Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill 2016 [Seanad]: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, and the Proceeds of Crime Act 1996 were developed in response to a deep crisis 20 years ago.  If Veronica Guerin's murder marked the low point in the depravity of Irish criminals, the coming together of politicians on all sides to create the CAB and pass the Proceeds of Crime Act was a high point in the political life of the country.  Despite differences between parties on so many issues, we were, as one, horrified by the viciousness of organised criminals, but quickly moved beyond rhetoric to a swift, effective and unified response.  It must be hard for her family and friends to be constantly reminded of their loss at times like this, but they can remember her with great pride as a journalist who took a stand against malevolent forces and who inspired the entire political class to concerted action.  Six weeks after her murder the Proceeds of Crime Act 1996 was enacted.  Two months after that the Criminal Assets Bureau Act was passed.  In doing so, the Oireachtas created an innovative model for depriving murderers and drug pedlars of the proceeds of their crimes.

Since 1996 our model for depriving criminals of the proceeds of their crime has been envied by many countries and has even been copied by some.  The CAB has retrieved hundreds of millions of euro in proceeds of crime, unpaid taxes and fraudulently obtained welfare payments.  It has been an undeniable success, even to the point of driving some gang leaders overseas, leaving other gang members here to run their criminal operations.

Recent months have seen those subordinates of the offshore drug barons bring murder to our streets in an unprecedented way.  Our response today must be as swift, effective and united as it was in 1996.  Working with local communities, the Criminal Assets Bureau and all law enforcement agencies, the Government and Parliament must again say "No" to the men of crime.  We must comprehensively reject their message of greed and misery, their subjugation of people with addictions, their attempts to terrorise localities, their nihilistic rejection of community, civilisation, order and the rule of law, and their violence.  Our message must be one that rejects all their wrongdoing and all that flows from it, but one which is a part of a positive and comprehensive message of hope and real practical support for the communities affected.

This Bill is part of the law enforcement element of that response, but we must go beyond law enforcement.  The Taoiseach and I, and other Government colleagues, held various meetings with community representatives from Dublin's north inner city in recent weeks to hear their concerns about the broader socioeconomic issues affecting the area.  The community representatives were very appreciative of the visible Garda presence in the area and sought reassurance about continuing resources for local policing, particularly community policing in the longer term. Other concerns raised related to tackling the scourge of drugs, including the illicit sale of prescription drugs, as well as early intervention programmes for children, educational disadvantage, job creation and apprenticeships in the area, improving the physical environment, social housing provision, and community development including family, youth and recreation activity.  The Taoiseach intends to establish a broader task force to address socioeconomic and community development issues in the north inner city. The outcome of those meetings helped inform the preparatory work on the proposed task force and we are determined to make progress on this in the near future. Of course, there are lessons for other areas as well in terms of dealing with similar issues.

Five weeks ago I secured the agreement of the Government to a package of measures to increase the pressure on organised criminals. The package includes the establishment of a special crime task force by An Garda Síochána which will have an ongoing and relentless focus on persons involved in gangland activities. The Government is committed to funding whatever measures are needed for An Garda Síochána to best tackle the critical and unprecedented challenges it faces and has recently approved additional funding of some €55 million for An Garda Síochána.

There is already a wide range of strong legislation in place to deal with gangland activities. Deputies will be familiar with the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 which brought forward provisions to respond to the reality of intimidation by criminal gangs; the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009 which provided for covert surveillance; the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 which addressed the use of weapons; the Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Act 2008 which was brought forward to enhance international co-operation; and the very important Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Act 2010. We now need new legislation focused, in particular, on the criminal proceeds held by gang members locally. Last week the House approved the reduction from €6,500 to €1,000 of the prescribed sum under section 38, under which cash suspected of being the proceeds of crime may be seized by gardaí or Revenue officers. The Bill which has been developed following consultation with the Garda Commissioner and the Chief Bureau Officer will help to improve the legislative powers we have available and gardaí on the front line. The Government approved the drafting of the Bill as a matter of urgency and I thank Members across the House and in the Seanad for their support for it.

The Bill has been quickly but carefully crafted to provide additional powers for the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, to target the proceeds of crime. The CAB has no power under the Proceeds of Crime Act to seize and detain the proceeds of crime without making an application to court. When we met members of the CAB and the Garda, they made this point and said they needed something stronger to deal with the issue. Section 2 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 1996 allows for the CAB to make an ex parte application to the High Court for an interim order which can prohibit any person from disposing of or dealing with any property if the court is satisfied it constitutes the proceeds of crime. To seek such an order, the CAB must have marshalled all of the relevant evidence and be in position to establish that the property derives from criminal conduct. Given the level of scrutiny applied by the court to such an application, particularly as it is an ex parte application where only the applicant is heard by the court, this is a challenging task for the CAB. The new power will allow CAB officers to move quickly to seize property and they will have 21 days to prepare their court application. The Bill will also allow for the mid-level proceeds held by gang members to be targeted by reducing the threshold which applies under the Proceeds of Crime Act 1996 from €13,000 to €5,000.

