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Seanad Éireann debate -
Friday, 26 Jul 1996

Vol. 148 No. 13

Disclosure of Certain Information for Taxation and Other Purposes Bill, 1996: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This Bill, together with the Criminal Assets Bureau Bill, provide for a fresh approach to the investigation of crime in Ireland. The individual agencies cannot tackle the problems alone; a new mechanism was needed to bring them together and these two Bills provide that mechanism. The Bill before the House today will facilitate immediate co-operation between the Garda, the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social Welfare. That co-operation will be put on a statutory basis when the Criminal Assets Bureau Bill is passed in the autumn.

The fight against organised crime has three main elements: a well organised level of law enforcement with harsher penalties and more prison spaces, a serious attack on the assets of criminals and action on the demand side. This Bill is concerned with the second of these elements.

Before dealing with the details of the Bill, I want to say something about the first element. The appointment of a new Garda Commissioner and the review body on the Garda should ensure that there is a fresh approach and a new impetus to the fight against crime. The Garda obviously has the pivotal role in fighting crime so it is essential that it is well managed, well motivated and have the confidence of the public. I believe that the new commissioner has the opportunity to ensure this and I wish him well in his new appointment.

In the fight against crime, the new Bills brought forward by the Government will ensure co-operation among certain agencies. Other State agencies, for example, the judges and the courts system, also have a duty to act in the best interests of the community and in co-operation with the Executive.

The Criminal Justice Act, 1994, and certain provisions in the Bill before us today enable the Minister for Justice to bring professional advisers into the remit of existing money laundering legislation. I believe that professional advisers have a duty to the community to ensure that they do not facilitate criminals in their activities. Last year we had the not particularly edifying spectacle of the Government being castigated for attempting to ensure that professional bodies did not facilitate tax evasion. Speaking as an accountant, I have no difficulty with a requirment that professional advisers must not faciltate law breaking.

If we are to be serious about tackling organised crime, it is time to take the gloves off against the racketeers' attempts to hide behind accountants and lawyers in their financial transactions. The relationship of privilege is important in the context of legal proceedings and this Bill provides for protecting this privilege.

One of the steps which the Government took to counter major organised crime, particularly in the drugs area, was to set up a special group to examine ways of targeting the assets and proceeds of criminal activities. This group was chaired by the Department of Justice and comprised representatives of the Garda Síochána, the Revenue Commissioners, the Department of Finance and the Department of Social Welfare. The group made a number of proposals aimed at improving co-operation between State agencies in their fight against organised crime and to remove any obstacles which would hinder their efforts in tracking and targeting the assets of criminals.

The group put forward a series of measures to allow for freer proactive exchanges of information between Revenue and the Garda Síochána in the case of suspect assets and activities than is allowed by law. Changes were also recommended to secure the anonymity, and thereby the personal safety, of Revenue officials in pursuing tax assessments of suspected persons, and to allow for the use by Revenue of Garda intelligence information in making tax assessments without disclosure of the source of this information, unless authorised by a senior Garda officer. The group also recommended a number of amendments to the Criminal Justice Act, 1994.

The purpose of this Bill is to implement the important and necessary legal changes recommended by the working group and thus clear the way for closer and more concerted co-operation between the State agencies in the fight against organised crime. The implementation of these measures will form a useful part of, and has to be seen in the context of, the overall action we are taking.

As part of this it is necessary to amend and extend the Criminal Justice Act, 1994. There is a doubt whether information or material obtained under the money laundering provisions of that Act could be used by the Garda Síochána and Revenue in relation to other criminal offences or Revenue offences. The money laundering provisions of the Act were passed specifically to meet the obligations of an EU directive. The directive itself, however, permits the use of money laundering information or material in the investigation and prosecution of other offences provided specific legal provision is made to do so. This Bill includes a suitable amendment to the 1994 Act to allow for the wider use of money laundering information.

The 1994 Act already makes provision regarding applications to the courts by the Garda Síochána for search warrants for purposes related to drug trafficking and related offences. Under existing law the warrant may be issued to "a specific member of the Garda Síochána, accompanied by such other members of the Garda Síochána as the member thinks necessary". In the context of the proposed attack on criminal assets it would clearly be desirable that the warrant should allow for any non-Garda person working in or with the proposed Criminal Assets Bureau, including Revenue and social welfare officials, to take part in the search. A suitable amendment to the 1994 Act has been included in this Bill. Further, the Bill also makes certain changes, which I will outline later, to the Bankers' Books Evidence Act, 1879, relating to access by the gardaí to the books and records of all relevant financial institutions.

I will turn now to the individual sections of the Bill. The first four sections amend the Criminal Justice Act, 1994. Section 1 inserts a new section into the Criminal Justice Act, 1994. This new section allows Revenue to provide information to a garda not below the rank of Chief Superintendent or to a body set up under statute or by the Government to target the assets of criminals. To release information the Revenue Commissioners must have reasonable grounds for suspecting that the information relates to a person who has derived profits from an unlawful source or activity and that the information will assist in a relevant investigation. This provision will allow for exchange of information without requiring a court order and, at the same time, provides reassurance for ordinary law abiding taxpayers. The section maintains existing safeguards for information received by the Revenue Commissioners from another State under a double taxation treaty.

