Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Animal Welfare

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

5. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of times An Garda Síochána invoked the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 and the Control of Horses Act 1996 when dealing with reports of animal neglect or cruelty; and if he will request that information regarding powers under the Acts are part of Garda training in Templemore. [49787/18]

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. She has long been a voice against cruelty and neglect and has debated the subject on a number of occasions in the House and at committee. It is also appropriate that I pay tribute to the important role played by animal welfare charities such as the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, ISPCA, and the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, DSPCA, who are at the forefront of animal welfare in Ireland.

While the particular Acts highlighted by the Deputy fall under the auspices of my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, I have made inquiries with the Garda authorities to see how many times these Acts have been invoked by gardaí in the course of their duties and I am advised that the specific information requested by her is not recorded on PULSE.

The Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 provides a modern and robust framework for dealing with issues relating to animal welfare. It also updated and replaced approximately 40 items of primary legislation in the area of animal welfare and health back going back more than 100 years.

The Deputy will also be aware that the Control of Horses Act 1996 provides powers to local authorities to deal with stray and abandoned horses and for the designation by each local authority, by way of by-laws, of areas in which horses cannot be kept without a licence. Members of An Garda Síochána have also been assigned powers commensurate with those of authorised officers under the legislation.

In this context, I am informed that An Garda Síochána liaises and works closely with both local authorities and the local offices of the ISPCA. All complaints of cruelty to animals made to An Garda Síochána are subject to investigation, with an investigation file submitted to the DPP who will then decide if a prosecution should take place, and for what offence.

I acknowledge the work of the other animal rescue and animal welfare groups who are picking up the pieces in this regard. I find it difficult to understand that, if gardaí are involved, incidents are not recorded on PULSE.

Abuse of animals is, sadly, a reality in Ireland. Whether we are talking about hares, greyhounds, horses, badgers, foxes or puppy farms, that is the reality. I am continually told that we have the legislation - the Animal Welfare Acts and the Control of Horses Act - as if they were covering and sorting everything. Those Acts are only as good as the extent of the implementation and enforcement.

We know it is not happening for whatever reason. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, in a previous reply stated that it is the responsibility of individuals to ensure the welfare of their animals, including horses. That is quite right, but I am asking about circumstances where owners do not take responsibility. There was a protest outside Leinster House. All of the horse welfare groups came together. We have seen cases of starving animals, cases of animals whose illnesses are left unattended, and cases in which large numbers of animals have been kept in confined spaces. It is the animal welfare groups that are picking up the pieces. Surely the Garda could be more proactive in checking on microchipping and registering.

The two issues on which I want to be of assistance to the Deputy are appropriate Garda training and the nature of the material that is recorded by the Garda on the PULSE system. As stated, many of the issues involved here are more appropriate to my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I say that in the context of my wish to ensure that any issues particular to the Department of Justice and Equality or An Garda Síochána are dealt with. I acknowledge the importance of the specific training provided to gardaí in Templemore. In addition, I am advised by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine that there have been five training seminars held to familiarise Garda officers and officials of that Department with the application of the Act. The programme is ongoing. Further seminars are planned. I would be happy to keep the Deputy informed in that regard.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and local authorities have a role to play, but there is also a role for the Garda when the provisions of Acts are not being enforced. The Clondalkin Equine Club does great work and yet, at this time last year, there was an horrific case of cruelty to horses outside Clonmel. The carcasses of seven dead horses were found and the remaining animals had been left without food, water and so on. Notice was given for the owners to contact the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. There has been no contact made and, to my knowledge, nobody has been prosecuted for that horrible case of animal cruelty. The legislation is there but it is not always enforced. Gardaí - and I know the community gardaí in my area - are very much informed of what is happening. They will know about these situations. It is when they know about them that they will use whatever powers they have to progress matters. For whatever reason, they are sometimes not doing that. It would be good to have more facts about this situation because we know it is happening and people are getting away with it.

I would be happy to see how matters can be taken forward in order to assist the Deputy further. I acknowledged earlier that the specific information sought by Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan is not recorded on PULSE. However, the Garda authorities advise that PULSE incident types classified as control of horses and offences against animals, which from a search of a narratives appear to relate to incidents of animal neglect and cruelty, do exist. As of last Sunday, there had been 351 incidents involving control of horses and 152 incidents of offences against animals recorded on the PULSE system this year alone. I understand these incident types also include incidents of illegal hunting and incidents in which animals stray onto public roads. I stress to Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan that these figures from the Garda are provisional and may be subject to change. I would be happy to engage further with the Deputy to see how best her concerns might be addressed in the context of my role as Minister for Justice and Equality and my relationship with An Garda Síochána.