The Bill is being brought forward as an urgent measure in order that these changes will be available to the CAB without delay. While Deputies may have other proposals for reform, I ask that such proposals not delay the rapid passage of the Bill but be considered as part of the wider review of the proceeds of crime legislation which can deliver further reforms in the medium term.

The Proceeds of Crime Act 1996 operates as a piece of civil law. The applications made under it to the High Court rely on the civil standard of proof, that is, the balance of probabilities. As the lawyers say, it operates in rem, not in personam, to target property, not persons. No finding is made on the guilt of a person, as happens in a criminal trial. Instead, a finding is made on whether property is the proceeds of crime. Provision is made for the belief of a Garda chief superintendent to be admitted as evidence. The Act allows for an interlocutory order to be made, where the court is satisfied, on the evidence from the CAB, that property is the proceeds of crime and, to an extent, shifts the onus to the respondent to disprove the case. The Act contains no criminal offences and no penal sanctions.

Early on in its operation, the civil status of the Act was considered in litigation. In Murphy v. G. M. and Gilligan v. CAB the then Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Keane, noted that the legislation was "unquestionably draconian" and then addressed the key point of whether proceedings under the Act were civil or criminal in nature. Following an extensive review of the case law on the factors which differentiated criminal and civil actions, he found that the appellants had failed to establish that the Act amounted to criminal proceedings. It is possible to maintain the special provisions of the Act because they amount to civil proceedings. Any addition to the Act, therefore, must not tip the balance of the Act in order that they become criminal proceedings. It is for that reason that I emphasise the care which has been taken to ensure the Bill is not only constitutionally sound but also sustainable in the special civil context of the Proceeds of Crime Act. The Attorney General has not only reviewed its provisions herself but has also had external senior counsel consider it twice, first when the scheme was being developed and then when the final draft was being prepared. The Chief Bureau Officer and the bureau legal officer were also consulted on a number of occasions by my officials. I thank them for the urgent work they have done on the Bill. We consulted them to ensure their knowledge, experience and expertise would be brought to bear.

This is the other key reason I ask that more extensive proposals for change be considered as part of the wider review of proceeds of crime legislation which can deliver further reforms in the medium term. I would like all such proposals to undergo the same rigorous checking by my officials and the Attorney General's office and for the CAB to be consulted on them. The Proceeds of Crime Act has served us well for 20 years and been tested time and again in the courts. We want to be sure changes to what is carefully honed legislation do not blunt or break it in any way.

Let me turn to the provisions of the Bill. The first sections deal with various definitions. Section 3 inserts new sections which provide for the administrative seizure and detention of property.

The new section 1A allows for the fact that, if a bureau officer is in a public or any other place, he or she is permitted to seize any property he or she has reasonable grounds for suspecting is the proceeds of crime. It is intended to provide for the seizure of the suspected proceeds of crime, both where the property is discovered opportunistically as part of general CAB operations and as part of a focused operation targeting particular suspected proceeds. The bureau officer must have reasonable grounds for suspecting that the property, in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, constitutes the proceeds of crime and is of a total value of not less than €5,000. Once these criteria are met, the bureau officer may seize and detain the property for up to 24 hours. This represents a serious interference with the property rights and potentially other rights of individuals, hence the need to limit the period in which it can have effect. Any further detention beyond 24 hours must meet the additional criteria set out in subsection (2) which allows the Chief Bureau Officer to authorise the further detention of the property for up to 21 days if the criteria outlined in paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d) are cumulatively met. The key purpose of the entire section is evident in paragraph (c) which is to allow the CAB time to prepare an interim or interlocutory application to the High Court. Subsection (3) requires the Chief Bureau Officer to give written notice to all affected persons unless he or she is satisfied that it is not reasonably possible to attain their whereabouts. The notice has to include the reasons for the authorisation and inform the person of the right to make an application under section 1B. Subsection (5) allows details, the disclosure of which might prejudice the investigation, to be withheld.

The new section 1B outlines the protections for affected persons by allowing them to apply to the courts to vary or revoke an authorisation. The new section 1C provides for an application for compensation for losses incurred by the owner of a property if the CAB fails to apply for or obtain an interim order from the court. The Bill then outlines the relevant provisions which reduce the value of the property involved from €13,000 to €5,000.

