Criminal Assets Bureau Annual Report 2007: Statements.

I am grateful to the Seanad for this opportunity to talk about the Criminal Assets Bureau and its work. The bureau has been very successful over the years in tackling criminals in an effective, visible and tangible way and has become a very open way for the public to see the law enforcement agencies of the State having a real effect on criminal activities. The 2007 annual report demonstrates the effectiveness of the co-ordinated multi-agency approach in dealing with the proceeds of crime.

While we are here today to talk about the CAB and its activities, it would be remiss of me not to take the opportunity once to again extend my condolences to the family and friends of Shane Geoghegan who died so tragically in Limerick this weekend. I know that all Members of the House will join with me in their condemnation of this callous killing.

I also know that all Members of the House will fully support the efforts of the Garda Síochána to bring the perpetrators to justice. For its part, the Government will continue to provide the Garda Síochána with all the resources it requires to tackle gangland activity. A relevant example of this is an increase of €1.5 million in the Criminal Assets Bureau budget for 2009. With the indulgence of the House, when replying to the debate, I will deal in more detail with this dreadful killing and with any issues Senators raise in this regard.

It would also be remiss of me not to congratulate the drugs joint task force on the major seizure of cocaine off the south-west coast last week. This operation, involving the Garda Síochána, Customs and Excise and the Naval Service working closely with our international partners in the Serious Organised Crime Agency, SOCA, in the UK and the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre (Narcotics) in Lisbon, is an example of what can be achieved when we collaborate and work together for the common good. I hope Senators join me in applauding all involved.

This effort by the joint task force is especially relevant today as the Criminal Assets Bureau is, in effect, another joint task force. Bureau officers come from a range of State agencies, not just the Garda Síochána. Officers of the bureau who come from, for example, the Department of Social and Family Affairs or the Revenue Commissioners also retain their powers as officers of their parent organisations. This has resulted in an effective organisation which can draw on a wide range of powers in a co-ordinated manner. The bureau can also draw on a wide range of intelligence sources and can leverage effectiveness from these sources. That is and has been bad news for criminals.

I am sure we all remember only too well the dark days preceding the formation of the bureau when it appeared the State was impotent in tackling the menace of the drugs gangs and their murderous associates. The State needed to assert its authority and the new type of organised criminal needed a new response. Respond we did. The co-ordinated multi-agency bureau set up to focus on the proceeds of crime was one of the first of its type in Europe and the powers given to it were far-reaching. The bureau represented a new form of policing designed to disrupt and disable the capacity of targeted individuals from participating in further criminal activity. Criminal investigation could continue while a financial investigation, a tax examination and a social welfare examination proceeded.

While never giving up on the criminal investigation, the proceeds of crime became an equally legitimate target for law enforcement. The law-abiding public was rightfully disgusted at seeing drug dealers and other criminals exhibiting their new properties, cars and cash in the faces of communities that were suffering from the ill-effects of drug dealing and other nefarious activities. Therefore, I believe these Houses took the correct measures in 1996 when they established the CAB. That decision has been vindicated every year since.

We are here today to examine what the bureau achieved in 2007. The 12th annual report of the bureau was published last week. It clearly highlights the success over the calendar year 2007. During this period, the bureau obtained interim orders to the value of almost €10 million and interlocutory orders — final restraint orders — to the value of more than €6.5 million. These are impressive figures.

However, it is important to note that targeting the assets of lower ranking criminals will not be as lucrative for the State in terms of moneys seized. That said, it is no less worthy an action to take. The more middle ranking criminals, who are often well known as drug dealers in local areas, are a constant source of anger and irritation for parents and community workers doing their best to protect their youth and keep their local community safe. We did not set up the bureau to make money but to deprive individuals from benefiting from the proceeds of crime. In terms of community confidence and support, it is very important to show that all criminals may be subjected to the CAB process and that all assets in excess of €13,000, approximately, are liable to be frozen.

I should also address another community issue that consistently draws attention, namely, that moneys seized and forfeited to CAB should be re-invested into the local communities from which it originated. To agree that revenues secured through CAB be allocated for drugs victims, for example, would mean that the treatment of drugs victims would be financed, in part at least, by uncertain and variable revenue sources. It would also mean that a fall in revenue from one particular source would lead to a fall in expenditure in that local community, irrespective of the problems it faced. With that in mind, I do not propose to alter the current arrangements. The Government will continue to draw on the central fund for all necessary public services and investment.

An important function of the bureau is to implement taxation laws. It has found the Disclosure of Information for Taxation and Other Purposes Act 1996 to be particularly useful and the provisions were used extensively in 2007 to allow for a transfer of information between the Revenue Commissioners and the bureau. Many tax investigations were concluded by agreements providing for the payment of tax, interest and penalties. During 2007, the bureau issued tax demands for more than €19 million and collected in excess of €10 million in taxes and interest.

In terms of social welfare, the bureau saved the State more than €550,000 and recovered in excess of €136,000. While this may seem like a smaller element of the CAB process, it is another piece in the jigsaw that helps the bureau to form a clearer picture of those with whom it is dealing. Many Irish criminals feel they have an absolute entitlement to welfare payments irrespective of their earnings. Stopping these payments and entitlements is an irritation for many criminals and represents another disruption to their activities.

As each year passes, it appears that more and more crimes have an international element to them. International co-operation is no longer an aspiration but an essential element of most CAB investigations. Co-operation remains high with most of its European and international partners, even though the non-conviction based approach to asset forfeiture presents difficulties for many European countries. The further development of links with asset recovery agencies in other jurisdictions continues to be a key feature in ensuring criminals cannot use international boundaries as a means of evading investigation and asset seizure.