Drugs Crime

Brendan Smith

Question:

6. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he is satisfied with the level of sanctions and penalties for persons charged with drug offences; his plans to introduce additional measures to deal with the scourge of drugs which is blighting communities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49659/18]

I represent two rural counties, Cavan and Monaghan. Until recently, we thankfully did not have substantive problems with drug-related crime or drug-related issues. Unfortunately, that has changed in recent times. Communities throughout Cavan and Monaghan have serious concerns regarding the use, misuse, prevalence and availability of drugs in every parish. Unfortunately, it is my understanding that is the position in all rural areas. Additional resources are needed. The Garda is working extremely well and as effectively as possible with limited resources. I would hope the Minister would be in a position to enhance those resources.

The possession, sale and supply of controlled drugs is governed almost entirely by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977, which falls within the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Health.  The possession of any controlled substance without due authorisation is an offence under the Act.  The legislation distinguishes between possession for personal use, which is dealt with under section 3 of the Act, and possession for sale and supply, which is dealt with under section 15.  The drugs which are controlled under that Act are listed in its Schedules.

Penalties for possession for personal use depend on the type of drug involved, be it cannabis or some other type of drug, and whether a summary conviction or a conviction on indictment is being sought.  Possession of cannabis or cannabis resin for personal use is punishable by a fine on first or second conviction, while third and subsequent offences are punishable by up to a year in prison for a summary conviction and up to three years for conviction on indictment.  Possession in any other case is punishable by up to one year in prison or a fine or both on summary conviction and up to seven years' imprisonment for conviction on indictment.

The law governing possession of drugs for sale or supply has been amended over the years mainly in order to increase the severity of punishment following conviction.  It currently provides that a person found in possession of drugs with an estimated street value of €13,000 or more is guilty of an offence which is subject not only to a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, but also to a presumptive minimum sentence of ten years imprisonment on a first conviction.  A ten-year mandatory minimum applies in the case of a second or subsequent conviction for such an offence.

I should also mention the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010 with was introduced to allow the prohibition of supply-related activities involving any harmful new psychoactive substances and which was instrumental in shutting down the head shop industry in Ireland.

While I am satisfied with the suite of penalties in relation to drugs offences, it is an area that needs to be kept under review.  I acknowledge what Deputy Smith has said regarding his constituency. He may also wish to be aware of work under way in the context of the Government's national drugs and alcohol strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery.

I thank the Minister for his reply. He referred to a person who is found in possession of drugs worth €13,000 or more and the mandatory minimum sentence of ten years. From reports I have heard and from what I have read, there always seems to be mitigating circumstances. How often are those sentences actually handed down? In many instances we hear that a given person in a community, who is known to possess and sell drugs, has been before the courts again and is out again and not in prison. I understand that we cannot questions decisions made in courts but there is concern among communities that sentences are not severe enough. The Minister mentioned the severity of sentences in his response. The widespread narrative is that in many instances the penalties do not meet the crime being committed, the pain and suffering inflicted, and the innocent lives destroyed by these peddlers of drugs.

The Deputy raises a very important issue which exercises many Members including, I am sure, Deputies O'Callaghan and Curran, who are seated beside him. I want to refer to the effectiveness of the minimum mandatory sentence for drug offences to which the Deputy refers. While acknowledging, as Deputy Brendan Smith does, the separation of powers and that the matter of sentencing is an issue for the courts, I want to acknowledge the work recently carried out by the group established to undertake a strategic review of penal policy. That group recommended that no further mandatory sentences or presumptive minimum sentences should be introduced. That group was of the view that the continuation of existing presumptive minimum sentences and the threshold for their application in drugs and other offences should be reviewed in the context of judgments of the Court of Criminal Appeal. This recommendation was made with a view towards determining if the type of sentencing to which the Deputy refers satisfies the need for proportionality in sentencing and fulfils the objective of reducing crime.

