Proceeds of Crime (Investment in Disadvantaged Communities) (Amendment) Bill 2021: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Proceeds of Crime Act 1996 and provide that the proceeds of crime be invested in disadvantaged communities in order to help alleviate the impact of crime and help prevent the reoccurrence of criminal behaviour.

In response to a parliamentary question I tabled, it was noted the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, seized almost €65 million in cash and assets in 2019. This is a significant increase on previous years and welcome news. Most of the money seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau has been extricated from the communities in which the criminals have been active most. Accordingly, it must be returned to these communities. Sinn Féin has always advocated that any money seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau should be put back into communities to tackle disadvantage, as well as to fund prevention, treatment and rehabilitation drug services. Deputy Ó Snodaigh raised this issue over ten years ago.

I represent the Dublin Mid-West constituency and I am from north Clondalkin. Parts of my constituency have been ripped apart by drug use over the years. This Bill will require the Minister for Finance to carry out a review of financial supports required for those disadvantaged communities affected by crime. It aims to reinvest the money generated through the seizure of assets by the Criminal Assets Bureau in these communities with a view to alleviating the impact of crime and enhancing crime prevention measures. Any of this money invested in our communities needs to be on top of allocated resources and not seen as a replacement. It must also not hinder community organisations applying for any additional resources which they require through normal funding channels.

It is no accident that most of the money seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau originates in areas like mine, which are highly disadvantaged. I welcome the recent announcement by the Minister that a fund will be created to provide additional funding for investment in community safety projects from the proceeds of the Criminal Assets Bureau. While community safety is important, so too is building community resilience. Drug task forces, family resource centres, youth organisations, unemployment services, sports clubs and others which work in disadvantaged areas should benefit from this fund. I have had positive feedback from the Government parties when I raised this issue in the Dáil before. I hope this Bill receives cross-party support.

This legislation is straightforward and there is widespread support for the idea behind it. We also welcome the Government's idea of a community safety innovation fund.

We have been dealing with a drugs pandemic for a considerable time. While it may impact across society, it particularly affects working-class areas, such as those in my own area in Dundalk. In the past fortnight, I have been dealing with issues regarding drug debt intimidation. I must commend the work of the Garda in this regard. This legislation is supported by the Garda chief superintendent in Louth, Christy Mangan, who has spoken in the media before of his fear of losing a generation to cocaine. Recently, we had raids in Dundalk with €17,000 worth of cocaine and cannabis being seized.

The wider issues related to drugs need to be dealt with outside of the House. We need a citizens' assembly to be established, which is a commitment in the programme for Government. We must ensure the money in question goes to the right places, such as addiction services and intervention services in working-class areas, which are required. Natural justice is also involved and we need wholesale change in this regard. I support some of the soundings from the Government about community safety partnerships, which should be far more prevalent than joint policing committees, as well as a multi-agency approach to dealing with this problem and criminal gangs.

I call on all Members to support this legislation. I welcome the work the CAB has done, including raids that have happened in my own town against criminal gangs. I welcome the work of the drugs units dealing with this level of organised crime but I am absolutely fed up with criminal gangs who are forcing parents, grandparents and siblings to pay off debt, which ends up being significantly more than the initial debt. This is utterly criminal and we have to literally put their lights out. This legislation means that if they hurt us and our communities, we will hurt them.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.