Co-operation with the United Kingdom remains a high priority. Difficulties presented by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, HMRC, legislation early in 2007 were quickly addressed and amended by the British Government. The CAB was instrumental in the establishment of the European Camden Asset Recovery Inter-agency Network, CARIN, which is going from strength to strength. The CAB participates in the United Nations inter-governmental working group on asset recovery and is a member of an important European Commission expert group on this issue. In 2008, the bureau has continued to successfully pursue its remit of seizing the assets of those who seek to benefit from criminal activity. I will now briefly outline some of the new developments in this regard.

Ten additional staff have been recruited in 2008, comprising five gardaí, two financial analysts, two tax officials and an additional administrative assistant. This has allowed the bureau to establish an additional team in 2008 which will provide the bureau with more flexibility regarding the assets it targets. I am informed by the chief bureau officer that all his teams are now targeting high and middle ranking criminals. The depth of experience at the bureau is continually increasing and its approach has intensified in 2008. This should address understandable community concerns that the bureau should focus on all criminals who are parading their ill-gotten assets in the face of local communities and not just the Mr. Bigs. The bureau appointed two additional financial crime analysts in 2008. As it now has to delve deeper into the financial affairs of many of their clients, the additional analysts provide great assistance in carrying out forensic analyses of efforts to hide assets and launder the proceeds of crime.

A further important development in 2008 was the rapid expansion in the number of trained asset profilers working all over the country. At the end of 2007, 28 fully trained assets profilers were employed but the figure has more than trebled in 2008. This should alleviate concerns that the bureau is only focused on criminals in the main urban centres. The profilers have become an invaluable resource in doing the bureau's early groundwork on possible targets and in keeping it informed of developments at local level. While the profilers are based outside the bureau, their work is embedded in it. This is a very positive development.

I do not wish to give Senators the impression that the Criminal Assets Bureau is the only tool available to disrupt and dismantle criminal groups. Criminal investigations followed by conviction must always be our main priority. The bureau is only one element of the criminal justice system, albeit an extremely effective one.

I am happy to report to this House on progress made by CAB in 2007. When the bureau was first established in October 1996, I do not believe anyone could have foretold the levels of its success. From its statutory inception to 31 December 2007, the bureau has obtained interim and final restraint orders to the value of over €71 million and €35.5 million, respectively. In the same period, taxes and interest demanded was almost €122 million and over €118 million was collected. Savings on social welfare payments amount to over €3.5 million and recovery of overpayments amounted to over €2.5 million. On behalf of the Government, I commend detective chief superintendent John O'Mahoney and his team on their achievements during 2007 and I look forward to further successes in the future. I have no doubt that the bureau will continue to be a thorn in the side of criminals.

I thank the Minister for presenting this report to the Seanad in person. At the beginning of his contribution, he stated: "I am sure we all remember only too well the dark days preceding the formation of the bureau, when it appeared the State was impotent in tackling the menace of the drugs gangs and their murderous associates." I wonder what has changed? The situation has greatly deteriorated since the dark days leading to the murder of Veronica Guerin and it is misleading to suggest matters have improved.

When the Minister refers to the State's response, we should be clear that the decision to establish CAB was made by a Fine Gael-led coalition Government. In light of the bureau's welcome impact in terms of tackling organised crime, the then Fine Gael Minister for Justice made the correct decision. It is unique in Europe in its use of the civil standard of proof in confiscating assets. Its approach has passed constitutional muster despite a number of challenges, as outlined in its 2007 report. The primary objective of the bureau from its establishment has been to deprive criminals of the proceeds of crime and to target professional criminals and drug barons. The decision to target middle ranking criminals is also important, however, in terms of dealing with the full array of actors involved in the drug trade.

The Minister correctly described the bureau as an excellent example of a multi-agency approach. The previous approach in this area, whereby the Garda Síochána, the Revenue Commissioners and Departments addressed issues as they fell within their respective functional responsibilities, simply was not working. The multi-agency approach which the 2007 report clearly outlines is an essential ingredient in the bureau's success.

The report sets out in clear and precise terms the personnel involved in the bureau and their expertise in the area of financial crime analysis and asset profiling. It reveals the level of professionalism involved in this task. The increase in resources is welcome because it will allow the bureau to maintain its record of success. The report outlines the various instruments which the bureau can use and the actions it can take in the courts, such as appointing receivers and making disposal orders. It also sets out the actions initiated under the taxes Acts. Assessments of tax were raised on 21 people in 2007 as a result of investigations by Revenue officers. Similar adjustments were made in respect of social welfare. Many of the people involved in criminal activities assume they have an automatic entitlement to social welfare and other benefits afforded by the State to those in need, irrespective of their income levels or source of income. The aspects of the report dealing with legal aspects and case law reveals that CAB has been very successful in obtaining the sanction of the courts for its actions against assets obtained on foot of criminal activities.

International co-operation is essential given that crime, particularly the drug trade, knows no borders. The co-operation enjoyed by the bureau with the Assets Recovery Agency and the FBI is fundamental to its success. The report also outlines the legislative framework established at European level to assist its work. In its conclusion, the report recommends that we should expand our mutual co-operation with a number of jurisdictions to bilateral treaties on mutual co-operation in the civil recovery of criminal assets. Does the Minister intend to act on that recommendation?