Section 2 amends section 32 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1994, in two respects. First, it ensures that documents and materials concerning the identification of customers and transactions are retained by the designated bodies for use as evidence into any offence and not solely money laundering offences as provided for at present. Second, it inserts a new subsection to enable the Minister for Justice, in prescribing a designated body by order under that section, to exempt that body from certain of the obligations generally imposed on designated bodies by the 1994 Act. This will basically allow any such order to deal with the issue of legal professional privilege where an order is made extending to solicitors, for example, the obligation to report money laundering.

Section 3, which is related to section 2, amends section 57 of the 1994 Act to permit information reported under that section to the Garda Síochána to be used not only in any investigation concerning money laundering but for an investigation into any other offence. The working group considered the question of extending the list of bodies and professions to which sections 32 and 57 of the 1994 Act dealing with money laundering apply. The group, and indeed the Government, acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of the members of these professions are law abiding people who would be horrified if they thought they were involved in laundering the proceeds of crime. Nevertheless, the group was firmly of the view that the extension of the money laundering reporting requirements in this way would be of considerable assistance in the fight against organised crime.

The Government has decided, therefore, that the reporting requirements of the money laundering provisions of sections 32 and 57 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1994, should be extended to solicitors, accountants, auctioneers and estate agents. This can be done by the Minister for Justice by order under the 1994 legislation but will take place only following detailed consultations with the professional bodies on the operational procedures and standards to be applied by the professions in question. This will ensure effective reporting and allow for the practical operation of the requirements at professional firm level. For the information of the House, there have already been discussions between the Department of Finance last year and the bodies representing solicitors and accountants on the operation of the existing money laundering provisions.

Section 4 amends section 64 of the 1994 Act to enable a member of the Garda Síochána, carrying out a search under a warrant issued under that section, to be accompanied by any other persons, for example, a Revenue Commission or Department of Social Welfare official rather than, as section 64 currently provides, only other members of the Garda Síochána.

Sections 5 to 9 are alike, making similar provisions in relation to a number of different tax heads. Section 5 amends section 184 of the Income Tax Act, 1967. That section provides for the making of an assessment to income tax in the absence of a return or in circumstances where the inspector has received information as to the insufficiency of any statement received from a person. Section 5 puts beyond doubt that the inspector may, in making an assessment, use information received from the Garda Síochána. It also provides that where Garda information is used, the origin of the information is not to be revealed except with the permission of a Chief Superintendent, so as to protect Garda intelligence gathering. Sections 6, 7, 8 and 9 make similar provisions in relation to corporation tax, stamp duty, capital acquisitions tax and residential property tax, respectively, as section 5 does for income tax.

Sections 10, 11 and 12 provide for anonymity for Revenue Commission officials in particular circumstances. Section 10 amends section 18 of the Finance Act, 1983, which provides that where an inspector of taxes has reason to believe that an account in a financial institution is being concealed by a person for tax purposes, an authorised officer of the Revenue Commissioners may apply to the High Court seeking information regarding the account. The changes now being made provide that where the court is satisfied that it is in the public interest, any documents relating to an application or order under the section will omit the name and address of the authorised officer, and in any cross examination or depositions made, the name and address of the authorised officer will not be revealed in court and the officer may give evidence in the sight and hearing of the judge and only in the hearing of anybody else.

Section 11 amends section 19 of the Finance Act, 1983, which provides for the assessment to tax of profits or gains arising from unknown or unlawful activity. The amendment relates to an investigation by any body set up to target the assets of criminals and provides that where, following an investigation by such a body, an assessment is raised under section 19 of the 1983 Act by an inspector who is a member of that body, the assessment may be issued, and the tax due demanded, in the name of the body rather than in the name of the individual officer.

Section 12 also relates to anonymity of Revenue officials involved in any body established to target criminal assets. In particular, the section provides that, when exercising his or her powers and duties on behalf of the body, a Revenue official will not be required to identify himself or herself but will be accompanied by a member of the Garda Síochána who will confirm that the official is an officer of the body. Furthermore, the Revenue official will perform written duties in the name of the body and not in his or her name.

Moving on to sections 13 and 14 of the Bill, it is also proposed to amend the Bankers' Books Evidence Act, 1879, in three ways. The purpose of these amendments is to allow the Garda greater and speedier access in the course of a criminal investigation to documents and records in the possession of financial institutions and other entities. Under the Bankers' Books Evidence Act, the High Court may grant, on the application of a garda of superintendent rank or higher, an order permitting the Garda to inspect and take copies of the books and records of licensed banks, the State banks and the building societies. However, as pointed out by the advisory committee on fraud established by the Government and chaired by Mr. Peter Maguire, SC, the Act can only be used in relation to a limited number of financial institutions.