The Bill received the strong support of the Seanad. That support is a sign of the unity of purpose we share in seeking to defeat crime and support the communities affected by it. It is an echo of the message sent from these Houses 20 years ago. The Criminal Assets Bureau carries that message in a practical way to those involved in organised crime by taking their illgotten property from them. I hope that today we can further equip the CAB for the new challenges it faces every day. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the legislation which has been brought to the House by the Minister. It was supported by Fianna Fáil in Seanad Éireann and we will also support it in this House. It is important to echo and emphasise what the Minister stated in her remarks about the importance of the Oireachtas sending out a strong united message to individuals involved in crime. This message will be sent out if we can get agreement on this legislation, get it passed, signed and brought into force before the recess.

Legislation in many instances is a response to actual events that have happened. This is why it is always important to be able to look at legislation with the knowledge of the historical events that gave rise to it. Somebody who looks at the 1996 Acts on the Criminal Assets Bureau and on the proceeds of crime will not know what gave rise to their introduction. As we know, the Acts were introduced because of the terrible murder of journalist, Veronica Guerin. They were a united and effective response by the Oireachtas 20 years ago to what was a serious threat to people in our community as a result of organised drug trafficking and gangland crime.

Similarly, this legislation has been introduced by the Minister as a response to actual events that have happened. The events to which the House seeks to respond in legislation are the terrible murders that have taken place in the city and beyond a result of an unacceptable gangland feud that has targeted individuals in those gangs but has also brought terror to very vulnerable communities in the city and beyond. It is extremely important that we, as an Oireachtas, send a united message in response to this.

The legislation brought forward by the Minister is effective in proposing one of the solutions to deal with the problems that have arisen as a result of gangland crime. We need to challenge these criminal activities in a multifaceted and varied way. The response we need is not just limited to amending the proceeds of crime legislation. We also need a response in terms of changing how the Garda polices, more effective Garda policing and greater resources.

We also need education in respect of the issues driving these gangland feuds. The bedrock on which gangland crime is built is the drugs trade. We need to educate and remind young people and parents of the dangers of getting involved in taking drugs. Nothing good comes from individuals getting involved in and taking drugs. Sometimes we send out ambiguous messages to young people. We need to send out a strong message. We have strong messages about how it is unacceptable and dangerous for children and adults to use drugs which are legalised, such as alcohol and tobacco. We also need to have an education programme for young people about illegal drugs and the danger of using them. At present we do not have an education programme in this respect, which is something the House needs to consider.

Other responses to gangland crime must include changes to our criminal law to make it more effective. It is obvious, although it is regrettable, that our criminal law in certain instances finds it difficult to deal with gangland crime, where individuals who appear before our courts to give evidence against individuals involved in gangland crime face the threat of being killed or seriously injured. Our criminal law is able to deal with this but we must recognise there are threats to the effectiveness of our criminal law as a result of the extraordinary violence being used by certain individuals to protect their wealth and themselves. This is why the legislation introduced 20 years ago was so effective. It is not, as the Minister said, criminal law. It is, however, a change to the civil law. It provides that the proceeds of crime may be seized. What is proposed, we believe, is an effective and appropriate extension of the legislation which has been in existence for 20 years but which needs to be used more by the Criminal Assets Bureau.

When I was appointed as the Fianna Fáil Front Bench spokesperson on justice, the first visit Deputy Micheál Martin and I paid was to the communities in north inner city which, at the time, were extremely fearful of the ongoing gangland crime. The people there said to us, and I know they probably said the same to the Minister and the Taoiseach when they visited subsequently, and to other Deputies from the constituency who met local groups, that what they really wanted to see was a mini-CAB. They explained this term as wanting to be able to have in their communities an effective deterrent whereby individuals who are able to go around showing the proceeds and wealth of crime could have their assets seized by an administrative or judicial decision, provided it could be established that what they had was, in fact, the proceeds of crime. I am pleased to say the proposal contained in the legislation and in legislation which I drafted and sent to the Minister, and I commend her for considering it, provides for this mini-CAB because it reduces the minimum threshold at which proceeds can be seized from €13,000 to €5,000. This will have an impact in the areas where there are proceeds of crime and gives an opportunity for them to be seized, provided it can reasonably and accurately be established they are the proceeds of crime.

One of the substantive and most interesting sections of the Bill put forward by the Minister is the change whereby if the law is passed we will have a new power of seizure and detention of property. The purpose of this is that a bureau officer who encounters an individual and notices immediately the individual is in possession of property he or she believes is the proceeds of criminal activity and which exceeds €5,000 can be seized and held for a period of 24 hours. It is extremely important in the legislation we introduce to have measures and provisions in place to ensure these powerful and draconian statutory provisions are not abused. For this reason, the power is only given to a bureau officer to seize the property for 24 hours. After this, it can be held for a further of 21 days provided the chief bureau officer is satisfied there are reasonable grounds for suspecting it is the proceeds of criminal activity.

