Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Human Trafficking

The shocking discovery of 39 bodies in a truck recently is testament to the need to look at what measures Ireland will implement to take the scourge of human trafficking more seriously. The treatment of human trafficking victims in Ireland falls well short of humanitarian protection and the measures described in the legal instruments of the UN, the EU and the Council of Europe. I expect the Minister will tell me that human rights are at the heart of Irish foreign policy and that the report, Global Ireland - Ireland's Foreign Policy for a Changing World, contains a commitment to combat and prevent human trafficking. This is not what I see on the ground. The failure to secure convictions since the law was amended in 2013 and the failure of authorities to initiate any prosecutions in 2018 demonstrates the chronic deficiencies in victim identification, referral and assistance. We need to wake up to this scourge and start making progress against an abhorrent crime that is happening under our noses.

Many of these people are being severely exploited, whether they are women in nail bars, men in the fishing industry, horticultural workers or, indeed, personnel in car washes. It is modern-day slavery and in many instances people's travel documents are taken from them, they are hoodwinked and they do not realise they are being trafficked. They are promised jobs and accommodation but work for a minimum, and after expenses and accommodation are deducted, they are left with practically nothing. Currently when a woman who has been trafficked or who has been involved in exploitation and has been subjected to rape, being beaten or being threatened bravely steps out of those shadows, the response is often to provide accommodation in direct provision. Trafficking should not be confused with immigration. It is a crime and these people are the victims. Direct provision centres are not a place of refuge or comfort for them. They need our rescue and care.

I welcome the Minister's presence to deal with this very important issue concerning human trafficking. Slavery was abolished throughout the world many years ago, but unfortunately it still operates through the crime of human trafficking. Many people living in disadvantaged parts of the world are desperate to escape from their economic situation. As a result, they put themselves in the hands of individuals who promise to take them from those developing countries into countries in Europe and America. We must recognise the extent of the problem. Many women avail of the opportunities to be transported from one country to Europe, sometimes Ireland, in the belief that they are coming here to work in jobs that will be profitable for them. As Deputy Breathnach noted, unfortunately, many of these women find themselves in a sex industry that is fuelled by the pursuit of money. It is not only women who are the victims of these crimes. Men are also coming from impoverished countries in the belief that they will gain normal employment. They end up being exploited by unmeritorious and unfair employers who decide that they want to use them to avoid meeting their obligations under employment law. There are also horrific examples of people being trafficked for organ harvesting. I do not believe that it is an issue that has arisen in Ireland, but it is part of the international problem posed by human trafficking. It is crucial, in light of what happened tragically in Essex and the Irish association with that, that we are not complacent about our obligations under international law. We must ensure that Ireland is at the forefront of standing up for our obligations to fight human trafficking so that these vulnerable people can be protected.

The events in Essex are a tragedy for all those concerned and their families and friends, to whom I would express my deepest sympathies and condolences. I am conscious that that incident is the subject of an ongoing investigation in the United Kingdom, and in relation to which An Garda Síochána is assisting at a high level. I do not wish to say anything that could prejudice those investigations.

On the broader issues raised by the Deputies, it is important to differentiate between human trafficking and migrant smuggling. While both are criminal activities frequently involving criminal networks seeking to make a profit, there are important distinctions. The Government is fully committed to addressing human trafficking and migrant smuggling under Irish and EU legislation and the principal international conventions. However, as the Deputies have raised questions specifically on anti-human trafficking, I will focus on that topic in this response.

The second national action plan to prevent and combat human trafficking in Ireland was launched in 2016, and core to this is a victim-centred and human rights-based approach with the ultimate aims of preventing human trafficking, ensuring an effective criminal justice response, and delivery of supports to victims. Deputy Breathnach raised in particular the question of support for victims. Ireland endeavours to achieve best practice in its victim-centred approach to combating human trafficking. When suspected victims of human trafficking are either encountered by or referred to An Garda Síochána, they are provided with a wide range of services by both the Government and NGOs through the national referral mechanism. These include health services, that is, mental, emotional and physical care, immigration permission, legal services, accommodation, material assistance, including supplementary welfare allowance or rent, access to the labour market, vocational training and education, police services, repatriation, translation and interpretation services, and access to education for dependent children.