The report also points out that criminals are adept at hiding the fruits of their activities. That is well established. In that regard, we note from the report that there is recovery of €10 million in assets through various orders obtained through the courts. A figure was given in an RTE report of €650 million, which has probably risen to €1 billion since. The Minister referred to the extraordinary, spectacular seizure of drugs in the south west of Ireland. Are we getting to the root of the problem? Is the bureau having the impact it should have? Let us consider the scale of the problem and the extent of the recovery of assets. How do we measure the scale of the success compared to the scale of the problem?

Drug lords and those serving time in prison for involvement in this seem to be able to continue to operate their business from prison. Unless that aspect of the trade is eliminated, the efforts and success of CAB are hampered by the lack of control over the activities of criminals outside and inside prison. The Minister may wish to comment on this.

For a long time, Fine Gael has proposed the argument that the assets recovered by CAB could be used to support those most affected by the drug trade, particularly in funding drug treatment and drug awareness programmes. These would benefit the communities most affected. The Minister said he does not intend to go down this route because it would mean that a fall in revenue in one source would lead to a fall in expenditure in the local community, irrespective of the problems it faced. I find the argument entirely fallacious. It avoids the question and the merit in the proposal. If there was adequate allocation for such programmes, this argument would be correct. Given that there is enormous need for greater allocation to communities for drug treatment programmes and groups that assist the communities affected by the drug scourge, I ask the Minister to review the position.

I welcome the Minister. I am glad we are having a debate on this important issue. Setting up the CAB is one of the success stories of the country from the point of view of dealing with organised crime. I accept Senator Regan's comment that the CAB legislation was introduced and passed by the rainbow coalition led by Fine Gael when former Deputy Nora Owen was Minister for Justice. I remind the House that the catalyst for such action was my former colleague, the Ceann Comhairle, Deputy John O'Donoghue. He introduced a Private Members' Bill at that stage and the Government acted swiftly on it. With some modifications it was passed into law. Some credit must be given to Deputy O'Donoghue for his perseverance on this issue. Nevertheless, in the 12 years of existence, CAB has proved a wonderful success.

The Minister referred to an extra €1.5 million for CAB this year. In the 12 years of its existence, we have obviously got value for money. With regard to the budget of CAB, more than €300 million has been gathered in by CAB though asset seizures, Revenue settlements and social welfare investigations. Is there a net gain to the State, apart from the socio-economic gain of communities that are being protected from warlords and criminals who deal in drugs?

Can the Minister avert to the parameters and boundaries of CAB? By and large, it deals with drug dealers but I am aware of CAB investigations into other activities. One close to my heart is the investigation of the fishing industry, about which I will say no more because it is sub judice. I wonder if that is ultra vires, although it is probably not because CAB has significant powers under the Act that established it.

I refer to the Minister's point about the magnificent work done by a multiplicity of agencies in the major drug seizure in my home port of Castletownbere over a week ago, which I raised on the Order of Business yesterday. I record congratulations to the Garda Síochána, the customs services, the Serious Organised Crime Agency in the UK and the Maritime Analysis and Operation Centre — Narcotics in Lisbon. This was the work of international co-operation, which is necessary. Senator Regan referred to the success of CAB and its limitations. CAB can do much in the country but its international success is limited by the co-operation of agencies such as Europol and the agencies to which I referred. This massive haul of drugs was well anticipated by surveillance. I am delighted to see the drugs confiscated and certain people in custody.

Some 18 months ago, the drugs haul in Dunlough Bay was more by accident than design. Had the culprits put petrol rather than diesel in the engine and picked a less difficult night at sea, they would probably have got ashore and got away. I grew up and lived in the Sheep's Head Peninsula and for the past 20 years consignments of drugs have been coming in, although not in the same bulk as we see now. I met an old farmer who lived close to an old pier, who told me about all sorts of activities, such as vans coming up and down and a boat coming in and leaving at the dawn of day. The boat was not bringing in fish, cockles or mussels.

I refer to the audacity of international criminals in moving drugs. They saw as a soft target the south-west coast of Ireland, which has some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, unless the Chinese have surpassed it. CNN and Sky International coverage of the Dunlough Bay incident — those involved are now behind bars — and the current incident will send a message to these people, whether in Colombia or elsewhere in South America, that Ireland, with the assistance of agencies such as CAB, the vigilance and modernisation of the Garda Síochána and our Customs Service, technical advances and the co-operation of European allies, is no longer a soft target. I sincerely welcome that. I would not sit back and think this is the end of it; it certainly is not. I am certain this is not the end of the road in this regard.

The Minister made an important point when he said CAB was not set up just for the sake of collecting money. It is not a prima facie revenue collecting agency. We are delighted it brings in revenue because by doing that it confiscates assets or moneys, freezes bank accounts or collects revenues from people who are low life criminals who have no interest in the society in which we live or its children.