It is proposed, accordingly, in section 13 to extend the application of the Bankers' Books Evidence Acts to allow the courts to make an order allowing the Garda to inspect and take copies of the financial records of credit unions, Stock Exchange member firms, investment intermediaries, moneybrokers, bureaux de change, life assurance undertakings and futures exchanges. It is also proposed to provide that the Minister for Finance may, following consultations with the Minister for Justice, add to the list of entities to which the Bankers' Books Evidence Act applies. The list of entities is broadly similar to the list of designated bodies in section 32 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1994, on which duties in respect of suspected money laundering are imposed.

Section 14 amends section 7A of the Bankers' Books Evidence Act, 1879, in two ways in line with the recommendations of the Maguire report. First, it extends the definition of a "banker's book" to cover documentation associated with or related to a bank's books and records, including such documentation in electronic form. This means that it will be possible for the Garda, on foot of a court order, to inspect letters and other documentation in the possession of a bank or other entity defined in the amendment to the Bankers' Books Evidence Act, 1879, contained in section 13 of this Bill. The reason for this amendment is that the Garda currently has access to the books and records of financial institutions but not to the underlying documentation on which such records are based, such as letters and lodgement slips.

Second, this section provides that the Garda may apply to the District Court or the Circuit Court, as well as to the High Court, for an order allowing them to inspect and copy extracts from the documents of an entity to which the Bankers' Books Evidence Act applies. This amendment will speed up the process of applying for an order under section 7A of the Bankers' Books Evidence Act. The introduction of these provisions is an urgent, measured and important part of the overall package we are introducing in response to the crime situation.

The Bill establishing the Criminal Assets Bureau, which is currently before the Dáil, will consolidate the effectiveness of the measures in this Bill. At the same time, this Bill will clear the way for the operational parameters of the bureau to be put in place now in advance of the enactment of the Criminal Assets Bureau Bill and for actual on the ground action and co-operation to take place. I am grateful to the House for its agreement to take all Stages of this Bill, which I commend to the House.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. We will do all we can to facilitate her in the speedy processing of the Bill; there will be no difficulties from this side of the House. This welcome Bill is aimed at ending an extraordinary system of effective legislative gagging which has been imposed over the years on Revenue officials, gardaí and certain other people in the public service. It has had the extraordinary effect of frustrating public interest, specifically in the investigation of crime.

The Bill is an important adjunct in the legislative package which was passed yesterday by the Dáil. Its purpose will be endorsed by most right thinking people and while I have heard some whimperings from extreme elements in civil liberties groups, in general, nobody who has the public interest in mind could possibly oppose this legislation.

Heretofore, as the Minister's speech clearly indicated, a scandalous situation existed. That was illustrated last night on RTE's "Prime Time" television programme in which a retired member of the Garda Síochána regaled us with the adventures of the late Martin Cahill, known as "The General". He said that Revenue officials who had visited that gentleman's house in Cowper Downs had their investigations brought to a halt by Mr. Cahill. He dismissed their inquiries regarding the taxability of his very considerable wealth by claiming openly that it was based on crime. As crime was outside the remit of the Revenue Commissioners they could not continue their investigations, nor could they bring their knowledge to the assistance of the Garda Síochána who were being treated with contempt by that late but not much lamented individual.

Al Capone was imprisoned after a long criminal life, not because the American authorities succeeded in producing proof of his known criminality, but because of infringements in his tax affairs. It is astonishing that we had to wait until these recent tragic crimes were committed before we regularised this aspect of our laws. In a sense, however, it is better to do it now than not to have done it at all.

It is bizarre that a criminal in Ireland could shield himself from Revenue investigation simply by pleading that his money came from crime, and after that admission remain a free man. It is astonishing that that situation should have been allowed to continue. Such a bizarre interpretation of how the interests of law abiding citizens are protected by the State beggars the imagination.

The Bill is welcome because it aims to bring to an end something that we all now, regrettably too late in the day, regard as having been bizarre. Will it achieve all that it is intended? How will the courts interpret the Bill when it becomes law? Will judges apply the will of the Legislature or will they, as they have done all too often in the past, come up with their own novel interpretations of the will of the people, as expressed by their elected representatives, to bring something which we all regard as having gone too far to an end? I realise that the Minister cannot legislate for legal interpretation. All she can do is put a Bill before us which is as tightly drafted as possible, and then hope that good sense will prevail in the courts.

The second aspect of the Bill which I welcome is that it facilitates interagency activity in a way which has been absent heretofore. It is extraordinary that different State agencies, all with their own investigative capacity, have been forced by law to confine their investigations within their own narrow areas. They have not been allowed to get involved in the war on crime on a united basis. We should be under no illusion that a war has been waged against the people, business life and families of this country. We have to commit ourselves relentlessly until the war is won.

The Bill is an important adjunct to that process as well as being an adjunct to the Criminal Assets Bureau Bill, for example, to which the Minister referred. That is important legislation. The type of joint agency approach envisaged in this and in the Criminal Assets Bureau Bill has a great deal to commend it and I and my party certainly welcome it.