Identification of victims is a key component in the process of tackling human trafficking and accordingly the relevant authorities in Ireland fund and deliver a variety of specialised anti-human trafficking training to State officials. Particular emphasis in this training is placed on the identification and provision of appropriate assistance to suspected victims of human trafficking. The Garda Síochána plays a leading role in this process.

Action is also being taken to raise public awareness in this country and help members of the public identify the signs of human trafficking. More information is available on the Blue Blindfold website maintained by the Department of Justice and Equality. It may also be noted that EU Anti-Trafficking Day is marked annually on 18 October. To mark that, the Department of Justice and Equality partnered with 23 other European states in a campaign to raise awareness to the issue of human trafficking. Ireland is also active at the international level in fighting human trafficking, in particular through co-operation with partners in the European Crime Prevention Network and Europol.

An Garda Síochána has committed significant resources to the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking. A specialised Garda unit, the human trafficking investigation and co-ordination unit, has been in place for ten years, conducting investigations into human trafficking and providing advice, support and where necessary, operational assistance to investigations at district level. Members of An Garda Síochána have this year undertaken human trafficking training courses delivered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the PSNI.

The Deputy referred to prosecutions in this field. These are complex cases and Deputies will appreciate that it can be challenging to secure convictions in human trafficking cases for a range of reasons, including difficulties in securing sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of coercion or deception of the victim. For example, last year a prosecution the State brought against three suspected traffickers was withdrawn due to the victims choosing to return to their home countries and declining to co-operate with Garda requests for testimony. I met the Garda Commissioner earlier this year on this matter and he outlined an anti-organised crime strategy against trafficking gangs, targeting their finances and their use of the Internet, and by working closely with other jurisdictions.

The annual report of the anti-human trafficking unit of the Department of Justice and Equality indicates that in 2018 there were 64 victims of human trafficking. Of the 64 recorded incidents of human trafficking in Ireland last year, 13 are recorded as having occurred outside the jurisdiction and 51 are recorded as having occurred within the jurisdiction.

I express my support of and co-operation with any efforts to alleviate suffering or combat wrong-doing in what might have started as a tragic case arising from the greed of criminals involved with human trafficking. Vietnamese families are currently trying to make a provision in order to bring their loved ones home. I express my deep shock and offer our condolences, as the Minister has done.

We must reassess our response to this issue and six points should be immediately implemented. These include a review of the criminal justice response, a national referral mechanism where victim care would be distinct from direct provision and a new strategy for human trafficking incorporating European Union and Council of Europe requirements to be annually presented to these Houses and reported on. Government and business transparency in supply chains legislation must be considered, with a wider consideration of tainted money. Ireland's UN Security Council nomination process should address human trafficking and a rapporteur should be appointed for Ireland to work across government, criminal justice, civil society and the private sector in order to assist the development and delivery of a strategy. We must be a driving force.

I thank the Minister for his reply. The annual report of the anti-human trafficking unit reveals that this is a problem in our country. We noted there were 64 victims of human trafficking in 2018 and of them, 51 were recorded as having occurred within this jurisdiction. We are talking about individuals, specifically women who have been trafficked into this country for sexual purposes or men who are abused in the workplace by not being given any of the protections afforded to the rest of us as workers under the law.

It is very important for us to note there have been very limited prosecutions in this country. I note the Minister's comments regarding the difficulty of prosecuting these cases, particularly where there are victims who are not prepared to co-operate or who may find it very difficult to co-operate because of a fear they will get into further trouble if they give evidence against persons who have trafficked them. What happened in Essex is a wake-up call for us and we must recognise that our obligations really must continue to apply. We must be more vigorous in ensuring we comply with those obligations.

The Deputies have raised a number of constructive points that I would be happy to pursue as being applicable. I assure the House that An Garda Síochána continues to engage actively with the Director of Public Prosecutions in order to pursue further prosecutions this year. Having regard to the international dimension of the crime, we have developed strong links between the Garda and other European police services. Interpol and Europol channels are regularly used for these investigations.

