter-gangland, inter-family rivalry and feuding. The people who organised the procession the other day did a superb job. The day before, the Minister for Justice and Equality met the communities and their leadership for over two hours to hear their concerns, feel their anxiety and see whether together we can put in place a process that will deal with this. As Deputy Adams is well aware, it took years to deal with the McCarthy-Dundon gang. It took years to deal with Gilligan. It took years to deal with The General.

It does require information, resources, capacity and courage from young people who join the Garda. That is why Templemore has been opened. That is why there will be increased numbers of young gardaí coming through. That is why I was glad when the Commissioner mentioned to me that the application for the armed unit had been very much oversubscribed by people who have a real opportunity here and a real commitment to dealing with this. After this evening’s meeting with the Commissioner, the assistant commissioner and the Minister for Justice and Equality to get the update on what extra is being put in here, what facilities are available and the capacity of gardaí to do their job, I want Government to be able to work with those communities and others throughout the country to deliver for their children and their cities in a way that we could say Government will not be intimidated by this kind of murderous feuding, that it will not lie down in the face of that, and that it will deliver for the people and the resources will be there for gardaí to protect those communities and people. That is our duty and our responsibility.

We need to go beyond fine words and empower these communities. Yes, we need new tough legislation to deal with the illegal trade in prescription drugs, but the report of the first ministerial task force on drugs, published 20 years ago, highlighted the link between drugs, crime, poverty and social and economic deprivation. It called for increased investment not only in front-line policing but also in education, treatment and prevention. Twenty years later, the Clondalkin drugs task force a few weeks ago published a report entitled Outcomes: Drug Harms, Policy Harms, Poverty & Equality. It is the same old story. This report is a damning indictment of 20 years of failure by successive governments and it accepts, despite the huge amount of work done by local community workers, addiction counsellors and other key workers, gardaí, teachers, sports coaches and residents, that things are getting worse. We need increased funding for gardaí but also for drugs task forces whose funding like that of the one in Clondalkin has been cut by 45%.

This is not only a Dublin issue. In my constituency of Louth and east Meath there is a serious underfunding of addiction services. None of this happened by accident. It is a direct result of Government policy. Will the Taoiseach commit to bringing forward a plan which will mean there will be a Government-led task force involving local communities to carry out a comprehensive multi-agency strategic plan to reclaim these communities, empower their citizens and regenerate these brilliant communities made up of decent, sound people?

I do not want merely to deal with words. I know of few people in this country who speak with the voice that the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, does about social disadvantage and what can be done about it. She is the newly appointed Minister of State with responsibility for drugs and will lead on the drugs strategy. She will liaise with the local drugs task forces. There will be proper public consultation. There will be a proper strategy for drugs before the end of the year and that involves consultation.

The first period of the previous Government was spent dealing with an unprecedented economic catastrophe. We have now moved to a different place. We need to have the resources to invest in communities and people. That is why we have been able to put more into the facilities for gardaí to do their job which had been neglected for a very long time. It is not where it should be but it is better than it was. In answer to my questioning about the level of resources being given to the Garda Commissioner and the assistant Garda commissioner, they tell me they have what they need. I will deal with that again at 7 p.m. today. Now I am interested in seeing that those children, parents and young people are given some sense of aspiration, hope and confidence. We can only do that by working together. That is why the new Minister of State with responsibility for drugs has my full support in the way that she knows, as a public representative and a former Lord Mayor of the city, what it takes and will take to get communities focused on where we know they can be and remove that social disadvantage. Yes, it will take investment, consultation and community leadership, but that is all there and those ingredients are there if we only apply ourselves in a way that I know we can and, I hope, will.

I express my solidarity and that of my party with the people of the inner city of Dublin who perceive themselves to be under siege because they are under siege. The first duty of everybody here for the people who feel like that in their own communities is to understand that this House and every Member in it not only stands with them but is determined to solve the problems they face.