This merits further consideration by the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality because it is an important issue that is giving rise to community concerns, as evidenced by Deputy Brendan Smith's question.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I have been contacted by people from previously quiet communities who have never had cause to approach me or any other public representative in their lives. They are now utterly frustrated with the prevalence of drugs and the horror being caused by the ready availability of certain drugs. We have discussed previously in this House the unique policing requirements of the part of Border region comprising Cavan and Monaghan. I am not suggesting that the drugs in Cavan and Monaghan are solely coming from Northern Ireland. Far from it; they are coming from all over this State too. That said, in his discussions with the Garda Commissioner on the allocation of resources for 2019, I appeal to the Minister to ask that particular cognisance be given to the need to provide additional resources to Border divisions. I attended a joint policing committee meeting in Ballyconnell on Monday night last and the issue of drugs, their availability and the problems besetting communities as a result was discussed. Widespread concern was expressed and the chief superintendent and his colleagues outlined the work being done, but they need additional resources. I ask the Minister to ensure that due recognition is given to the unique policing demands in the Border region.

I acknowledge the importance of this question. The review to which I referred earlier on the principle underpinning mandatory sentencing is still under consideration by my Department. On completion of that consideration, I would be happy to share the contents of the review with Deputies and, more particularly, the justice committee.

The Garda Commissioner is responsible for the distribution of Garda resources.. That said, the Deputy makes a reasonable point regarding areas that present particular challenges. A number of very significant seizures have been made in recent times by the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau in conjunction with the Revenue's custom services. At Dublin Airport, 15 kg of heroin with an estimated street value in excess of €2 million were seized. Another consignment of drugs with an estimated value of €4.6 million was intercepted at Rosslare Europort. At my regular meetings with Garda management, I am happy to continue to voice the concerns of Deputies and, in this case, those of Deputy Brendan Smith regarding the Cavan and Monaghan area. I assure the Deputy of the active engagement of the appropriate units of An Garda Síochána, particularly the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau.

Rural Crime

Jim O'Callaghan

Question:

7. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the steps he has taken to address the concerns raised by an organisation (details supplied) that farmers cannot avail of the criminal law to force trespassers off their land; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49602/18]

Many farmers live in fear of the threat and the reality of crime. In north Dublin recently, a farmer approached a number of people who were on his land. Those people subsequently viciously attacked him and he sustained serious injuries. One of the issues raised by the Irish Farmer's Association, IFA, is the fact that if farmers identify people trespassing on their land, they cannot avail of the criminal law. Under the law, what can farmers do if they find people on their land and want them to leave?

The Deputy will be aware that the general legal position in respect of trespass is that it is a civil wrong and, for the most part, can be addressed by means of a civil remedy through the courts. I acknowledge the interest of various farm and rural organisations, particularly the IFA, in this issue. I meet regularly with representatives of the IFA in my constituency of Laois-Offaly.

The Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994, as amended, contains provisions specifically relating to the unauthorised entry onto and occupation of land, including farmland. Part IIA of that Act, comprising sections 19A to 19H, as inserted by the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2002, provides for offences relating to illegal trespass and occupation of land which result in a range of specified adverse consequences. Such land includes privately-owned land and public land provided or maintained by a statutory body. The legislation empowers An Garda Síochána to direct trespassers to leave the land concerned and, if necessary, remove any object belonging to them from the occupied land. A person who is guilty of an offence under this Part of the Act is liable on summary conviction to a fine of up to €4,000 or a term of imprisonment, or both.

The Prohibition of Forcible Entry and Occupation Act 1971 also contains provisions relating to trespass. Under this Act it is an offence to forcibly enter land, including buildings, or remain in forcible occupation, or to encourage or advocate the commission of such an offence. The word "forcibly" is defined as using or threatening to use force in respect of persons or property, and such action is not necessarily linked to any other crime. A person found guilty under the Act is liable to a fine, a term of imprisonment or both.

There are already significant legislative provisions and penalties in place relating to trespass and I have no immediate plans to change the law in this regard. I am anxious to hear what Deputy O'Callaghan proposes in this regard.

The Minister has recounted a series of provisions that exist on the Statute Book but that do not take into account the reality of what is happening on farmland. Farmers find that when people trespass on their land, they have no remedy in the criminal law. When they contact members of An Garda Síochána, they are told that officers can only intervene if there is a threat to commit a criminal offence or if criminal damage has been done. In my constituency or that of any Dublin Deputy, if I found someone in my back garden, I would call the Garda immediately. I suspect that gardaí would regard that person as having sought to enter my house and would arrest him or her on suspicion of intending to burgle my house. However, a different law appears to apply to people who are on farmland. It is not enough for the Minister to state that trespass is a civil offence. Everyone knows that trespass is a civil offence. What is required is for the legislative measures that the Minister has stated exist to be put into operation by An Garda Síochána. That is not happening and farmers find that if someone is on their land, they are left helpless vis-à-vis the criminal law.