I again point to the Second National Action Plan to Prevent and Combat Human Trafficking, which was launched three years ago. In this regard there are six priority areas, and if the Deputies have other elements they would like us to add, we are happy to consider them. The six priorities are currently prevention, training, awareness raising and evaluation, the reduction of vulnerability, the collection of data, demand reduction and enhanced co-ordination and co-operation. Action continues on a whole-of-government basis in line with that plan. Again, Ireland remains active on the international stage. From a domestic perspective a number of State bodies provide care and practical support to victims, including the Health Service Executive, the Legal Aid Board, the immigration service and Tusla in respect of child and family matters. My Department also provides funding to several non-governmental organisations for their work in providing support to victims of trafficking. I acknowledge on one hand the support for victims and on the other hand the robust criminal justice response.

These are complex matters but I assure Deputies Breathnach and O'Callaghan that the Government remains committed to tackling such matters through all available means.

Garda Divisional Headquarters

I acknowledge the presence of the Minister. As he is aware, I raised this matter before and there was no Minister or Minister or State available to take it. I appreciate the advice of the Ceann Comhairle and the Department contacted me to apologise for the fact that no Minister or Minister of State was available, although a Minister of State came to the Chamber immediately afterwards.

I was in the Seanad.

I was not referring to the Minister.

We should be clear about this. Nobody is evading responsibility here. I was in the Seanad on that occasion and we can check the record.

I was not referring to the Minister at all.

We rang the Deputy's office with a number of available dates for this debate and this appears to be the first available date that suits him.

That is fine. It is not the issue. I do not see the point of the Minister's comments.

Just deal with the matter at hand.

A Minister of State was outside the door who then came into the Chamber. It was not the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, but a Minister of State at the Department. The Ceann Comhairle acknowledged that fact to me in writing. Perhaps the Ceann Comhairle could allow me some latitude as I have lost a minute with the Minister's intervention.

No. The Deputy raised the matter.

There was no Minister of State provided to answer the debate. A Minister of State from a different Department was sent in.

I did not send in anybody.

Okay. That is even more worrying.

The Deputy refused to accept an invitation to the debate until now.

Excuse me. I tabled this topic for debate. I did not mean for this to kick off but I put down this topic for debate, as I am entitled to do.

Perhaps we could proceed and discuss what was or was not done at a later time outside the Chamber.

No Minister was available at the time. It is customary for a Minister or Minister of State from the Department to answer the debate rather than a Minister or Minister of State with no responsibility for the area.

I was in the Seanad and I make no apologies to the Deputy or anybody else for that.

I am not saying anything about that but there are other Ministers of State in the Department.

The new divisional headquarters location for the Tipperary and Clare Garda division makes no sense. The local perception is of bewilderment and the decision has sapped morale. I respect the idea that the Garda Síochána must change and I even welcome that change. My county has access to two of the longest motorways in Ireland and it touches six other counties. It is central to much of the transport in Ireland.

The idea that the headquarters for the divisional area would be in Ennis is frankly insane. The proposal is even more bizarre than that. The Tipperary and Clare division does not make sense. We will have a divisional headquarters in Ennis sandwiched between Garda divisions in Limerick and Galway, meaning there will be three headquarters along the west coast and none in Tipperary. This does not make sense for members of An Garda Síochána. No one can tell me that the gardaí who will deal with the headquarters in Ennis will not have to start travelling to the town. Gardaí from Tipperary will have to travel through another division in Limerick to reach their divisional headquarters in Ennis. As someone who lives right beside the Ballina-Killaloe bridge, the Minister can trust me when I say it would be quicker to go through Limerick. That is why we need a new bridge.

The decision-making process was based on five criteria, namely, population, level of crime, workload, projected growth of the area and geography. With the greatest of respect to my good friends in County Clare, Tipperary is miles ahead of Clare on all five of these criteria.

We met the Garda Commissioner last Friday and I respect his decision to attend a meeting of the joint policing committee in Tipperary. He acknowledged after questioning that there may have been other reasons. If the criteria point to one decision but another decision is made, it shows a lack of transparency. This results in innuendo and other commentary, which I neither welcome nor want to hear. The metrics do not add up for this decision.

I thank the Deputy.

In fairness, I lost a minute so I ask for a little latitude.

There is also a lack of consultation. The Garda Representative Association in the county has made valid points about the lack of resources in Tipperary. The Garda Commissioner was unable to tell us how many extra gardaí would result from this changeover. I asked the Commissioner a question the other day but he did not answer it. He stated that a number of divisions would be opened first, which I respect, after which the process would be analysed and audited and the findings and learnings would be considered. All I am asking for is a review of this decision-making process after several years to see whether it is working or justifiable. That is a reasonable request. Auditing is good. This decision is obviously wrong because all the metrics show it is wrong. I am asking the Minister to put forward that request.