CAB has done tremendous work since its establishment 12 years' ago in saving lives and keeping drugs off our streets. I accept what Senator Regan said about everything not being rosy in the garden. The Minister was correct when he said that up to 1996-97 there was a sense of impotency about what could be done to tackle the drugs problem. Senator Regan made the point that there are plenty of drugs available on our streets. The situation in the past would be like comparing the volume of traffic on our roads in 1950 with the volume today. Matters have evolved. Unfortunately drugs have become more available and the fight against them is ongoing.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the tragedy that has occurred in Limerick where an innocent, decent, family orientated and sports friendly man was gunned down in cold blood having been mistaken for someone else. I hope that agencies such as CAB can clamp down on those responsible for such crime, whether by stopping the payment of social welfare benefits or other means. Like the Veronica Guerin incident, the disastrous tragedy that occurred in Limerick at the weekend may act as a catalyst to enable us to take another leap forward in the fight against drugs in the next ten to 15 years. The unfortunate murder of Veronica Guerin was the catalyst for the change that occurred at that time. There is public outrage, annoyance and anger not only in Limerick but in Dublin, west Cork, Donegal and elsewhere at what happened in Limerick. I hope Shane Geoghegan's life has not been not lost in vain and that it will be a step to propel us forward to be more vigilant and to co-operate with the Garda, the drugs squad and CAB in trying to stymie the influx of drugs in our society.

I join others in welcoming the Minister to the House. I also welcome this opportunity to speak on the Criminal Assets Bureau, and on its 2007 report in particular. This is a topical issue today as we are all still recovering from the news of the heinous murder of Shane Geoghegan in Limerick at the weekend. His murder has shocked people in communities across Ireland. None of us can imagine the dreadful trauma and bereavement his family have suffered and will continue to suffer. Many have drawn a parallel between his murder and the 1996 murder of Veronica Guerin, which led to the establishment of CAB and to the passage of legislation on the proceeds of crime and drug trafficking.

The 2007 report illustrates the work CAB has done, most recently in 2007, and during the 12 years since its establishment, in targeting those engaged in crime at a different level not within the criminal trial process but in the recognition of the source of money procured through criminal activity. It is a recognition of a certain reality, namely, that our drug laws, drug trafficking legislation, our law that provides for a seven-day detention period prior to being charged and so on tend to criminalise those on the lowest rungs of the chain of drug trafficking activity. They tend to target the mules, those who are often addicts and vulnerable to being intimidated and persuaded to bring quantities of drugs into Ireland or to carry them on their person. The drug trafficking legislation can be of only limited success because those highest up the chain in drug trafficking activity tend not to be the ones in possession of controlled drugs. To that extent, CAB has been successful in targeting those higher up the chain in a different way. The model for CAB was the anti-racketeering and corruption laws in the US, the laws which targeted the Mafia in a different and more effective way than the previous use of standard criminal legislation.

At the time CAB was instituted some of us were critical of the procedures it ushered in and of the change in focus. The workings of CAB have been subjected to numerous court challenges over the years and some of those are documented in the 2007 report, yet all of us must acknowledge the effectiveness of CAB in targeting a different level of criminal activity and in targeting those who had not been previously caught through standard criminal justice legislation.

I must also acknowledge that CAB has been a useful model for other agencies, particularly the Assets Recovery Agency in Northern Ireland. The workings of CAB have been subjected to a good deal of study by law enforcers from other jurisdictions, such as the US. Therefore, CAB has been successful. I am glad its focus has moved from targeting only those at the highest ranks in terms of criminal activity to, in 2007, specifically targeting those who were described as the more middle ranking criminals. I accept, as the Minister said, that CAB is not about making money for the State and that its success or effectiveness should not be measured purely in monetary terms of the net gain to the State. Rather, it exists to protect communities and to target those who routinely escape prosecution through other laws. I accept the middle ranking criminal may be the sort of person who should be targeted in order to protect and reassure communities who live in fear and intimidation of drug gangs.

As everyone has said, the work of CAB is clearly not enough, and the murder of Shane Geoghegan has shown us that. It is not enough to have measures in place that target only finances. Paragraph 5.7 of the CAB report acknowledges that in the period since its inception, "Tracing criminal assets has become more difficult over the years, with criminal proceeds being held by nominees including friends, acquaintances, family members etc., or alternatively laundered through businesses with the appearance of legitimacy." Clearly, the means of escaping the powers of CAB have become more sophisticated as CAB has developed its strategies and techniques.

How then are we to deal with gang crime, if CAB can be of only limited effectiveness, although it clearly has managed to target those not previously caught? As we have seen with the murder of Shane Geoghegan and the murder of other innocent bystanders in previous years through gangland crime, there is a serious difficulty for gardaí in prosecuting these offences. The difficulty stems from the problem with gathering evidence. The Garda Commissioner acknowledged yesterday that it is not a problem of insufficient legislation, but of getting witnesses to come forward.

Much of the political response has focused on the need for more legislation, tougher sentences, new powers for gardaí and so on. We need to be clear that we have in recent years passed extensive criminal justice legislation aimed at making prosecution easier and sentences tougher. The Criminal Justice Acts of 2006 and 2007 in particular introduced mandatory minimum sentences for firearms offences. We previously had tougher sentences imposed for drugs offences. The 2006 Act includes Part 7 on organised crime, including the offence of commission of an offence in association with a criminal organisation, the sort of gangland offences about which people have been speaking. The Criminal Justice Act 2007 brought in encroachments on the right to silence, enabling juries to draw inferences where an accused person remained silent under questioning and later sought to rely on a material fact he or she had not mentioned. We have seen a number of the reforms for which people are now calling already introduced in legislation. We have seen legislation passed allowing the statements of witnesses to be used as evidence even where the witnesses are no longer prepared to stand over them in court. This provision was relied on in a recent case.

We have also seen the special Criminal Court used over the years to try those accused of organised crime under the power of the Director of Public Prosecutions to refer "or other" crimes there. There are legislative tools and tough sentences available. As the Garda Commissioner has said, the difficulty for the Garda has been in gathering the evidence and bringing a case before the court in the first place. Clearly there are no easy answers to resolving this problem.