At a minimum, it will mean that the scandal and the gratuitous insult to the taxpayer of the conspicuously rich crime barons abusing, for example, the social welfare system, local authority and general medical services can now be brought to an end. These benefits are incidental to the main purpose and intention of the Bill, the investigation of crime and the wealth of criminals.

I am concerned, however, with some facets of the Bill. This is not in any way meant to be a negative criticism and I know the Minister will take it in the spirit in which it is offered.

The Bill seems to focus, in addition to revenue and public services, only on financial agencies; the Minister knows my views on this. Section 13, for example, deals specifically with banks. She outlined precisely why it is worded in that way. It provides additional legislative jurisdiction governing material which may be in their possession.

The Minister mentioned that professional groups, specifically solicitors, accountants and auctioneers, will be included under the remit of other legislation. However, I still wonder why there is no specific reference in this Bill to information in the possession of accountants, auctioneers and solicitors or even bookmakers — the Minister did not mention that group in her speech. All these groups can, wittingly or unwittingly, innocently or with culpability play a role in money laundering activities. Why have we not made a specific reference to them? Section 13 states that it can be extended them by ministerial order but it would be a good practice to mention these professions specifically if these are the ones the Government and the Ministers have in mind.

I am particularly concerned, for example, at the exclusion of solicitors and the effect of this. It would be good and prudent to mention them. I am not suggesting that solicitors as a group or profession would willingly allow themselves to be used as a bolthole through which criminals could escape. I accept without question that the overwhelming majority of solicitors uphold and vindicate the law to the best of their ability. However, there are a small number of firms in this profession which are not only careless of their responsibilities but act wittingly and in concert with major criminals in this city and throughout the country. I accept absolutely that the number of such rogue solicitor firms is very small and could perhaps be numbered on the fingers of one hand, but they do exist. These incidences are well known, particularly within the legal fraternity. It is astonishing that the legal fraternity, a self-governing profession, has allowed and tolerated these firms.

For example, in the current issue of Phoenix— this is not a magazine Members often cite but it gives considerable insights and prints stories that others would not — there is an example of an intriguing discussion of the activities of one particular solicitor, a gentleman called Orange. There is no doubt that this gentleman did more than just act on his client's instructions. When a solicitor acts outside the norm, he could play a highly significant role in organised crime. Yet, while solicitors are clearly envisaged as being one group to which section 13 may be extended, they are not specifically mentioned in the Bill and this is an oversight. Although I accept what the Minister said about other legislation being used to widen the scope and specifically refer to solicitors, they should be included here as well.

I am concerned with another issue regarding the same profession. This arises, and I have spoken to the Minister privately about it, from a judgment made by the last President of the High Court in the case of Doran v. McGuire and others. In essence the judgment in this case absolved the solicitor who provided information, which he must have known to be erroneous, on the basis that the solicitor was acting as an agent. Even though he knew that all the information passed to the solicitor acting for the purchaser of the site was wrong, and indeed false, the defendant, by pleading that he was acting as an agent, could duck liability to compensate a young couple who have been damaged irreparably because of his activities.

I accept that this judgment was in a civil matter. It has only emerged recently after an extraordinary and contemptible delay on the part of the High Court when the legal fraternity were allowed to play ducks and drakes without any consideration of fairness, equity or justice. This judgment could have a bearing on how the courts interpret this Bill and the other legislation being put in place and the role of solicitors in the context of that legislation.

I am not suggesting a High Court judge will go out of his or her way to frustrate the will of the people and the Oireachtas in this matter. However, I am conscious that this judgment is regarded as something of a benchmark and I wonder whether it will have an interpretative effect. The application of Mr. Justice Hamilton's judgment in the Doran case could provide the shield for unscrupulous and indeed criminal solicitors. I am anxious the Minister consider this point. I know that her officials, who are aware of the case, will be able to ease my mind in this regard.

I am also anxious to see a specific reference in the Bill to other professions which have been mentioned, specifically accountants, auctioneers and bookmakers. I note that the Minister omitted the latter from her contribution. We all know that the horse track, betting and gambling constitute an area which facilitates money laundering. We are anxious to ensure that any potential loophole in the law is closed. I am sure it will because the Minister is as anxious as I am that the legislation will be comprehensive, not just in its wording but in its impact.

The Minister referred to the responsibility of the courts and I agree with her. She specifically referred to the need for the courts to interpret the law and see themselves as proactive. Other State agencies, for example, the judges and the court system, have a duty to act in the best interests of the community in co-operation with the Executive. I agree with the Minister. All too frequently the courts do not see that as their responsibility.

I can understand why the courts guard jealously the concept of the separation of powers. Anybody who has any interest in constitutional law would observe that, but all too often the courts go too far in interpreting the law and sometimes do so in such a bizarre way that it stands the very meaning of law on its head.

There were criticisms of judges in the other House last night from which I do not dissociate myself completely. Too often the best legal brains in this country have been employed in a way that frustrates justice. It does not help to promote justice and it certainly has not helped to bring criminals to justice in the past. For example, the article in Phoenix and the judgment to which I referred relieved that solicitor of a substantial financial penalty. How this can happen? How is it that when it comes to a court case so many of the legal minds can be turned to interpretations which give succour and aid to the criminal and very little aid or comfort to those who do not commit crimes?