As far as Topical Issue matters are concerned, I neither evade nor avoid my duties and obligations in the House. The record will testify to that in terms of my appearance here.

I never said anything of the sort.

If I am in the Seanad, I cannot be here. A message was sent to Deputy Kelly's office and, as far as I understand, the Office of the Ceann Comhairle.

The origin of the new model lies in a detailed analysis of these issues by the Garda Síochána Inspectorate. I remind the House that the inspectorate is an independent body comprised of experienced and distinguished policing professionals. It is tasked with ensuring that the resources available to An Garda Síochána are used to achieve and maintain the highest levels of efficiency and effectiveness in the operation of its functions with reference to the best standards of comparable police services. The recommendation of the inspectorate on how An Garda Síochána is structured is in line with this remit and will ensure maximum policing impact on the ground in County Tipperary. The recommendations were strongly endorsed by the independent Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. The commission was made up of policing experts, experts from the private sector and academics - people with experience of policing.

I remind the House that the announcement of the new model by the Garda Commissioner was welcomed by the Policing Authority and other key stakeholders. I emphasise that this new model will bring positive impacts throughout the State and in Tipperary. First and foremost, it will mean more gardaí, including sergeants and inspectors, on the front line. It will reduce bureaucracy within the Garda organisation and empower divisions to take decisions at local level in counties Tipperary and Clare. It will create divisions of sufficient scale to ensure operational independence. Every division will have specialists in critical areas, including domestic and sexual crime, economic crime and so on. In short, the new model will bring significant improvements to An Garda Síochána structures, processes and services in Tipperary and Clare, maximising the organisation's operational impact at the local level in both counties to deliver an improved more consistent and highly visible policing service in communities across Tipperary and Clare. The new division in Tipperary and Clare, like all others, will have between 600 and 800 Garda members. It will have a Garda inspector available on a 24-7 basis and expertise in cybercrime and protective services, which deal with domestic and sexual violence, as well as a major focus on community engagement across counties Tipperary and Clare.

I have previously highlighted that in the current model several divisions cover two counties, including the division in my constituency. There is no evidence that the location of a divisional headquarters outside a county boundary diminishes policing services in any respect. I have been a Deputy representing Laois-Offaly for a long time. I have never once heard it put to me that because the headquarters is in Portlaoise policing in Tullamore has suffered.

It is important that we continue to acknowledge the reasoning and rationale behind this system. The idea is to improve services at local level. The new model will shift power and decision-making from Garda headquarters in Dublin to chief superintendents and superintendents nationwide, including in Tipperary and Clare. This will bring these senior members of the Garda service closer to the communities they serve in Tipperary and Clare, ensuring a more localised and responsive policing service that will reflect the local needs of the people in the division. It is not the case that under the new model, policing services will be centralised at divisional headquarters.

I welcome the Commissioner's confirmation that as many superintendents as possible will be in key locations throughout the division, including in Thurles in County Tipperary. This has been achieved in the divisions that piloted the model. The location of the divisional headquarters is simply an administrative matter and will not impact in an adverse or negative way on policing in the new division. The increased Garda numbers in Tipperary bear witness to the commitment to delivering the best possible police service in the county. Garda numbers in Tipperary have increased from a total of 354 at the end of 2015 to 384 this year. At the same time, the number of Garda civilian staff in the division has almost doubled from 32 at the end of 2015 to a total of 61 today. This is a considerable increase in civilian staff and means that additional gardaí can be redeployed from administrative to operational policing duties where their training and policing expertise can be used to best effect.

I believe in modernisation of An Garda Síochána. I also believe that we need to see considerable change. I am not one of those who come to the Chamber to practise NIMBYism, as my track record will show. I do not believe in political policing. I believe in transparency in decision-making. Where a decision such as this is made and it is not transparent across the criteria, it has to be questioned. That is what this Chamber is for. I listed the criteria and I challenge anyone to say that, when applied, these criteria place Ennis in County Clare above Thurles in County Tipperary.