No legislative remedies and no amount of information gathering can restore Shane Geoghegan to his family or undo in any way the terrible bereavement they have suffered. We need to consider how to prevent other murders from occurring in the future. Key will be law enforcement and, in particular, reassuring potential witnesses that they will not be subjected to threats, intimidation or worse by those against whom they give evidence. We need to review the witness protection scheme. One year ago a Private Members' Bill was introduced in this House aiming to put the scheme on a statutory footing. The then Minister said the Garda had not called for this to be done and that it would be too inflexible. Will that now be subject to review and would a more formal witness protection scheme be useful in the quest to gather evidence in a more efficient manner?

Others spoke about the need to change the law on the use of surveillance evidence in trials. Clearly the Garda already uses surveillance in its investigation of crime. Mobile phone data are used quite routinely in criminal trials. We already have power to retain data from mobile phones for a very long period — I believe up to three years, which is longer than the EU requirement. While we already have some of what is needed, does the Minister propose to do anything further to allow this evidence be used in court?

Law enforcement can be more effective, but only if enormous resources are put into it. In the past the emergency response unit has patrolled the streets of Limerick 24 hours a day, seven days a week. However, unless it continues to do so, which is clearly very resource intensive, it will be very difficult to prevent similar tragedies happening in the future.

In the long term the link between disadvantage and crime must be addressed. I am glad to see the regeneration programme in Limerick will proceed. While it is too little, too late, it is an important first step. In the long term that might represent the best hope of a way out of this sort of tragedy. Fr. Peter McVerry has made this link. It is often not seen as fashionable to talk about it. However, there is a clear link between the most deprived communities and those most intimidated by gangland crime. We also need to review our long-term approach to drugs policy. The CAB has shown that the focus should be on the finances. Let us consider ways to remove the enormous profit opportunities from this trade. Let us consider imaginative and creative ways to address this through our drugs policy. We should consider, for example, distinguishing between soft and hard drugs, as has been done in Britain. Let us consider having drugs courts allowing addicts to be rehabilitated rather than facing prison sentences. All of these methods may represent a long-term prospect of an end to such gangland crime. We have much to learn from the lessons of the CAB in focusing on finances.

It is apposite that we are having this debate in an atmosphere where there is obvious public discomfort at the existence of violent crime and the effects of such violent crime on communities. The existence of the Criminal Assets Bureau has been a very effective weapon since its inception to undermine the culture that pervades among those who seek to make their way in our society by using criminal means. I note the early part of the debate as to whose idea it was and under whose watch it happened. It is not particularly relevant. The fact is that the Criminal Assets Bureau was a good idea. It has been an effective organisation and there is a commitment on the part of everyone in both Houses of the Oireachtas to ensure it continues to do an effective job.

There is a concern that even at its most effective — the same applies to drug seizures — when we are trying to regain on behalf of society the proceeds of criminal activity, we might be suffering from an iceberg effect. As with drugs, whenever there is a large-scale seizure, it may mean that even more is coming through. If the amount obtained by the Criminal Assets Bureau is increasing in any given year, does it mean there is a possible statistical increase not being measured in criminal activity itself? In his opening contribution, the Minister outlined that the CAB has come through an initial phase with a concentration on particular high-value criminals, as it were, and it is now targeting people deemed to be middle level. There will be diminishing returns from those people with lower asset bases, albeit asset bases acquired by criminal means. That said, the acquisition of any type of assets through this type of activity is obviously scorned by most in society and we need an effective CAB to continue its work.

The figures mentioned in the annual report are very impressive both on an annual and cumulative basis since 1996, not only in terms of the assets seized but also in the tax gained and the social welfare payments saved. When these figures are added together approximately €250 million has either been saved or come into the State's coffers.

Another issue touched upon briefly in the debate and mentioned in the Minister's opening statement is how these resources, tainted as they are, can be best used for the benefit of society. The Minister has stated he has no intention of changing a particular mechanism that has been used and which has been somewhat effective in using these assets for the betterment of society. The Minister mentioned how they could be used for more direct community purposes, especially in the communities that have suffered the worst ravages of crime. While the Minister has said he does not intend changing the existing mechanisms, it might be worth considering in the future. I agree with the Minister that they cannot be used for current expenditure in community development. Community development should not be dependent on funding of this nature. However, there is an argument that we could engage in physical community regeneration with the scale of these resources. This might mean cross-departmental funding or matching funding. Imagination should be used that would allow the proceeds gathered by the Criminal Assets Bureau to be put to the best possible effect.

On my behalf and that of my party I express my concern and sympathy over the events that have occurred this week and so tragically reflected in today's funeral of the murder victim, Shane Geoghegan. We have been here before and particularly in this part of the country. As the Minister is in the Chamber there is an onus on all of us in public life to use this opportunity to propose other ways in which public confidence can be restored because it obviously has been badly damaged by the murder of Shane Geoghegan. "Liveline" is not a programme from which I would often refer anyone in public life to take too many policy decisions. However, there was one contribution to that programme today from a solicitor who recently represented a murder victim. It seemed to represent a new type of thinking and possible short and medium-term solutions as to how we deal with violent death in our society and those bringing these acts upon communities and individuals. A transcript of that programme might show the type of new thinking needed to bring about a greater level of public confidence. I am sure the Minister, in how he has treated his brief to date, will take due cognisance of that and add to the successful work of the Criminal Assets Bureau in achieving the ends desired by all of us in the House.