I do not accept that we are dealing exclusively with civil remedies here. I have already referenced relevant statutes and would add that trespass in respect of buildings is also dealt with in section 11 of the Public Order Act 1994 . Section 13 of that Act refers to the offence of trespassing "without reasonable excuse" on a building or in the vicinity of a building in such a manner as to cause fear in another person. There is a suite of legislation available in this area but I am keen to hear more from Deputy O'Callaghan and would be amenable to a review of the law this area if I thought it might point to a more immediate remedy, as envisaged by the Deputy. I would add that the aforementioned Public Order Act empowers the Garda Síochána to request a person to desist from acting in such a manner as to amount to a breach of the peace.

The type of remedy that farmers want is to be able to tell people trespassing on their land to leave and that there will be consequences if they do not do so. They want there to be consequences for people for being on their land. There may be a civil remedy available but that requires farmers to institute proceedings against unknown individuals who then have to be brought before the courts. Farmers have to apply for injunctions before a civil court restraining those persons from coming back onto their land. That is a very complex and detailed process. Farmers require greater protection than that being afforded to them at present. Their legitimate concern is that people are coming onto their property to see if there is any valuable equipment on it and with a view to returning subsequently to try to obtain that equipment. This is something that the Minister, as a rural Deputy, will know is happening and other rural Deputies in this House tell me that it is happening frequently. There may be trespass-related provisions on the Statute Book but, unfortunately, they are not being used by members of An Garda Síochána and they are not effective for farmers.

I have made reference to at least four pieces of legislation and I again refer to the 1994 Act introduced by the then Minister for the Environment and Local Government. I would be happy to speak to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to ensure these issues are kept under review.

I assure the House that rural crime in general is a key focus for An Garda Síochána and there is a relentless pursuit on the part of the force of those responsible for crime in rural areas. I remain very much committed to a vigorous and comprehensive response to burglary and theft. I will speak to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to see if there are issues that might form the basis of a review as envisaged by the Deputy.

Courts Service Data

Louise O'Reilly

Question:

8. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of persons convicted for importing or selling illegal steroids and illegal performance enhancing drugs in each of the years 2014 to 2017, and to date in 2018, in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49786/18]

My question simply asks the Minister for the number of persons convicted of importing or selling illegal steroids and illegal performance enhancing drugs in each of the years 2014 to 2017, and to date in 2018. This is something that goes on behind the scenes and is under the radar but it is something on which the Oireachtas should have a bit more focus.

Under the provisions of the Courts Service Act 1998, management of the courts is the responsibility of the Courts Service, which is independent in exercising its functions, including the provision of information on the courts system.

To be of assistance to the Deputy, I have had inquiries made and the Courts Service has advised that courts statistics are not compiled in such a way as to provide the information sought by the her regarding the number of persons convicted for importing or selling illegal steroids and illegal performance enhancing drugs. I have requested the Courts Service to examine the requirements, including system development and resource issues, needed to enable the compilation of such statistics going forward.

However, she will also be aware that the Health Products Regulatory Authority, HPRA, which comes under the remit of the Minister for Health, is the competent authority for the implementation of EU and national legislation relating to medicines in Ireland. One of the HPRA's roles is to investigate potential breaches of legislation and, where necessary, take corrective action, including legal proceedings. My officials have been informed by the Department of Health that the HPRA initiated ten prosecutions relating to the unauthorised supply of anabolic steroid containing medicines between 2014 and 2017. Of those, seven resulted in a guilty plea or a conviction; two in 2017 and five in 2018, and the remaining three cases are pending court hearings.

The prosecutions have included the offences of manufacturing, advertising and supply without prescription to individuals and for wholesale supply. If any person is offering, facilitating the supply of, or supplying anabolic steroid containing medicines in breach of the legislation, he or she risks investigation at the hands of the HPRA and may face enforcement actions up to and including prosecution.

Anabolic steroids, which are used to increase muscle mass, comprised almost half of the medicines seized last year. We are attempting to get a clear picture on the issue from all Departments because, as the Minister pointed out, the issue does not only concern one Department.

The HPRA seized 450,000 doses of anabolic steroids in 2017 in comparison to just 109,000 in 2016. That would indicate that there is an increase in the use of such drugs. I am not sure whether the Minister is aware of a condition known as muscle dysmorphia. It is where a person becomes obsessively focused on not being muscular enough and it affects more men than women. It is an issue we should tackle. We are all having conversations about how men behave but we must also consider how men view themselves and what can be done in that regard. Our interest is to ascertain if there is an increase in such drug usage and to try to understand the reason.