There is also the safety mechanism that an application can be made to the court, which is the place where the rights of individuals are vindicated. I hope it will not occur but it is possible that individuals will have property wrongfully seized under the legislation. The protection and safety net is there because an application can be made to the court, which can make an order reversing what is provided for. It can also make an order paying compensation if it is shown to be the case the property was not the proceeds of crime and had been wrongfully confiscated.

This is a very powerful tool and something that would be very useful for the Garda and the Criminal Assets Bureau. It is important the Criminal Assets Bureau is sufficiently resourced so the legislation is fully used to its potential. There is no point in the Oireachtas passing legislation which is then not used as effectively or fully as it can be.

The Minister mentioned in her speech that she wants to have a unified response from the Oireachtas and I hope and believe she will get it. However, she indicated there may be other proposals for reform in respect of proceeds of crime legislation and I welcome this. I note the Department has been conducting a review of proceeds of crime. This review needs to be expedited. It also needs to be expanded to hear opinions from others. A number of other proposals could be introduced in respect of legislation. We do not propose to table them by amendment now but they could be introduced to make the proceeds of crime legislation more effective. For instance, the Minister knows that at present a disposal order requires CAB to hold onto property for a period of seven years. I believe CAB would prefer if this were reduced to a lesser period. I know there are constitutional and legal concerns about reducing it too much below seven years but it is an issue we need to consider. I and, I am sure, Deputy O'Brien would be happy to engage with the Minister on this.

Another matter worth considering is that in Australia, which has similar legislation, the money seized is put into a confiscated assets account.

The money that goes into the confiscated assets account is then used exclusively in communities which have been affected by drug use and criminal activity so that the people in those communities can see that money is being put back into the community and that the money is a consequence of, and derives from, the proceeds of crime which have been seized. I know that there is a hesitancy or reluctance on the part of the all too powerful Department of Finance and other associated Departments to allow separate funds that go into the Exchequer to go into separate funds. However, we need to consider doing so in respect of this legislation because it would be to the benefit of those communities if the proceeds of crime seized could be used exclusively in order to educate children in those communities about drugs and build better projects and provide better services in those communities. All these factors are important in ensuring that the threat of drugs to our communities is properly and adequately dealt with. As I said, however, we will support this legislation.

We will also support the quick passage of this legislation through the House. On Committee Stage in the Seanad, we tabled an amendment, which I will come back to in a minute, but it was ruled out of order. We have said previously that we will always support legislation which we feel is progressive and will deal with the issue of organised crime. For this reason, we supported the changes that the Minister brought forward the week before last, I think, regarding section 38 and were happy to do so. As a party, we will also support the changes being brought forward under the amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act, even though I personally have some concerns about that legislation.

I take this opportunity to raise the issue of the proceeds seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau because it is a bugbear of mine. I have always said that there is a need to show communities that the proceeds of crime are being pumped back into organisations in these communities where people have been the victims of these organised criminals who have devastated their communities. Currently, that is not the case; it goes into the central Exchequer and then may trickle back into communities through various Departments that fund local projects. For the sake of transparency, however, we should consider the possibility that those proceeds be allowed to be put directly back into communities, so that one can track what has been seized and what is being pumped back into local communities through funding. That was the aim of the amendment we tabled in the Seanad last week which I know was ruled out of order. I probably will not table an amendment on Committee Stage because it will be ruled out of order again and I do not want to waste anyone's time, considering that this legislation needs to be passed as quickly as possible. I know it is scheduled to come back before the House next Tuesday for a resumption of Second Stage but, with any luck, we may even finish Second Stage today, which would allow Committee Stage to be taken next week.

As part of the wider reforms that the Minister mentioned in her speech, we need to look at that element of the proceeds of crime which are confiscated. Over the past ten years or so, the proceeds have amounted to around €14 million. A sum of €14 million would go a long way to funding some of the front-line community and voluntary organisations which in recent years, because of the economic collapse, have had their funding drastically reduced. If there is an opportunity to try to show them solidarity in their daily fight in their local communities, we should consider that very seriously.

On the Bill itself, I know there were concerns about the lowering of the threshold. It is proposed to move the threshold from the ability of the court to seize assets to the ability of bureau officers to seize them once they are not below the limit of €5,000. They do not even need to see those assets during a search warrant. They can seize them if they see them on public display. There is a balance here between property rights and the constitutionality of the provision. I am glad that the Minister outlined in her speech that not only has the Attorney General considered this but that she has also got senior counsel to consider it. Senior counsel are satisfied, so we are happy with that analysis. That balancing act is needed so that a case is not transferred from civil to criminal. It is important to say that anyone who has his or her assets seized under this legislation is not necessarily guilty of a criminal offence. Only the courts can decide whether somebody is guilty of a criminal offence. There are also safeguards put in, as Deputy O'Callaghan has said, in subsections 1B and 1C of section 3. Subsection 1B allows somebody to make an application to the court to revoke an order which has been made previously after the 21 days. Subsection 1C also allows that individual to receive compensation if an interlocutory order has not been made or has failed when the application has been made to the court, which is also an important provision. As Deputy O'Callaghan said, I hope we do not see any case in which a person has goods seized and then, eventually, when it gets to a court order within that 21-day period, the court decides that the assets were not the proceeds of crime. However, there is always that possibility, so it is important to have those safeguards in the legislation.