I wish to share six of my ten minutes with Senator David Norris.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Minister to the House and the annual report of the CAB, which was published earlier this week. It shows another successful year for the CAB in 2007 and it is vital this success continues. Many Senators referred to the recent deplorable and tragic events in Limerick. Senator Bacik mentioned that perhaps it was time to look again at the potential of putting on a statutory footing a witness protection scheme. I know the Minister is new in his job and the last time the subject was brought up it was with a previous Minister. I ask the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to consider the benefits of putting on a statutory basis a witness protection scheme in light of current events.

I note the policy shift within the report disclosed by the CAB as it is now concentrating on middle-ranking criminals and seizing assets of lower value. Senator Boyle said that now all the Mr. and Mrs. Bigs have been caught, it is time to focus on the middle ranking people. The CAB's chief bureau officer, Chief Superintendent John O'Mahoney, said it is developing a higher visibility at a more local level, which we all agree with and encourage.

I commend the bureau's efficiency in making earlier applications to the courts for the seizure of assets so that criminals are prevented from disposing of the assets before a court case is heard. It appears from the Minister's speech and the report that the policy is working well. Last year €6.5 million of assets were seized and last week there was a seizure in Limerick. In addition, over €10 million of taxes, interest payments and penalties were collected last year and there was some success on the efforts against social security fraud. There is a potential take from the past year of almost €17 million, and all this was achieved with a staff of just 59 and at a cost of approximately €5 million, which is marginally down on last year.

Although I agree with Senator Boyle's point on the law of diminishing returns, it seems there is still an amount of money out there. We have not reached the point of diminishing returns yet. The efficiencies shown by the CAB are exactly those which we should target in other areas of public finances. As an example, we could do something similar with the road safety penalty points system as we saw a report in the Irish Independent this week that after six years, almost half the offences scheduled to be subject to penalty points are still being referred directly to the courts. Perhaps on-the-spot fines would produce more favourable results and would be a more effective usage of time, and perhaps those behind it could learn from organisations like the CAB.

The CAB annual report refers to the imaginative use of the Proceeds of Crime Act, which led to €3 million being returned to victims of insurance fraud in the United States following a joint investigation between authorities there and the CAB here. This raises a point advocated by the Labour Party for some time. If the victims of fraud in the US can benefit from the actions of the CAB here, surely our own communities, which are being blighted by crime and criminality, should gain from the proceeds realised by the CAB.

In reference to the annual report, the Minister stated local communities would be pleased to see the ill-gotten gains taken away from criminals, and I agree totally with that. They would be even more pleased if some of those gains were returned directly to the communities. For example, there is an ongoing problem relating to the maintenance and monitoring costs of community CCTV schemes. In playgrounds in such places as Dunboyne and Ashbourne there is much anti-social behaviour and even drug dealing at times. Putting some money from the CAB into community schemes such as CCTV would benefit the local community, and I ask the Minister to consider it closely.

My party is very supportive of the CAB and all it has achieved — we had a leading role in its creation — but it is important justice is served. In this respect it is worrying to see that last year the chief appeals officer was obliged to refer seven matters to the courts because the appeals procedures are somewhat inadequate. I am sure the area could be addressed by the Minister.

The Minister might consider providing more support in certain areas to the CAB, with international investigations being an example. It is a crucial part of the work of the CAB but in 2004 the Supreme Court found that the Proceeds of Crime Act does not apply to offences committed abroad. The bureau is still experiencing problems before the courts in this regard. Will the Minister consider the matter?

We welcome the publication of this report and congratulate the chief bureau officer, Chief Superintendent John O'Mahoney, and his staff on their efforts. We want them to become even more successful and, to that end, we ask the Minister to take on board some of the suggestions we have made.

I am very grateful to my colleague, Senator Hannigan, for allowing me some of his time. I listened with great interest and admiration to what he had to say as he has a very clear grasp of the subject. My colleague, Senator Ivana Bacik, also has a clear grasp of the issue and we are very privileged to have somebody with that level of expertise, background and professional understanding here.

I welcome the Minister to the House. It is good for us to have a discussion on the report. I congratulate the drugs joint task force, although it contributed only in part to the success of the operation last week. It was principally the result of very sophisticated American and British satellite supervision. Although we played a very good role in the operation, it was an international effort. We have not confronted the drugs issue and perhaps the Minister will return when we consider that issue. The driving force behind drugs is the immense profit to be made. I have often gone through Singapore, where a person can be shot at dawn for having a joint, yet people do it. There is a financial motive that must be destroyed. One way of doing this would involve consideration of legalisation. A Fianna Fáil spokesman on health, Dr. John O'Connell, said that with regard to the legalisation of drugs such as heroin many years ago in this Chamber.

The Minister indicated that after a very difficult period, the State needed to assert its authority and make a response. Although it did so, it was a belated response. The Minister's speech omitted the acknowledgement of the role played by Deputy Tony Gregory, who came up with the idea, although that has never been properly acknowledged. He pressed it on governments of various complexions and not one took it on board. I remember very clearly that the idea was to join up the Revenue Commissioners, the Department of Social and Family Affairs and the Garda. Until Veronica Guerin was shot, we were told it could not happen. She was a catalyst for the process but Deputy Tony Gregory had the initial idea. I spoke to him and pushed the concept in this House but I got the same response. Some of the comments of the Minister are more or less the same as they were then.