I accept the Deputy's point that while this is primarily an issue for the Department of Health and its agencies, it comes under the justice remit. I would be happy to engage further as needs be. My officials have been informed by the Department of Health that in 2017 the HPRA, working in conjunction with An Garda Síochána and Revenue's customs service, detained almost 500,000 anabolic steroid dosage units in tablets and capsules form, compared to a little more than 100,000 units detained in 2016. That reflects the impact of intelligence-led enforcement activity by the HPRA, acting in conjunction with State agencies across a range of Departments. I am keen to ensure that my Department and the Garda Síochána can continue to play our part in the enforcement of such actions.

In response to a parliamentary question, I was advised by the HSE that the number of emergency inpatient discharges relating to steroid use was 174 in 2011 and last year that had increased to 398. Some aspects of the problem need to be dealt with from a health perspective but tackling the importation and sale of illegal substances is a justice matter and more needs to be done to stop the drugs being sold in gyms and sports clubs. Given that there is an increase in such drug use, if we fail to tackle this issue now it will go further underground.

I fully appreciate the Minister's response and I accept that this is, in part, a matter for the Department of Health but aspects of this problem need to be addressed from the perspective of justice, which means tackling the importation and sale of illegal substances.

In line with the Garda Síochána strategy statement for 2016 to 2018, supported by the Garda Síochána modernisation and renewal programme for the period 2016 to 2021, An Garda Síochána continues to play an important and proactive role in confronting drug-related crime, utilising intelligence-led operations. I acknowledge the importance of the Garda Síochána's National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, established in 2015, which is leading the policing strategy for tackling drugs by demand reduction and supply reduction strategies, and is working in conjunction with divisional drug units across the country.

From a criminal justice perspective, this works fits neatly into the actions on the part of my colleague, the Minister for Health, on the Department of Health strategy, reducing harm, supporting recovery and the new public information campaign to raise awareness of the serious side effects and the risk to health of using unprescribed anabolic steroids. The campaign was announced in recent weeks. Between the HPRA and the public information campaign by the Minister for Health, on the one hand, and the deterrent factor involved in the criminal justice approach of An Garda Síochána, I assure the Deputy that we will continue to prioritise this important matter.

Road Safety

John Curran

Question:

9. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the progress being made by the cross-agency group on the illegal use of scramblers and quad bikes; the outcome of this engagement; the steps that will be taken as a result of the meetings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49585/18]

The illegal and dangerous use of quad bikes and scramblers in parks, open areas and housing estates continues to be a problem. I acknowledge that the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, is the first and only Minister in the lifetime of this Dáil to address the issue in a serious manner by organising an interdepartmental and cross-agency approach to dealing with it. Could the Minister update the House on the progress that is being made on foot of the approach being taken?

I acknowledge the continued interest of the Deputy in this issue. He was the first to raise the matter and he never loses an opportunity to raise what is an important issue to him and to many other Deputies, as well as to me.

The illegal use of quad bikes and scramblers gives rise to public safety concerns affecting a significant number of local communities.

I have asked my officials to convene cross-agency consultations to ascertain whether there are additional legislative or other solutions which can assist in dealing with the misuse of these vehicles comprehensively. It is important we determine responsibility and timeframes for the implementation of solutions identified. This process began in April and involved the Departments of Justice and Equality, Transport, Tourism and Sport, Housing, Planning and Local Government and Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, as well as An Garda Síochána, the Road Safety Authority, the Revenue Commissioners and representatives of local authorities. The misuse of scramblers in public parks was a particular point of focus for these consultations.

Following this engagement, legislation was brought to the attention of the Office of the Attorney General to determine whether any legislative amendments were necessary to assist in curbing activity insofar as scramblers and quad bikes are concerned without giving rise to any unintended consequences. My Department has now received formal legal advice from the Office of the Attorney General. The advice is comprehensive in nature and is now being carefully considered by my officials, together with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in the context of its responsibility for road traffic legislation. It will be necessary to consult again with other relevant Departments and public bodies via the cross-agency forum established by my Department. A further meeting will take place this week.