The Minister made a statement about his time as a Deputy which is frankly not relevant. He said that locating the Laois-Offaly divisional headquarters in Portlaoise rather than Tullamore made no difference. There is some difference between the distance from Tullamore to Portlaoise and the distance from Carrick-On-Suir to Ennistymon. The former is approximately 36 km while the latter approximately 180 km. The point is the scale and size. We have divisional headquarters in Limerick and Galway, and rightly so given the scale of the cities and areas they cover. We then have another headquarters on the west coast in Ennis. The largest inland county, Tipperary, has a major issue with crime owing to the length of motorway there. The decision is bizarre given that Tipperary places higher than Clare under all of the criteria.

Is it any wonder that the gardaí to whom I have spoken at all levels are so disheartened by this decision? That is a fact. If the Minister listens to the GRA and to other garda representative bodies, they will tell him this.

It is good practice to review decisions. While I do not agree with what has been done here, I am not asking for it to be changed now. However, I want to know when the Department first became aware of this decision and whether there was any other iteration of it beforehand. Will the Minister ensure that, given the Garda Commissioner's statements, after a number of years all of this will be audited to see if this is the optimal way to organise Garda divisions?

I acknowledge the entitlement of Deputy Kelly or any other Deputy to raise questions. Indeed, it is an obligation on the Deputy's part. I am very pleased that the Commissioner has responded to an invitation to attend a meeting in Tipperary in order to answer questions. In this regard, the Commissioner recently met members of the Tipperary joint policing committee. I understand that he addressed the issues raised by Teachtaí Dála and local representatives directly on the new model. Garda Commissioner Harris and his senior team have indicated that they are willing to meet with joint policing committees all over Ireland and accept submissions. This engagement is important and I urge all interested parties to avail of the opportunity to engage.

At the heart of the concerns raised by Deputy Kelly is the relationship between communities and their local gardaí, as well as the garda resources required in each division to provide an effective policing service. An Garda Síochána is a growing organisation. Since the reopening of the Garda College in Templemore in County Tipperary, closed under a previous Administration, approximately 2,800 new gardaí have attested and have been assigned to mainstream policing duties around the country. A further 200 gardaí are due to attest before the end of the year. At the same time, the record level of recruitment of Garda civilian staff is allowing for the redeployment of gardaí to operational policing duties in Counties Tipperary and Clare. As a result, there are significantly more gardaí working to protect communities from harm. Under this new model we will see more sergeants and inspectors at the coalface in Tipperary and Clare. We will see less duplication and bureaucracy at superintendent and chief superintendent level. There will be greater specialisation in Tipperary and Clare, with expertise available locally to address the new types of crime and to engineer the responses required of An Garda Síochána to legislation passed in these Houses on an ongoing basis.

This new model will deliver on some of the key recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. Gardaí should be visible in Tipperary and Clare, on the front line, engaged in community policing. I am confident that the roll-out of the new model will strengthen and facilitate community engagement and provide an improved policing service to communities in Tipperary, Clare and elsewhere.

Policing Issues

I appreciate the opportunity to raise this issue and I welcome the fact that the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, is in the House to take it. The issue is self explanatory and barely requires further expansion from me. At midday yesterday the Independent Reporting Commission reported on progress being made towards ending continuing paramilitary activity. The commission's core finding is concerning, namely that "paramilitarism remains a stark reality in Northern Ireland" that continues to be a serious obstacle to peace and reconciliation. Some 21 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, this is a worrying assessment and it should remind us all that implementing the agreement is still a work in progress and that progress in recent years has been slow, to put it at its most diplomatic. It is indeed ironic that the Independent Reporting Commission now operates under the mandate given to it by the Fresh Start agreement of 2015. If the other bodies and institutions took the mandate to start afresh and focus on their own roles as seriously and assiduously as the Independent Reporting Commission, we would all be in a better place on this island.

In their assessment, the four members of the Independent Reporting Commission state clearly and unambiguously that ending paramilitarism can only be sustainably brought about by means of a twin track approach which combines policing and justice responses alongside systemically tackling the serious socioeconomic deprivation facing the communities in which paramilitaries operate. The commissioners specifically recommend that tackling paramilitarism be made a new dedicated outcome in a programme for Government. They view this as the best way of achieving the whole-of-system approach that is needed in Northern Ireland. As a representative of a Border community that has enjoyed the benefits of the Good Friday Agreement that have been allowed to flow, I agree wholeheartedly with the commissioners in this judgment and urge both Governments and the political parties in Northern Ireland to put the eradication of the scourge of paramilitarism and paramilitary criminality at the core of any future programme for Government of a future Executive in Northern Ireland. Such an Executive and a Northern Ireland Assembly is sadly lacking at present.