Judges in recent times have seen fit to point the finger at political leadership. I am not a sensitive politician and we are all used to taking criticism but the judges could turn their scrutiny on their own activities over the years and on the legal profession. It seems that all too often the legal profession is prepared to be naive, accept all that is said to it and use its best brains to interpret the law in defence of what is ultimately indefensible. We on this side of the House will do all we can to facilitate the speedy passage of this Bill. I compliment the Minister on its introduction.

I welcome the Minister. The purpose of this welcome Bill is to implement the important and necessary legal changes which were recommended by the working group set up earlier this year by the Government to examine ways of targeting the assets and proceeds of criminal activities. As we are aware, the working group had representatives from the Garda Síochána, the Revenue Commissioners, the Department of Finance and the Department of Social Welfare. Its recommendations when implemented would pave the way for better co-operation between the State agencies in the fight against organised crime. The group put forward a series of measures to allow for freer proactive exchange of information between Revenue and the Garda Síochána in the case of suspect assets and activities that is allowed to date by law. It is hoped that this Bill will remove any obstacles which would hinder the efforts in tracking and targeting the assets of criminals.

The Bill also covers the safety of Revenue officials in pursuing tax assessments of suspected persons and to allow for the use by Revenue of Garda intelligence information in making tax assessments without disclosure of the source of this information unless authorised by a senior Garda officer. The new Garda Commissioner, Mr. Pat Byrne — I take the opportunity of wishing him well — is confident that major drug dealers can be brought to justice and that to get at drug dealers' assets was a step in the right direction. There is a myth that Ireland is one of the most densely policed countries in Europe but two independent surveys conducted in 1992 and 1995 stated that Ireland is ranked 9th out of 12 countries in the ratio of police to public. That is why this legislation is of critical importance in tackling the drug barons and drug-related crime. Better co-operation between Government Departments and agencies is a must. It is critically important that there is a very high level of co-operation between them. This problem is as much the responsibility of the Departments of Finance, Education or Health as of the Department of Justice.

The working group set up by the Government considered the question of extending the list of bodies of professions to which sections 32 and 57 of the 1994 act dealing with money laundering apply. It is obvious they felt that the extension of the money laundering reporting requirements in this way would be of considerable assistance in the fight against organised crime. The reporting requirements of the money laundering provisions of sections 35 and 57 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1994, are now extended to solicitors, accountants, auctioneers and estate agents. This will ensure effective reporting and allow for the practical operations of the requirements at professional firm level.

I am delighted that this Bill is before the House. For far too long drug barons have been living in luxurious houses, driving fast and expensive cars, dripping in gold, wearing the most expensive clothes and drawing social welfare benefits. We have been looking at them, reading about them and watching them on television. The ordinary person in the street has been asking how this can be. In fact every politician in the House has asked the same question. We have heard and read of Revenue Commissioners being attacked when they investigate some of these drug barons. We have heard of intimidation of Revenue Commissioners and the Garda Síochána. We cannot stand for this in a democracy. We must stand up to people who are a threat to society and democracy.

This legislation will also benefit young people. It will deal effectively with the drug barons. I hope we will see better co-operation between the various Government Departments and agencies so that the drug barons will be put behind bars once and for all and we may help to stop the greatest threat to our society.

As the law stands, if assets are to be confiscated it must be proved that they are the proceeds of drug or other serious crime. If a person is convicted of a drug related offence and has £0.5 million, he or she could say it was won in a bet. It would be difficult to identify it with the proceeds of drugs. What might be common knowledge is not legal proof. Some criminals have cultivated reputations for being heavy gamblers, frequenting casinos and gambling clubs and some use teams of runners to place heavy bets with bookmakers. Such money buys expert advice.

This legislation will put the onus on solicitors, accountants and estate agents to report suspicions they might have that people are attempting to put illegal money into the system. The 1993 tax amnesty was a godsend for criminals. It allowed many of them to legitimise their operations — to set up companies to front their illegal trading and invest in a variety of portfolios, including property. Through a combination of terrifying threats and lucrative kickbacks, the drug lords have been known to persuade bank officials to participate in their scams. They have also become associates of respected members of the business fraternity and have gone into business for themselves. Paying the best consultants has enabled some criminals to set up a network of companies and businesses which can launder money at will. They also invest in the comparative safety of offshore banks and companies away from the police and tax officials.

There is frustration in the Garda that the judicial system has failed to keep pace with the dramatic and sophisticated development of modern crime. We hope that the legislation passed by the Dáil yesterday and being debated here today will deal effectively with this. There is wholesale intimidation of the police, judges and juries. It was brought to my attention recently that a defendant is entitled to have the names and addresses of members of a jury in certain courts and there has been wholesale intimidation of jury members. This matter should be seriously examined because those who serve on juries act in the public interest and their names should be confidential. I welcome the Taoiseach's announcement that the Government's package will mean 600 extra gardaí on the streets, hundreds more prison spaces, more judges and bail reform.