I thank the Minister for his reply. When I met Councillor Charlie O'Connor, a former Deputy and a colleague of Deputy Lahart, recently, he told me of the issues people are facing in Kingswood, Tallaght. I also spoke with another colleague, Councillor Paul McAuliffe, who informed me of the same issue in Ballymun. This is not, first and foremost, a problem particular to any one area. It is widespread across Dublin and, I suspect, other parts of the country. Often in the debate, my concern is that we only talk about our parks and open places but it is also happening on public roads and in private housing estates. Elderly people are afraid to go out of their houses when these quads and scramblers are on the roads. Parents are afraid let their children out. During the summer, we had a tragic case in one park where a person was hit. Much of the focus has been on this activity in parks but it is equally a nuisance and a danger to people in housing estates.

I am acutely aware of the case of Ilabek Avetian. I extend my sympathies to his wife, Anzhela Kotsinian, and to their families. That tragic incident all too sadly highlights how the misuse of scramblers and quad bikes can cause real damage to people, their families and communities.

I am committed to actively supporting any positive action in respect of this matter. I have received legal advice from the Attorney General and I am committing it to some study. I have been informed by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport that it is also engaged in seeing how best we can deal with this issue.

The use of quad bikes and scramblers in public parks and open spaces is strictly prohibited by local authorities under the 2011 parks and open spaces by-laws. Insofar as national parks are concerned, the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has legislative powers to prohibit the unauthorised use of off-road vehicles in them. There is a cross-departmental remit. I am keen to liaise with Deputies Curran and Lahart, as well as Councillor Charlie O’Connor, on this matter. It is complex but that should not mean that it is not urgent and important.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Quad bikes and scramblers are dangerous and a nuisance and their use is illegal. I regularly attend joint policing committee meetings where the Garda has clearly indicated that the crux of the problem is that it cannot enforce road traffic laws. Gardaí are not physically in a position to stop quads and scramblers. Whether on the roads or in the parks, the same physical challenges are there. It is both dangerous for gardaí and those on the quads and scramblers.

We need to look at the issue in a different way. For example, we need to look at the regulations and legislation concerning the registration and ownership of these vehicles. We also must look at how these vehicles can be seized after an event on intelligence led information. In cases where the Garda and people in an estate know who are using these vehicles, we must ensure follow-up operations can take place without jeopardising and putting at risk the life and safety of either gardaí or those who are illegally using them.

I thank my colleague Deputy Curran for raising this issue and for the Minister for dealing with it.

Deputy Curran mentioned Kingswood in my constituency. That would be only one of a number affected by the use of quad bikes and scramblers, however. In Killinarden, one resident described 99% of the open space designated for public use in that estate being destroyed by 1% of the local community.

An issue arose during the snow earlier in the year. I refer to the incident at Lidl in Jobstown. The Garda in Tallaght has only one four-by-four vehicle. If a garda rocks up in a Ford Focus to deal with somebody on a scrambler or a quad bike, he or she simply has no capacity to catch that individual. There is a resource issue involved too.

I welcome the information the Minister supplied regarding a cross-departmental approach and local authorities being involved. There needs to be a promotion of available space for people to engage in scrambling. Both our constituencies are close to the Dublin Mountains where there are opportunities for legal scrambling and the legal use of these vehicles. Local young people should be encouraged to move in that direction.

I thank the Minister for his continued interest in this issue.

Will the Minister give his reply as quickly as possible?

I do not want to be repetitive. In any event, the Acting Chairman will not let me.

I acknowledge the importance of the cross-departmental and cross-agency group. In the lead-up to Christmas, people will be buying quad bikes and scramblers as presents. These are mechanically propelled vehicles within the meaning of road traffic legislation. As such, irrespective of the engine capacity, the user of a scrambler motorbike, a quad bike or a vehicle of a similar type in a public place must have motor tax, an insurance policy and a driving licence and must wear a helmet. There are severe penalties under the road traffic laws, such as fixed charge notices, penalty points, fines and possible seizures of the vehicles. The Garda will make every effort to ensure that the existing law is firmly complied with. In the meantime, the cross-departmental group will meet this week with a view towards dealing with this issue in an overall comprehensive way which will involve several agencies and Departments. I am happy to keep the House further informed about this matter.

Question No. 10 replied to with Written Answers

Gambling Legislation

Jim O'Callaghan

Question:

11. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will address the delays in publishing the gambling control Bill, the general scheme of which was published in 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49603/18]

In 2011, the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter, announced plans for new legislation on gambling. Unfortunately, however, no new legislation has been enacted by the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is important that we progress legislation in respect of gambling, which is causing significant social problems and which must be regulated. What is the reason for the delay with the Government's gambling control Bill? When will it be forthcoming?