There is much more we can do now, however, starting with making all of the necessary resources and manpower available to An Garda Síochána and the PSNI without delay. Indeed, the Independent Reporting Commission specifically calls for increased and enhanced neighbourhood policing and for urgent action to address the delays in cases coming before the courts. I do not know of a single person in Cavan or Monaghan who would not endorse that call 100%. Co-ordinated action is needed now to tackle the wanton intimidation of whole communities by paramilitary gangsters that we have seen over the past few weeks and months. I had the opportunity some weeks ago in this House to outline my abhorrence and that of the people I am privileged to represent of the cruel terror that was inflicted on Kevin Lunney. There were also other despicable and cowardly incidents perpetrated on other Quinn Industrial Holdings executives that were intolerable. These are a challenge to our local communities and to this State but the rule of law must prevail at all times. I must emphasise the fact that this is the view of more than 99.99% of the people that I represent in the Border communities. Previous Governments and Ministers for Justice and Equality have shown how this State is prepared to use all its resources to stand up to the gang lords and thugs. Over a decade ago in Limerick such necessary action was taken with a successful outcome. We need to show the same level of seriousness and resolution today. The first step must be to dramatically increase the resources available to An Garda Síochána in the Border areas to show that this State will not tolerate the intimidation of individuals or communities, regardless of the jurisdiction from which the perpetrators come.

In conclusion, this House should express its gratitude to the four members of the Independent Reporting Commission, Mr. John McBurney, Mr. Tim O'Connor, Ms Monica McWilliams and Mr. Mitchell Reiss for their continuing service.

There is no more consistent an advocate for Border security and policing than Deputy Brendan Smith. I say that not only in respect of my time as Minister for Justice and Equality, but also previously as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Deputy and others will acknowledge that policing the Border region has always presented particular challenges and these necessitate a collaborative approach to policing between law enforcement agencies North and South of the Border. There is ongoing close co-operation between An Garda Síochána in this Republic and the PSNI in Northern Ireland. The importance of this ongoing high level of co-operation has been emphatically demonstrated again in recent weeks by the abhorrent attack in County Fermanagh to which Deputy Brendan Smith referred. I visited the area and was briefed by the Commissioner and the investigation team in Cavan. It is clear that elements of this horrific crime took place on both sides of the Border and a joint investigation is ongoing, including ongoing sharing of information and evidence between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI.

I am sure the Deputy will join me in welcoming the Commissioner's decision to establish an additional armed support unit in Cavan town. This unit will complement the work of units already based in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, close to the Border and in Dundalk, County Louth, the home town of Deputy Breathnach, in the northern region. The northern region has benefitted from the accelerated recruitment to An Garda Síochána and the unprecedented €1.76 billion budget provided to the force for 2019.

Since the end of 2017, Garda strength in the northern region has increased by 150 to approximately 1,500, with Garda staff in the region also increasing by approximately 150, which represents an increase of almost 30% over the past three years. The ongoing recruitment will provide the Garda Commissioner with the resources needed to deploy increasing numbers of gardaí to the region to deliver a visible, effective and responsive policing service. These requirements will be kept under ongoing review by Garda management with a view to addressing any policing requirements for the Border region which may arise from time to time. In the event that a no-deal Brexit gives rise to additional requirements in Border areas, further resources can and will be provided through redeployment.

I acknowledge what Deputy Brendan Smith said about the Independent Reporting Commission, IRC, report. In November 2015, the British and Irish Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive agreed a series of measures under the Fresh Start agreement as part of a concerted and enhanced effort to tackle organised and cross-jurisdictional crime. These measures included the creation of the joint agency task force which is led by senior officers from An Garda Síochána, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Revenue Commissioners and UK Revenue and Customs. This joint agency task force meets regularly and did so most recently this week in Belfast. Both Governments are determined that, regardless of the political outcome of Brexit, the excellent ongoing level of co-operation between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI must and will continue. It is important that every resource be made available, as Deputy Smith rightly says, to combat the threat posed by dissidents and criminals of an organised and ruthless nature who seek to exploit the policing challenges faced in the Border area.