It is proposed to lower the threshold to €5,000, which is pretty low. I can see the rationale and the reasoning behind it. I am sure every Deputy in this Chamber represents, as I do, a constituency in which there is huge deprivation in some areas. One of the most frustrating things for law-abiding citizens in those communities is to see the local drug dealer or organised criminal driving around in flashy cars and dripping with gold jewellery. For young people growing up and seeing that, sometimes it can be an incentive for them to get involved in criminality because they see these individuals in their gold chains and driving around in their flashy cars and they aspire to have that type of wealth. Unfortunately, when one is dealing with communities ravaged by deprivation, and there are not many economic opportunities for young people, some individuals will go down that path of criminality. Anything that helps prevent that is to be welcomed. I think this legislation will help to prevent it because now, if a local person is engaged in criminal activity and is driving around in his flashy car, he needs to be put on notice that flashy car will be confiscated from him at the side of the road and will be taken from him for 24 hours, with the possibility that it will be taken for 21 days and a further possibility that it will be confiscated for good. Therefore, the days of local criminals being able to flash their wealth around the place, I hope, will be addressed by this legislation.

The only other area I want to touch on very briefly is that of racial profiling. We do not have racial profiling legislation in this State. I am not saying that this will happen but we have to safeguard against it happening. There have been cases where members of the Roma community and the Traveller community have been racially profiled in the past. I do not want to see a situation where somebody, just because he or she is from a minority community or the Traveller community, is targeted because of his or her ethnicity. I hope that does not happen, and I think it is very unlikely to happen, but we need to safeguard against it in case it does happen. We cannot have a situation where somebody is targeted because he or she may drive around in a nice car or might have a nice trailer and is from a particular ethnic background. I do not know whether the Minister can address that in an amendment or whether it is the case that we have to implement the legislation in a commonsense fashion. I hope that the latter would be the case.

I do not want anybody to be racially profiled under the legislation. It is being proposed for a very particular reason, namely, to target people involved in criminality and who are decimating local communities. For this reason, we support it.

I have not yet made up my mind about the amendment on Committee Stage. I do not see the value in proposing it, given that it will be ruled out of order. In 2003, Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, of the Minister's party, brought forward a Bill to allow the proceeds from CAB to be redirected to local drugs task forces. We need to have this conversation as part of the wider reform. If we are asking communities to co-operate with us and to see the value of legislation, which we know will help them, there must be a clear line of sight. There must be a transparent connection between the confiscation of assets from the local drug dealer or organised criminal and the money being put back into the community to help educate people and prevent them from going down the wrong path.

I am very happy to have the opportunity to speak on the Bill. With one or two caveats, my party and I strongly support the Bill and will vote for it. We agree with the proposal to reduce the threshold value of property subject to removal from €13,000 to €5,000. We also agree with the new short-term administrative power of seizure and detention at CAB officer level envisaged. We have all had discussions with local communities on the matter and the strongest demand or requirement from the community groups we met was that there be a "mini CAB" to address the frustration and almost provocation of seeing people, as Deputy Jonathan O'Brien said, parading around with no visible means but dripping with material goods.

The Proceeds of Crime Act 1996 was the initiative of the rainbow Government, of which I was privileged to be a member. It was probably brought about, more than anything, in response to the brutal murder of Veronica Guerin. The Act and its sister Act, the Criminal Assets Bureau Act, brought in by former Deputy Ruairí Quinn, has been heavily litigated in the courts and has survived robust challenges during the intervening 20 years. The system of civil restraint and forfeiture of assets which we introduced back then has been adopted in other jurisdictions, as the Tánaiste said. It has proven to be a genuinely effective weapon in our response, which we always must be thinking of improving, to the threat of organised crime.

The vital aspect of CAB is that a conviction for an offence is not a precondition for a confiscation order. This was the new departure which was embarked upon 20 years ago. CAB uses purely civil procedure. A former legal officer of CAB put it well when he said its fundamental purpose is "disruption and discouragement", rather than enforcement in a criminal law way. The current proposal to reduce the threshold value of property is a direct response to the calls which many of us have heard to address the new phenomenon that is so evident in some communities across the country and I welcome it.