I am somewhat disappointed the Minister has set his face against the ring-fencing of the resources taken by the CAB for insertion back into the communities. These people have been bled dry because of the drugs trade and the money morally belongs to those communities. Every time the subject is raised we get a different answer. Earlier responses indicated the resources had to go in, undifferentiated, to the Exchequer and other statements indicated it would be an uncertain and variable revenue source that would affect investment. Why are these resources not put into capital programmes? It comes down to the greed of the Department of Finance, which will not allow it. It would be a signal, a token and an indication of hope for those marginalised and deprived areas and it should happen.

With regard to the events in Limerick, I share the grief everybody feels about Shane Geoghegan, a remarkable and decent young man who was snuffed out carelessly. These people have no shame. This can be seen not only in Mr. Geoghegan's murder but also from the fact that such people are taking money from social welfare payments. They make millions from drugs but they still do not get enough. One of them got a rebate on affordable housing. Those people are beyond any kind of shame.

A number of other questions were raised brilliantly by Senator Bacik. One question related to witness protection, which obviously has to be looked at. We had a very interesting case where, although the witnesses withdrew their statements, we still got a conviction. That is the way we have to go. I have been very much in favour of using video recordings. I spoke at an international police conference in Dublin urging their use for the protection of the police as well. We must safeguard video recordings. It is not appropriate that they be made available to criminals. They should be made available to the lawyers representing them, but there should be strict penalties for the misuse of that kind of information. We already use mobile telephone data. In a recent murder case the movement of a suspect was monitored through the use of mobile telephone records, and that is a very good thing.

I thank the Cathaoirleach, and Senator Hannigan for his indulgence. If nothing else is remembered from this debate we should honour Deputy Tony Gregory whose idea this was. It was resisted. I was a Member of this House and watching the other House when it happened. Without Deputy Gregory we would not be here today praising the annual report of the Criminal Assets Bureau.

I welcome the Minister. I am pleased to have an opportunity to make some observations on the success of the Criminal Assets Bureau. It is vital there is forceful and persistent action to deprive criminals of the benefits of their criminal behaviour. Prosecution and imprisonment are part of the risk criminals take. The prospect of being able to enjoy the fruits of their criminal activity at some stage is the cost criminals are prepared to pay to involve themselves in crime. The deterrent effect of the CAB cannot be underestimated in that regard.

Another important rationale from the report that has been published is the shift in policy towards targeting middle ranking criminals and lower value assets. That is reaching out to ordinary people to ensure they keep faith in their law-abiding approach to life and paying their taxes. It also illustrates the bureau's willingness to react to local community concerns. Above all, the bureau is involving itself in targeting the middle ranking criminals who live in our midst and that sends out the strong message that crime does not pay.

In the 12th report since its inception the bureau demonstrates that it has not stood still and has continued to develop. As crime becomes more sophisticated and criminals become better at hiding their assets, the bureau continues to identify new crime trends and in that way keep pace with criminals. I welcome the establishment of the bureau's analysis unit and the focus on the adoption of best practice in the area of forensic analysis through the employment of two financial crime analysts who will assist in that goal.

As the Minister outlined, one of the reasons for the success of the CAB is its multi-agency approach. Customs officers, tax inspectors, professionals, Garda officers and social welfare officials share intelligence methodology and approaches. The fact that no conviction is needed and that the standard of proof is a civil one are vital to its effectiveness. That was commented on recently by a spokesperson for the Bulgarian equivalent of the bureau who contrasted the Irish model with the Bulgarian system, which was slow in making progress to freeze assets and get the fruits of ill-gotten gains.

The report's conclusions refer to international co-operation and shared assets. Senator Hannigan referred to the case of the deceased American fraudster, Matthew Wallace Schachter, who lived in Ireland and who had been under investigation since 2004. That man defrauded approximately $24 million from US citizens through bogus insurance policies. The High Court granted the CAB an order allowing it to return Schachter's Irish estate to his victims in the United States and Canada. That was the first time in the bureau's history in which money realised in an assets action was returned to the victims of the person targeted. That is a little different to Senator Hannigan's point about money going back to the community. In that case, the money did not go back to the community; it went to the victims of the crime. It is important to make that differentiation.

The Government is committed to investing money in educational programmes for drug awareness and the installation of closed circuit television cameras. Work is ongoing in communities to find out their needs in conjunction with politicians, the Garda and joint policing committees. The funding for those programmes must come from the Central Fund. I disagree with Fine Gael's suggestion that we should ring-fence the moneys accrued by the CAB. I do not believe in a law of diminishing return but the money realised by the CAB will differ from year to year in accordance with the fines awarded and depending on how many criminals appeal. The report alludes to those matters. It is more important to improve community co-operation than just to allocate the money that accrues to a programme that might need more money than is realised in a given year.

The need for co-operation is highlighted in the report. Reference is made also to the benefits accrued since the amendment of the legislation setting up the Criminal Assets Bureau to allow for foreign co-operation. I look forward to further bilateral treaties on mutual recovery. We must focus on China, Japan, the Middle East and eastern European countries. If we can get co-operation with them, we can make real progress. I note that this is highlighted as an area for future work and I welcome that. The report refers to the need for asset sharing to be examined. That is an area the bureau will seek to progress next year. Shared assets will be invaluable to fostering enhanced co-operation for each jurisdiction in getting its share of the net proceeds of the forfeiture. In effect, there is something in it for everybody to set up the treaties.

I was interested to note that the bureau can investigate public officials. Is there any need, therefore, to continue with the tribunals that are bleeding the coffers of the State and which themselves have been scandalous, have wasted money, and have not used their own resources to the best of their ability? The bureau has 59 members and is an excellent example of value for money. I would welcome more invocation of this section.