I thank the Minister for his detailed response. As he knows, the Independent Reporting Commission report is very clear that ending paramilitary activity is made immeasurably more difficult by two issues, namely, the vacuum created by the absence of devolution and uncertainty over Brexit. A return to political decision-making in Stormont is essential in order to comprehensively address these issues, which are multifaceted and deep-rooted. I have often said in this House that the one political mandate that all of us on this island have is to implement the Good Friday Agreement, having been given that mandate through the referenda held both North and South in May 1998. Sadly, we do not have a functioning Executive or Assembly in Northern Ireland, for which both Sinn Féin and the DUP should be ashamed as they have held up the restoration of those necessary institutions. A non-functioning North-South Ministerial Council has also been a huge loss to this country, as it could have been central to the preparations for Brexit in an all-Ireland context.

The residue of paramilitary activity must be eliminated. Great emphasis must be placed on dealing with these criminals who masqueraded for decades under so-called political ideologies, resulting in destruction and loss of life. That must be ended once and for all.

The Minister correctly pointed out that I have consistently raised the need for additional resources for the Border region in this House. I have often said that there are unique policing demands in the Garda Border division. The Minister used that phrase on television the other night. I have always highlighted the need for additional resources because of cross-Border criminality. It hurts me and 99.9% of the people I have the privilege of representing when we hear ill-informed commentary that our region is lawless or that its people do not subscribe to the rule of law. Sadly, a very small number of criminals both North and South have inflicted damage on the area. I reiterate that more than 99.99% of the people living in the Border region are law-abiding. They work hard, the same as people in every other part of our country, pay their mortgages, rear their families, pay their education and health bills and are looking to the future. They want to be secure in the knowledge that they are safe when going to and from work. That does not take away from the fact that a very small number of people can do a lot of damage to a region, but the people I represent believe in the rule of law.

An anniversary mass for the late Paul Quinn, a young man who was murdered in horrific circumstances by thugs and criminals, was held only a few weeks ago. Recently, my colleague, Deputy Breathnach, launched a report on cross-Border crime on behalf of committee A of the British-Irish Parliamentary Association. The report noted that there had been an increase in the number of criminal groups with cross-Border operations over the past five years, rising from approximately one in five groups in 2014 to one in three in 2018. Cross-Border criminality, in which people are involved in illicit trade in drugs, fuel products and so on, must be tackled with every possible resource available to the State and its agencies both North and South.

It is both appropriate and timely that Deputy Brendan Smith should make specific reference to the second report of the Independent Reporting Commission, which was published yesterday by the British and Irish Governments. It draws attention to a recent upturn in paramilitary activity and paramilitary-related murders over the past year. I think of Jim Donegan, Ian Ogle and Lyra McKee. The report also makes clear that the lack of a Northern Ireland Executive is a hindrance to progress. There is an urgent need for the re-establishment of the institutions in Northern Ireland and for political leadership to be restored. A key recommendation of the IRC report is that tackling paramilitarism should be properly placed within the Northern Ireland programme for government. This placement should address the complex and interconnected social deprivation factors, such as educational under-attainment, which strongly correlate with the legacy of paramilitarism in many areas. This recommendation cannot be implemented while an Executive is not sitting in Northern Ireland. I join Deputy Smith in his call in that regard.

I spoke recently to the UK Home Secretary and met the recently appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I assure Deputy Smith that I took both these opportunities to reaffirm our deep commitment to continuing the close working relationship we have with our colleagues in Northern Ireland and the UK on matters such as security and risks in the Border region. I remind Deputies that this co-operation and intelligence-led policing is producing significant results in addressing cross-Border criminality. Last Thursday, for example, gardaí attached to the national drugs and organised crime bureau intercepted a commercial haulage vehicle in Dundalk and recovered cannabis herb with an estimated value of €3.2 million, subject to analysis. Two men were arrested and investigations are ongoing.

I reaffirm that An Garda Síochána has the full support of the Government in its ongoing work addressing cross-Border criminality. We are providing record resources to enable it to perform this critical role. I welcome the interventions of Deputies Breathnach and Brendan Smith from the Border area, not only this evening but on a consistent basis. It is important that we all work together towards ensuring that the scourge of violence and criminality of an organised nature in the Border area is by no means tolerated.