I listened with some care to the Taoiseach’s words. It is our common analysis that crimes and feuds like this do not exist in a vacuum. There are criminal gangs based in our city and country, and some based offshore, who thrive like parasites on the deprivation and desperation of communities like this. Words are not enough today. There needs to be two approaches. One is immediate, and we are agreed on that, which is a policing response that is intelligent and effective. It worked in the past in Limerick and other places when there was solidarity across this House in the mid-1990s when Ruairí Quinn brought in the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, legislation. We were determined to do whatever was necessary. We need the people of the north inner city to hear that absolute sense of unity and purpose today.

Second, in respect of the social disadvantage that Deputy Adams and others have spoken about and to which the Taoiseach has responded, what specifically are we going to do? I have great faith-----

What was the Deputy doing for the past five years?

In the past five years we were trying to pick up the pieces of a broken country-----

The Government cut social welfare payments.

-----that Deputy Shortall walked away from.

Let us have one speaker, please, and the speaker needs to conclude.

This is not about any Member of this House or scoring points.

It is a question of a community under siege. Instead of dividing, we should unite in common purpose. I hope everybody will join in common purpose and not see this as something that we can score points on. Can we have an agreement to have a dedicated task force to deal with this community? Will the Taoiseach indicate who will lead it, who will be involved in it, its timescale and what resources will be deployed?

I share Deputy Howlin’s view and thank him for his comment that it is important that everybody sends out a very clear message, and not only that but shows by action that we stand with these communities and this community in particular. The Deputy is right to say that crimes do not exist in a vacuum. The difference between this situation and ones that applied in previous years is the international offshore connection where those who have gained vast proceeds from dealing in drugs live very different lives, with the shallowness of that ill-gained wealth, and give their directions from abroad.

In the meantime, the response now is to focus on intelligence, prosecution, the courts system and getting people behind bars for criminal activities. As the Deputy well knows, that is a labour-intensive situation. The Limerick situation he mentions was different because of the international connections now. I welcome the resolve of everybody in the House to deal with this. When I have a full briefing from the Commissioner in respect of what is there now and what is required, I will share that with the leaders of the groups here.

I can confirm that a task force will deal with the local situation in the inner city. I can confirm to Deputy Howlin that an action-based national strategy to deal with drugs will be put in place and that there will be consultation with local drugs task forces and communities.

The Government tried to close them down three years ago.

Beyond that, we need to examine the broader facilities available to those communities, which in many respects are grossly inadequate, in order that the leaders in those communities can work with young people, families and children to give them a sense of what investment in communities can deliver, namely, the opportunity and hope that they can have a better life.

In the meantime, the response is now on the street to assure people that, despite the murderous activities and attempted killings, the Government and all of us as representatives stand with these communities. I do not just say that; I will prove it. We will engage with them, hear their views, anxieties and concerns and deliver on them. In the immediate, medium and longer term, I assure everybody in the House that we will follow through diligently with these actions.

I welcome the commitment of the Taoiseach to the twin-track approach to which I referred. We want it to be immediate and include effective policing with the degree of determination that this House showed in the mid-1990s. I welcome the fact the leaders of the Opposition parties will be briefed after tonight's meeting.

The Taoiseach's second announcement was as important as the first. I welcome the announcement that there is to be a task force. We need to know and have input into its terms of reference. Who will lead it? What sort of resources will be deployed? We should not focus on this issue simply because it is now in the public eye. Rather, we should have a medium and long-term strategy that will resolve the issue in order that these parasites cannot recruit vulnerable people in communities to do their vicious will again.

I agree that the leaders of the parties in opposition should have the right to have an input into the terms of reference of a local task force. These discussions have already started. I would be happy to ask the other leaders and groupings for their views on how we can do this in the best way possible. The social inclusion units of the Departments of Social Protection and Health are important entities and will form part of the process.

I hope, arising from what we now propose to do, that we get coherence and a strategy in order that the communities affected will be able to see what will happen in the immediate, medium and longer term. This is a partnership operation that affects everybody. I hope the Dáil can show the communities affected that we are serious about acting in their interests. Dealing with criminal activities requires resources but, more importantly in the longer term, we need to allow those communities to have a life and be able to thrive, move on and provide the opportunities for their children, families and older people to which they are properly entitled.

Community services have been savagely cut over the past five years.

That involves dealing with some of the issues raised by Deputy Howlin.