My party supports the Bill. Every possible means must be made available and used against criminals and this Bill will be another weapon in the State's armoury in tackling the threat posed to society by organised crime. The unprecedented levels of violent crime require radical measures and I welcome the measures proposed in the Bill. However, legislation on the Statute Book will be of little benefit unless it is followed up by thorough and rigorous enforcement. The public is demanding rigorous enforcement of the law and it is becoming impatient with the legislators. All parties must accept responsibility that legislation such as this was not put in place long ago.

The Bill provides that the Revenue Commissioners may give information relating to a person to a chief superintendent of the Garda Síochána or to the head of any body established to identify the assets of crime, to deprive criminals of the benefits of such assets and to pursue subsequent investigations leading to proceedings. These are welcome aims.

It is important that relevant investigation means investigating other offences in addition to drug trafficking or money laundering. It is also welcome in that it puts into effect a legal presumption in favour of the Revenue Commissioners to the effect that a certificate or signature will stand in legal proceedings unless the contrary is proved.

As politicians we cannot preside over a society in which the ill-gotten gains of criminals are flaunted in the shape of big houses, fast cars, yachts and expensive foreign holidays. Our greatest duty as a nation is to protect decent, law abiding citizens. Their rights to live in safety without fear of intimidation or threats are fundamental in any democratic society.

The proof of this legislation and other legislation before the Oireachtas yesterday and today will be in its effectiveness. We must use the legislative muscle at our disposal to come down heavily on those who have made fortunes on the backs of the most vulnerable, especially young people.

We have arrived at the stage where ordinary people can only look in amazement at the fortunes amassed by people from the proceeds of crime and the failure of the institutions of the State to act against them. I meet people in my own constituency who find it difficult to make ends meet. Some of them are in low paid work and find it difficult to meet their mortgage repayments. They have no hope of ever flying to Lanzarote, Majorca or other such places and they look on people whom they believe to be involved in lives of crime flaunting their wealth. Many believe that the State had the powers to act, but did not, against such people.

This Bill allows the various organisations in the State — the Revenue Commissioners, the Garda Síochána, the Department of Social Welfare and others — to come together. When enacted, the Criminal Assets Bureau Bill will provide for this on a statutory basis. It will be possible for them to use their combined resources to tackle these criminals and the proceeds of their criminal activity.

The Bill is welcome, but there is a difficulty with the tax amnesty. Fear has been expressed that many criminals used the tax amnesty to effectively launder their money and have acquired immunity and protection from the law. Under money laundering legislation, banks are required to report suspicions about the origins of customers' finances, but the State and the Revenue Commissioners were not in a position to investigate people unless there was proof when the burden of proof placed on them was greater than the burden of proof created under this Bill.

Many of those we are trying to target in this Bill have already ensured they have immunity from the law through the tax amnesty. There have been reports to this effect in the newspapers and criminals themselves have declared that they have availed of the amnesty. The Minister for Finance said that their affairs could be reopened, but it is the opinion of my party that the burden of proof to be placed on the Revenue Commissioners under the tax amnesty legislation is greater than that provided for under this Bill. In view of this I have put down an amendment to ensure that the provisions set out in section 1 of the Bill will also apply to the tax amnesty legislation.

If we want to gain public confidence and make it believe we are trying to tackle the drug barons and those who have made fortunes from criminal activities we must ensure all necessary measures are taken. In the other House the Minister for Finance seemed to be of the view that this was not necessary but I believe there is doubt. If it is not possible for the proceeds of crime which were laundered through the tax amnesty to be investigated, my amendment should be supported.

We have a duty as legislators to ensure these people know it is no longer acceptable for them to roam freely through society, do as they like and tell the institutions of the State that they are untouchable. It is sad that we have to introduce legislation to ensure the anonymity of Revenue and Department of Social Welfare officials who will give evidence in these cases but none of us would ask officials from any Department to put the lives of themselves or their families or their property at risk. It is unfortunate that we have reached this stage but this legislation accepts that we have and that we must put forward measures to deal with it. We have read of the various threats and malicious attacks carried out on officials working on our behalf of and that of the State and I am glad this Bill will give them anonymity when reporting or dealing with these matters. This is a frightening development but it has come to pass.

I did not speak on the Proceeds of Crime Bill but I am glad the Government is trying to clamp down heavily on criminals. I do not know how successful these measures will be but they are a step in the right direction and from that viewpoint my party is willing to support them.

I welcome the Minister to the House and am glad of the opportunity to speak on this Bill. As one commentator put it in today's newspaper, at last we are in a position to fight back effectively. One might say he was somewhat insensitive to the position of this House as two Bills which form part of the Government's anti-crime package are being discussed here today. However, he is right to say there has been a substantial change in the mindset of politicians and society in general on the problem of organised crime. It is now up to all of us to put words into action.