I am happy to update the Deputy on developments concerning the reform of our laws on the licensing and regulation of gaming and gambling activities.

Following the Government's approval and publication in July 2013, the general scheme of the gambling control Bill was referred to the then Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, which I chaired, for consideration and observations. When joint committee's report on the general scheme was laid before the Houses in November 2013, the matter was with the Office of the Attorney General for consideration and drafting until late 2017. At that point, my Department and I sought the Government's permission to review the draft legislation to take into account technological and other changes that had occurred in the interim.

The Government duly granted permission to review the 2013 general scheme by way of decision of 10 January 2018, aimed at establishing an independent regulatory authority for the gambling industry in Ireland.

To advance the review of the 2013 general scheme of the Gambling Control Bill, per the Government decision of 10 January 2018, I chaired an interdepartmental working group on gambling, comprising all stakeholder Departments and the Office of the Attorney General. The group met on five occasions between February and June of this year and reviewed all the provisions of the 2013 Scheme as well as other relevant developments since. Further, the group in its deliberations had regard to the Government's preference for the establishment of an independent regulatory authority. It is the Government's view that an independent body would be best placed to conduct the significant and complex range of licensing, regulatory, monitoring, inspection and enforcement tasks of the industry in all its manifestations. The group is currently finalising its report which I hope to bring to Government for consideration as soon as possible.

I would also like to take the opportunity to update the Deputy on the Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill, which is currently being drafted by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. It is based on Part 13 of the Civil Law and Courts (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017 approved for publication by the Government. The amendments proposed under this Bill address certain deficiencies with regard to the conduct of activities regulated under the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956, and provide for the modernisation of that Act by way of, among other matters, updating stake and prize limits and standardising the minimum gambling and betting age to 18. Further, it is intended that this Bill will provide greater clarity and certainty for all promoters and participants involved, primarily in local fundraising efforts, and to ensure the best conduct in the promotion of such activities. It is hoped this Bill will be published before the end of the current Oireachtas session.

I thank the Minister of State for the reply but the Government's delay in this area is simply unforgivable. As I said in the opening question, it was in 2011 that the then Minister, Deputy Shatter, announced plans to change the law on gambling. In 2013, the Department of Justice and Equality published the general scheme of a Gambling Control Bill which was expected to update the 1956 legislation. Since the publication of that general scheme in 2013, there has been extremely limited progress. We engaged on this matter and were hoping the Government would bring forward legislation but such was its delay that earlier this year Fianna Fáil brought forward its own legislation based on the general scheme of the Gambling Control Bill. My colleagues, Deputies Jack Chambers and Rabbitte, were instrumental in that. We produced the legislation and I think it got through Second Stage in this House. It is now the responsibility of the Government to ensure that Bill gets through or its own legislation is promptly produced. We have waited too long and we need adequate answers.

I am not happy either that this has been delayed. We have established a working group which is reviewing the main provisions of the 2013 Gambling Control Bill. In this regard, the group gave particular attention to considering the optimum structure of the proposed regulatory authority having regard to the decision on this by Government on 10 January 2018. The group considered governance and logistical practicalities of the establishment of the proposed regulator. Other issues considered by the group included the future licensing of gambling activities, including gaming, arcades, lotteries and casinos, combatting possible money laundering through gambling, improved protection for consumers and vulnerable persons, the approach to be taken to advertising sponsorship and the promotion of gambling activities and match fixing.

The working group will inform the redrafting of the general scheme and assist in the achievement of the objectives of betting regulation, the channelling of all gambling in legitimate ways, enhancing consumer protection and increasing the protection of vulnerable persons.

The Government did not oppose the Private Members' Bill. It was very useful to have that Bill and to debate the issues. As I noted during the Second Stage debate, it is a reproduction, as the Deputy said, in its entirety of the general scheme of the Bill approved by Government and published in 2013. The Private Members' Bill, surprisingly, made no mention of the significant decision of Government in January 2018 to update the 2013 scheme and to produce independent statutory regulation.

The Minister of State is right that it was in January 2018 that the Cabinet approved several proposals to update the 2013 general scheme. It approved the proposal to establish an independent regulatory authority, which we support, for control and regulation of the gambling industry. We are told that this interdepartmental working group has met on five occasions since January 2018. What progress has been made on this? Where is the draft legislation? The Government and Fine Gael have been talking about this since 2011, which is seven years ago. It is hard to understand why it is taking so long for a Government Bill to be introduced in this House. The current situation is untenable and unfair. It is not simply unfair to people who are in the business of gambling who need to be properly regulated and many of them recognise that. It is especially unfair, however, on the very many victims and their families of gambling addiction throughout this country. We cannot say we empathise with those people until we regulate the gambling business.