The Bill comes to us from the Seanad. My colleague in the Seanad had sought to make amendments there, as the Tánaiste knows. As other Deputies have touched on, one amendment proposed was the dedication of the proceeds of crime seized by CAB to investment in areas of social or economic deprivation. If I were still speaking from the Government benches, I would be strongly briefed by my former Department officials to oppose such a motion.

The Deputy would probably agree.

It is the Merrion Street way. The notion of hypothecated taxes, as they call them, is anathema to them. When I was Minister for the Environment 20 years ago I wanted to ring-fence a particular income source for local government. I had to do a side deal with former Deputy Ruairí Quinn and bring it directly to the Cabinet without going through consultation, given that bureaucracy would have killed it off. I am sure things have improved immeasurably since then. I understand it, having been in a Department for the past five years. One cannot have a situation in which taxes are ring-fenced. While the plastic bag tax worked and is used for environmental purposes, it is a small sum of money. If we had ring-fenced taxes all over the shop, we would not be able to do joined-up government.

However, in this instance, there is a very coherent and cogent reason to allow it to happen. I would return to the colleagues in both Departments housed in Merrion Street and tell them there is a consensus view in the House. When the most vulnerable communities see criminals being stripped of their ill-gotten gains, if there were a direct benefit to them from it in education funds, better social provision, better play facilities or whatever, it would be a double merit.

It may be true that areas with severe social and economic deprivation generate more crime, at least the sort of crime that attracts most public attention. We do not always draw attention to the white-collar crime that exists in some suburbs, which we do not notice as readily. It is also true that people living in the most deprived areas are also the people most likely to be the victims of crime. Drug crime, alcohol abuse, public order offences and anti-social behaviour make life misery for many citizens living in all our areas, but particularly the areas that are least well-equipped to respond effectively to such offences. I have said here before there is insufficient appreciation at political or senior Garda level of the corrosive effect on communities besieged by anti-social behaviour. The last time I was an Opposition spokesperson on justice I tried to focus on it. In many ways, anti-social behaviour impacts more on people's quality of life than any other criminal activity. Our most marginalised communities have particularly suffered in their quality of life due to lawlessness, vandalism and anti-social behaviour.

Confronted with the true scale of the problems which face communities, the temptation is to blame others or reach for a quick fix solution. However, it is not just an issue of bail, sentencing or the need for ever more criminal laws. Practitioners tell us we have enough law; the way to reduce crime is by enforcement of law and looking beyond the law for the other supports the communities need. We need to tackle the phenomenon of criminal, anti-social and anti-community activity directly and on the ground. Dedicating resources to it from CAB resources would be a good start.

What we are experiencing is, to a large extent, a consequence of decades of underinvestment in or neglect of some of our areas. As I have done previously, I confess my own part in this. During the past five years, we did not do enough for vulnerable areas. While we need a legislative response - this is what the Bill is - we need more, and that is why I raised the issue of the north inner city task force with the Tánaiste on the Order of Business this morning. I hope it is up and running before the end of the Dáil term.

At least equally importantly, we need a policing response that is drawn up in co-operation and agreement with the communities whose neighbourhoods so badly need effective policing. The relationship between the Garda Síochána and some local communities is not good, as the Tánaiste will acknowledge.

In some areas it is deteriorating. We need to rebuild confidence in the relationship between police and community. We need to establish community structures, with a degree of control over Garda policy at community level. In short, we need to reconnect policing with communities. That is simple to say and challenging to do. We have - we all have met them - excellent members of An Garda Síochána, both at junior and more senior level, who understand what needs to be done in that regard.

An important aspect of the policing response is to ensure that the policing service is modernised in terms of technology, operation and management. The Tánaiste will be aware of my views on these matters. Are the Garda Inspectorate reports being implemented? I hope they are. Is there still a commitment to act on the myriad of recommendations that we discussed over recent months?

Will we, to take the most relevant example, see the establishment of a Garda serious and organised crime unit to tackle criminal networks? We need to see it happening. The Garda Inspectorate describes this as providing an agile multi-disciplined investigation team to follow the criminal, not just the crime type. They complained in an earlier report that there was very little clarity about what some of the national units do and do not investigate. They said that there was too much duplication and not enough clarity. They say that there were opportunities to amalgamate functions and units to create clearer protocols about what crimes each unit is tasked to investigate and they say that the formation of a serious and organised crime unit would allow several current units to come together, reduce overlap and provide more resilience for the long-term investigations required in some instances. Perhaps the Tánaiste, in her reply, can tell us if this repeated recommendation has been accepted and when will we see this unit established.

We are all agreed we need a socioeconomic response. We talked about that in this House. There is much anger, frustration and annoyance at community level and not only in the north inner city. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien would instance parts of his own constituency and we all could different parts of the country. Alongside that anger, there is a willingness to be involved in resolution. People have enormous energy. They want their communities, their streets, their parks and their cities and towns to function and to underpin rather than diminish the quality of life of their own people.