While it is important to consider the Government package as a whole, its principal element is the Criminal Assets Bureau Bill which passed Second Stage in the Dáil yesterday. The establishment of a special anti-drug baron and antimoney laundering unit, comprising the powers of the Garda, the Revenue Commissioners and Department of Social Welfare investigators, was part of my party's recent policy document on the drugs problem. I am pleased this proposal forms a central plank in the Government's package.

Our party document deals with the whole drugs problem, including treatment and demand reduction. I look forward to seeing the results of the Government's ministerial task force on demand reduction, chaired by the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte. Reducing the demand for drugs on the street through educational measures and the expansion of youth services or by offering treatment to those who wish to kick their habit, is as important in the fight against drugs as any measure passed here today. If demand is reduced, there will be no money in drugs and all the problems will be solved. This aspect will have to be pushed by the Government and everyone concerned with this issue.

Those who will work in the Criminal Assets Bureau will volunteer for their positions but they will be well rewarded for a difficult and dangerous job. We all know there is intimidation. These will require every protection the State can afford. I welcome the provision in this Bill that affords a maximum level of security and secrecy to members of the Revenue Commissioners or the Criminal Assets Bureau in giving court evidence. The prime purpose of this Bill will be to facilitate the work of that bureau when it is established.

We have discussed the drugs problem in this House in the last year. While I would not go as far as Minister of State, Deputy Gay Mitchell, whose comments in the Dáil were given extensive coverage in the newspapers today, it would be foolish not to recognise there is more to solving this problem than just resolving legal difficulties. There have been difficulties at operational level. The Minister for Justice declared in July 1995 that there would be co-operation between the Revenue Commissioners, the Garda and other relevant State agencies. The establishment of the Criminal Assets Bureau, although long overdue, is particularly welcome in this regard. The Bill allows the interchange of information between the various State agencies which will be essential in the task of the Criminal Assets Bureau, whose work would be impossible without it.

This Government has been subjected to much criticism from the Opposition on this issue over the last few months. It could be inferred from listening to them that they had never been in Government. One of the Opposition parties held the Justice portfolio for the full seven years prior to them losing office. However, the record of the Opposition in some of the issues is far from impeccable. In particular, I refer to the prolonged campaign against section 153 of the Finance Bill, 1995, which would have forced financial auditors to inform the authorities of any wrongdoing in their client's account. There is a similar provision in the Bill which has not led to the same level of opposition. Could it be that they know their opposition to section 153 was misplaced?

I have seen evidence of the damage to young people caused by drugs. A neighbour of mine, a young girl of 21, has been in hospital for a number of months following the effect of drugs. Nobody knows the dangers. Is it right that people make money at the expense of the health and future of our young people? I welcome this Bill as part of the Government's anti-crime package and I agree with Senator O'Toole that it is a strong package. I assure the Minister of our full support.

I welcome the Minister and I am pleased to contribute to this debate. The measures which make up the Government's crime package mark a significant departure in our criminal justice system. This Bill is only part of the package but an important one. There are a number of important initiatives which comprise the Government package. I welcome the commitment to conduct a review of Garda operations. It is important people have confidence in the Garda system. Low morale in the force must be tackled quickly. At the Garda conference in Galway a number of years ago, the débâcle between the GRA and the federation did not augur well for how society viewed the Garda and how they conduct their business. We are aware of the difficulties which have faced the Garda recently. I hope they do all in their power to bring the two organisations together. Everybody is at fault in relation to the problems in society. With the appointment of a new Garda Commissioner, we have a chance to review existing Garda operations as suggested recently by former Commissioner Culligan.

This Bill has a number of functions. I welcome in particular the section relating to sharing information between the respective State agencies involved in combating drugs. This measure should have been in place already. It is a principle which needed to be extended. It should be included in legislation being prepared by the Minister for the Environment to allow local authorities access to information to prevent anti-social elements, including drug barons, from being housed.

Similarly, the measure contained in this Bill to ensure secrecy for tax inspectors of revenue officials involved in the prosecution of offenders is overdue. The murders of Veronica Guerin and Garda Jerry McCabe made it clear the lengths to which these barons are prepared to go to protect their vile trade. It has been clear for some time that special measures are needed to tackle these barons. The establishment of the Criminal Assets Bureau is critical in that regard. It was called for by my party colleague, Deputy Shortall, recently in the Labour Party policy document on the subject. The establishment of this bureau is, in effect, a declaration of war against the baron — one which we must fight and win.

As Senator Calnan pointed out, section 2 imposes an obligation on the authorities and people working in the financial sphere to report suspected money laundering. My colleague was right to make the comparison between this measure and section 153 of last year's Finance Act. There is a significant difference in terms of the harm done to society between tax evasion and money laundering. However, we are trying to ensure compliance with the rule of law. Tolerance of any level of tax evasion sends out the wrong message, that is, that the law applies to some, but not to others. I commend the Bill.