The lack of action in this area is difficult to justify. As Deputy O'Callaghan said, the first Bill was brought forward by the then Minister, Deputy Shatter, more than seven years ago now. The scale of the harm that gambling can do has been laid bare before the public in recent times. In many instances, it has devastated families and individuals. There is a clear need for action. Ireland is recognised as a jurisdiction that is practically the wild west in terms of lack of regulation. Previous Ministers and the Department in previous iterations recognised that lack of regulation and the need for legislation, and yet it has not progressed. There is a wide consensus in society, even within the industry but most of all among families devastated by problem gambling, that this needs to be dealt with. Gambling is something can have a place, provided it is properly regulated. However, that is not the case now and unless we legislate, people will continue to have free rein.

As I said, it is intended to publish a Bill before the end of this Dáil session, which will be some progress. I am also frustrated at the lack of progress. We had five meetings, which I chaired. They were long detailed meetings and I was struck by the complexity and how far this area has developed in the last number of years. There were some very serious people around the table representing almost all Government Departments and agencies concerned with this issue. I have seen a draft copy of the report and it is quite detailed, long and involved.

While regulation is important and desirable and we will have it, it must be stressed that no amount of regulation can act as a panacea for problem gambling and gambling addiction. Even in a well-regulated jurisdictions, such as Britain, 0.8% of the population aged over 16 identified as problem gamblers in 2015. This underlines the fact that problem gambling and gambling addiction are ultimately public health issues. It is important colleagues understand that regulation will only go so far in assisting problem gambling and that addiction is a health issue.

Questions Nos. 12 to 17, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

Closed-Circuit Television Systems

Brian Stanley

Question:

18. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if secondary legislation is necessary to resolve the difficulties regarding data control and storage for community CCTV schemes; and if the statutory instrument will be put in place, if needed. [49584/18]

This question is on the community CCTV scheme which is a very important issue. As the Minister will know, many community groups want to put them in place. In Laois and Offaly, communities located close to the motorway are affected by crime due to their proximity to it. Community groups have raised money voluntarily. Grants are available to erect CCTV, which are very welcome, but, unfortunately, they cannot be drawn down because of the problem of who controls the data. Is it the Garda Síochána or is it the local authority? It came up at the last joint policing committee in Laois and I was asked to raise it with the Minister in the Dáil, which I am doing this morning.

The Deputy will be aware that community CCTV is governed by section 38(3)(c) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and the Garda Síochána (CCTV) Order of 2006. The legal framework requires that any proposed community CCTV scheme must conform to three conditions, namely, be approved by the local joint policing committee, JPC, and I acknowledge Deputy Stanley's attendance at a recent JPC in my constituency from which I received a report; have the authorisation of the Garda Commissioner, which I understand is forthcoming in most cases on the basis of local advice; and have the support of the relevant local authority, which must under law act as data controller.

This is the legal basis for all community CCTV schemes, regardless of whether or not grant funding is sought from my Department to assist in their being set up. In accordance with this legal framework, I understand the majority of local authorities have previously undertaken to act as data controllers in the context of specific community CCTV schemes. This is the case in the current grant aid scheme, as administered by my Department, and in the previous grant aid scheme operated by Pobal on behalf of the Department of Justice and Equality. I understand from my Department's engagement with the Local Government Management Agency that the total number of local authorities which have undertaken the role of data controller for these purposes amounts to 28 out of the 31 local authorities across the country.

The Deputy may also wish to know, as confirmed by the Data Protection Commissioner’s office as recently as May of this year, that the Data Protection Commissioner does not have any concerns about the legislative basis for CCTV.

However, the office is currently conducting an audit of the practice, operation and governance of CCTV. We expect findings from this process to be of assistance to all concerned and, in particular, to local authorities. My Department is engaging on an ongoing basis with the Local Government Management Agency and the County and City Management Association to clarify queries regarding the scheme and to offer assistance to resolve concerns.

To date, there have been 27 applications to the scheme. Twenty applications have been approved for grants totalling more than €500,000. A further four applications to the scheme are currently being assessed and considered.

I thank the Minister for that clarification.

The time for questions to the Minister is now completed. My apologises to the Deputy but we are out of time.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.