This enormous resource must be included in both framing and delivering solutions, such as those underway in the north inner city. That is why I place so much emphasis on the task force that I pursued, initially with the Taoiseach and, up to today, with the Tánaiste, and it is against that backdrop that I invite the Tánaiste to reconsider and go back and fight, as I know the Tánaiste can do effectively, with the Minister for Finance and whoever else the notion of ring-fencing the proceeds of crime to be demonstrably used to tackle deprivation. Crime has heaped further affliction on already blighted areas. It would be a visible sign of good intent and a practical commitment if the accumulated proceeds of crime could be used to physically reinvest in communities.

My colleague, Senator Bacik, proposed in the other House another amendment to this Bill on our party's behalf. It is slightly convoluted since it sought to reference a change in the law which is well signalled but which has not yet been made. It is trying to be prescient. At present, soliciting in a public place, either by a client or by a prostitute, is unlawful but the act of buying or selling sex is not unlawful. The published proposal that I understand the Government is proceeding with is that in future, the purchase of sex will be unlawful but the sale of sex will not, but criminalising the purchase of sexual services has one peculiar consequence that, perhaps, has not been thought about. The purchase money will become the proceeds of crime, the crime committed by the purchaser under this new offence because we will make it an offence to purchase sexual favours. It will be caught because the proceeds of crime is defined under the legislation that we are amending today as meaning any property obtained or received by or as a result of or in connection with the commission of an offence. The payment for sexual services will be received by the prostitute as a result of an offence committed by the client.

It seems that this new reality has produced a somewhat schizophrenic response on behalf of the authorities. There is an agreement across the House that many prostitutes are victims of exploitation and criminalising these women is wrong. The alternative approach, of criminalising the clients while ensuring that women selling sexual services are not criminalised, has largely been met with approval. If we have a situation where the money received by prostitutes is now a criminal asset, it can be seized and, while I do not have time to elaborate on it, there have been cases where that has been used in an exploitative way by An Garda Síochána. We need to rethink the matter because, as somebody put it to me, we might be taking women out of the prison cell but putting them into the poor house. That might not be the best response.

I am conscious that my time has expired. We will have a chance on Committee Stage to develop these matters in more detail. I welcome this Bill and look forward to its speedy enactment.

I welcome the Bill and I understand the situation which it seeks to address. It amends a well-established Act, the Proceeds of Crime Act which, as has been mentioned, has been in operation for perhaps 20 years. I also understand the imperative of a speedy passage through this House and I will give my full support to it, as my colleague, Deputy O'Callaghan, outlined.

However, I want to reflect the fact that the sanctions proposed are all of a pre-trial nature and, indeed, as has been said, are civil rather than criminal in nature. We must not lose focus on the imperative of the criminal justice system being sufficiently resourced and the Garda having the investigative powers and the resources to do the job it needs to do and go through the full rigours of the criminal justice system in the pursuit of crime. While the measures in the Bill are necessary and imperative, they are not a substitute for full detection, investigation and going to trial, as is required.

It is important to consider that those subject to or targeted by this legislation have not been found guilty of any crime. The presumption of innocence is, of course, a fundamental principle of the criminal justice system. While I recognise and support the imperative of the Bill, I welcome the Minister's comments at the outset that there will be a wider review in due course of the Proceeds of Crime Acts. That is wise. This is not the time to do it but, as that arises, there are checks and balances that could be introduced to augment, support and enhance what has being proposed to date. I will touch on some of those briefly.

In the context of that broader review, I have a couple of observations, queries and suggestions to the Minister and to the Department that they may take on board. The composition of the Criminal Assets Bureau is part civilian and part gardaí. There are a number of officers drawn from different arms of Revenue, Social Protection and the Garda. It is not apparent, at any rate it is not clear to me, what is the relationship say, with GSOC or the Policing Authority, and whether there may be some lines of communication or lines of reporting provided for in that context. It may be something that can be returned to, not at this stage and not in this Bill, but when that wider consideration takes place in due course.

Along the same lines, while we understand the imperative of it, there are other pieces of legislation of a similar nature which would have checks and balances in place in the form of review. Of course, such provisions have not been without controversy.

I allude, for example, to the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009, which contains measures that provide for a review to be conducted at certain stages of the operation of the legislation with respect to how it is performing. A five-year review is built into the Defamation Act. Every five years, the Minister initiates a review of the operation of the legislation to consider if its implementation is successful, if changes are required and if simple checks and balances are in place. I understand the European Convention on Human Rights Act has a similar provision. I believe a report on its operation is laid before the House on an annual basis. It would be useful to have a similar measure in this case to ensure good governance and best practice, not for now but for down the line.