I thank Senators who contributed to the debate. As a chartered accountant and auditor with some experience of investigations and as a former Minister of State at the Department of Social Welfare, I believe the question of inter-agency co-operaton has remained outstanding for some time. The different services have had their own traditions and there were also perhaps legal barriers preventing the full co-operation, which we would like to see. Doubts can now be completely set aside because this legislation and the Criminal Assets Bureau Bill, 1996, will provide a positive framework for full co-operaton between the Garda, the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social Welfare.

As somebody who represents a constituency, parts of which face a considerable drug problem and in which a number of criminal families operate and as somebody who comes from the centre of Dublin, I do not believe we should live in a climate of fear caused by excessive media hype where we do not feel we have the resources to beat the criminals. The message being sent out as a result of this week's debates is that we have the will to beat the criminals and that we will provide the necessary legislative and other resources. Let us not exaggerate the intelligence, charisma and resources of criminals, although they are extensive.

We must remember that in 1983 we faced the first heroin epidemic in Dublin. That was dealt with by appropriate improvements in legal measures and in Garda management and operations. The major families at that time were successfully put behind bars. With politicians and parties acting collectively this week, we also have the power to do so again. We have probably been slow to react to the changes in criminal practice and to the massive increase in the spread of drugs. During the epidemic in the early 1980s, heroin was very expensive. In parts of my constituency a bag of heroin to smoke costs three times the price of a packet of cigarettes. That is what has changed the scene more than anything else. One can buy an ecstasy tablet for a rave or a disco for a small amount of money. If one needs to come down after taking the tablet, one can buy heroin to smoke, relatively cheaply.

Criminals and the international drug trafficking trade have created a much wider market where, unfortunately, all children, regardless of their background, will be targeted. That is why I agreed so profoundly with what Senator Calnan had to say. We are addressing the law and order side today but we must tackle the demand side. If children in places like Clonakilty, County Cork, and Dublin do not buy Ecstasy tablets — and it is not a drug of choice not just for poor kids but for well-off middle-class young adults to buy at the weekend — then the market will be cut at its source. We need to operate on both fronts.

On a number of points raised specifically by Senator Roche and his worries about the professional bodies, I agree that the professional bodies — which are self-regulating and have argued that self-regulation ought to continue as they are the best regulators of their own affairs — have an absolute duty not to hide clients behind a notion of professional self-regulation. Solicitors, accountants and estate agents have that duty to the rest of the community. The reason they have not been included in the Bill today is that the Minister has undertaken to consult with those bodies after which they will be included in the appropriate money laundering legislation. These bodies cannot stand back now as shrinking violets and say they have reservations which would not enable them to take part in this drive against organised crime and racketeering. They will enter into negotiations with the Minister and the Department of Finance, but let it be clear that those professional bodies have an enormous duty to society to help this campaign against organised crime. I hope they face that responsibility and that we do not hear any special pleading such as we heard at the time of the debate on section 153 of the Finance Act, 1995.

Everybody, including well healed accountants and lawyers, must put their shoulder to the wheel. I can tell the Senator that the powers exist. Discussions will take place because we must take account of privilege, not in relation to client accounts but on legal advice — the privileged relationship particularly between a lawyer and client. They have a duty to co-operate. If those professional bodies fail to co-operate enthusiastically, I would be very surprised.

Senator Honan raised the tax amnesty and Deputy Michael McDowell raised this point in the Dáil. The Department of Finance and Revenue officials did not agree with the Deputy's interpretation. He is an esteemed lawyer and I know he has advised his party on this position, but the officials have no doubts about their ability to reopen cases under existing legislation. They have been permitted to do so in cases which relate to the tax amnesty.

Let us nail this canard that somehow or other the tax amnesty is usable to hide the benefits of crime. It is not and the Revenue and the Department of Finance are confident of their ability to use their powers which have already been used in a number of cases, one of which may have involved criminal activity, and several other cases related to more general tax matters.

If a difficulty should emerge, the legislation can be reviewed because all sides are in agreement — this was specifically written into the terms of the tax amnesty — that criminals should not be afforded any protection under the tax amnesty. Let us be quite clear about that. I give the Senator that undertaking.

This Bill is like John the Baptist in that it is a precursor of the Criminal Assets Bureau Bill, 1996, which will come before this House in the autumn. The mechanism of co-operation can be set up as soon as this Bill is enacted. We will then have the formal statutory basis for the bureau in the autumn, in other words, we will have an excellent opportunity over a number of months to see if there are problems to which specific attention must be given. Having worked as an auditor and chartered accountant, in the Department of Social Welfare and now as Minister of State at the Department of Justice, I am aware of this lack of co-operation. I give Senators an absolute undertaking that if there are obstacles to the fullest co-operation between the different agencies and the effective operation of this bureau, we will take that on board in the Criminal Assets Bureau Bill when it comes before this House in the autumn.

As regards the points made about bookmakers, we have been advised by the gardaí that they are satisfied with their powers in this respect. It is possible for the Minister to extend provisions to them but under the Betting Act, extensive powers are available to the Revenue Commissioners and, specifically, to Customs and Excise. The working group was satisfied that the powers were satisfactory. I give an undertaking that if we need to extend the powers of the gardaí or others in this respect, we will do so.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.