Those are some suggestions in terms of the wider context of the legislation, which I support. This issue has ravaged communities and nothing frustrates people more than seeing people blatantly flouting the law and benefiting from it openly within their communities. That is a problem which must be tackled. It was tackled successfully by CAB, which has had many successes in the past 20 years. With those few caveats, I wish the Bill a speedy passage through the House, hopefully before the recess. It is welcome and necessary legislation and on a future date, we might return to the points I made.

As no other Deputies are offering, I call on the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, to respond. The Minister has ten minutes.

I congratulate the Leas-Cheann Comhairle on his appointment. I did not have an opportunity to say that earlier. On behalf of the Minister, I would like to thank all Deputies who contributed to this debate and welcome the support expressed for this Bill.

Crime, in particular organised crime, is a cause of deep concern to all of us and to people across the country. All Members of the House can look to our work here today and say we are doing our part as legislators. We are providing the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, with the legislative powers it needs to tackle organised criminals.

For its part, the Government is committed to providing the resources to tackle crime wherever and however it occurs. We are investing in vehicles, technology and new legislation but, most importantly, in people. In addition to the €5 million previously announced in February, a further €50 million is to be provided in 2016, €15 million of which is to come from projected savings in the justice and equality sector, with the balance coming from the Exchequer. This funding is being made available to maintain the necessary policing response to the current situation on an ongoing basis. This will allow for concentrated policing targeting of gang-related crime, in particular; continued targeting of burglaries and related crime via Operation Thor; and continued support for measures against terrorism.

A new Garda special crime task force is being established under the Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau. It will augment the response to organised crime at a local level through concentrated policing and through a multi-agency approach to targeting the proceeds of crime. The Garda Commissioner will have oversight of the task force and its operations. The task force will be sustained for as long as is necessary and it will adapt to the prevailing organised crime situation at local level. It is expected to be operational by the end of the year, with approximately 50 people contributing to its work. There will be a core of dedicated officers working under the auspices of the Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau as well as staff from the Criminal Assets Bureau and divisional asset profilers.

I can assure the House that the Minister is committed to making sure the necessary resources are made available to the Criminal Assets Bureau from within the available public finances. Budget levels for the bureau have been maintained over recent years. The resources made available to the bureau are kept under ongoing review by both the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Department of Justice and Equality.

Arising from the establishment of the special crime task force, some additional resource requirements have been identified by the bureau and progress is being made in addressing this. As I said, the matter will be kept under review by both the bureau and the Department.

A dedicated armed support unit, ASU, for the Dublin area is in the process of being set up and trained. Pending full establishment of the new unit, arrangements have been put in place so that armed support is being provided on an overtime basis.

Underpinning all of these measures is the Government’s intention to increase Garda numbers to 15,000. While in the short term substantial funds are being made available for overtime, measures are being considered to accelerate the planned Garda recruitment programme, along with the recruitment of further civilian and specialist staff.

I listened with interest to the suggestions Deputies had for other amendments which could be made to the Proceeds of Crime Acts. In the Minister’s opening remarks, she explained the need for the measures contained in this Bill to be enacted without delay to give the Criminal Assets Bureau the power to seize property quickly and to target the assets of lower level gang members. She also noted the delicate balance of the Proceeds of Crime Act as non-penal legislation. While the proposals for further amendments put forward today cannot be readily taken on board in the timeframe with which we all wish to see this Bill enacted, they can be considered as part of the wider review of the legislation in the medium term, as Deputy Lawless alluded to earlier.

This Bill will empower the CAB to move quickly to seize property and detain it for three weeks. It will give it the time it needs to prepare an application to the court. The proceeds of crime of moderate value, which were previously out of reach, will now be captured by the Proceeds of Crime Act. This Bill forms part of a wider Government response to the recent acute problems of organised crime. The response is comprehensive and will be sustained.

Deputy Howlin mentioned the area of sexual services. There is a concern that proposal could have negative implications for persons who offer sexual services and offer an opportunity for those who would exploit the law and exploit those who are vulnerable. For instance, the exemption of the purchase of sexual services from criminal conduct for the purpose of proceeds of crime could lead to sex workers being pressurised into holding moneys as legitimate fronts for pimps, traffickers and other organised criminals. It might also make it more difficult for the CAB to pursue proceeds of crime held by pimps or traffickers. These are matters that need to be considered further.

The response in this Bill is comprehensive and will be sustained. It includes law enforcement measures, investing in policing, new legislative powers and the deployment of specialist units but it also addresses the socioeconomic issues and investment in services to support resilient local communities. This response is being further developed in partnership with those local communities and everyone, including the Oireachtas, the Government, local representatives and local communities, has a part to play in defeating crime and tackling the factors that allow crime to develop. We will achieve more by working together in this way than we could ever achieve alone. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Next Tuesday. I understand it is being taken in the House.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 19 July 2016.