The CAB was introduced when the traditional methods of police work were not enough to deal with the level of sophistication that had developed in the criminal world at the time of the death of Veronica Guerin. Much reference has been made to that fact today. Perhaps it could be looked on as a model in approaching the problems in Limerick that the heinous murder of Shane Geoghegan has highlighted this week. We need a strong response to that. When the CAB was introduced, many said we could not introduce legislation that had human rights implications. However, a strong response is needed. I wish the Minister luck in endeavouring to come up with a strong response to criminal activity in Limerick. Many ideas were put forward in the debate and on the Order of Business in recent days. I accept a solution will not be easy to find but I am confident the Minister will address the matter in the best possible way.

To date, the CAB has brought in €120 million though the proceeds of crime, €150 million in taxes collected and €2 million in social welfare. That money would not have been collected had it not been for the CAB. The overall scheme of deterrents offered by the CAB is of great importance in the combating of criminal activity.

I welcome the Minister and thank him for being present for the debate on the important matter of the annual report of the Criminal Assets Bureau. Of the bodies under his aegis the CAB is probably the one with which the Minister is happiest because, overall, it is a good news story. I endorse what the Minister and all the Senators have said. I did not know about Deputy Tony Gregory's suggestion and must confess I believed the CAB was the creation of two of the Minister's predecessors, Nora Owen and Deputy John O'Donoghue. Both did very good work, as did their advisers, but I do not want to detract from the input of Deputy Tony Gregory.

As we know and as was said, criminals are very adept at hiding the proceeds of their criminal activity. The anonymity of those working in the CAB, apart from the head officers, is very important. We must allow the bureau as much flexibility as possible. I am sure this is the Minister's approach. It is no good tying the bureau's hands behind its back, so to speak.

I agree with the Minister on targeting the middle ranking criminals in addition to the larger players. Forensic analysis is very important, as is enhanced tracing, which the Minister stated is taking place.

All speakers referred to the recent appalling, brutal murder of Shane Geoghegan in Limerick. It demonstrates what is occurring and that criminals will stop at nothing to eliminate a foe. In this case, the identity of the foe was mistaken. For the sake of all our good citizens, we cannot allow criminals such as those in Limerick to operate and I hope the bureau will have increasing success in combating them.

Since we are talking about Limerick, will the Minister consider the creation of a dedicated CAB office in the city? There are two CAB officers working there but they need the resources of an actual office to carry out their duties. It might not have to be a permanent one. As we know, two gangs are responsible for the criminality in the city. The culprits are known according to political friends on all sides who represent Limerick. I hope the criminals can be put out of business and their assets confiscated as a result of the ongoing work of the multi-agency bureau, to which we are paying tribute in this debate.

Tax examinations are a vital means of combating criminals. This is how success was achieved in the United States in dealing with the Mafia. It is wonderful to learn of the proceeds of crime confiscated by the CAB and of the issuing of interim orders to the value of €10 million in the past year. This is an impressive record and I hope an increasing number of orders will be issued as time goes by. In this regard, most reasonable people would agree that the assets of drug barons and criminals should be invested in supporting the victims of their crimes. The moneys obtained should be ring-fenced and used to benefit of victims of crime and for rebuilding the affected communities. Perhaps this is the Minister's intention. As with other speakers, I welcome the regeneration programme for Limerick and wish those involved every success.

The Minister stated criminals blatantly collect their social welfare benefits in spite of receiving ill-gotten gains from drug sales, as if they were honest citizens out of work. I welcome the success of the bureau in managing to eliminate such criminals from the dole queues. The co-operation with the assets recovery agencies in the North, Britain and elsewhere is to be welcomed greatly.

I very much welcome the extra staff, the two extra crime analysts and the 28 assets profilers. The profilers are very important. I welcome also the assistance of the Garda and customs officials.

On co-operation at European level, Britain has had some success recently in rounding up some its criminals who hide out in Spain. We have heard that our home-grown criminals seem to be able to visit Spain frequently. With increased co-operation, have we any hope of bringing a few of them back and jailing them?

Are we having any success in ensuring criminals cannot direct their criminal activities from prisons by using mobile telephones? In that regard, how are we fixed in terms of increased surveillance and perhaps old-fashioned wire taps? We used to hear a lot about the latter. I understand that, with sophisticated modern technology, one can track the use of mobile telephones. I wish the Minister and the CAB every success in this regard. I look forward to hearing the Minister's comments.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to the House and commend him on his leadership of the Department and in terms of ensuring law and order. He has done a tremendous job since his appointment. The Garda Síochána has a great friend in court in the form of the Cabinet, including the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I say this because I am a nominee of the Garda Representative Association and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors. I have always respected the fact that I received a nomination through them. As a result, I have no hesitation in praising their work in this House. There are enough people to criticise them at particular times.

I sympathise with all the people of Limerick on the tragic death of Shane Geoghegan. It is very sad event. Mr. Geoghegan never had hand, act or part in criminality in Limerick and his death indicates that criminality is affecting those who are not involved. Previously most of the murders and crimes causing outrage were committed by members of criminal gangs. In the case of the recent murder, there has been an outcry by the people of Limerick, the church and public representatives. It is similar to the Veronica Guerin case in 1996, which led to the establishment of the CAB. In that year, there was great co-operation between the then Opposition spokesperson on justice and law reform and the then Minister, Nora Owen. A Private Members' Bill was adopted——

Despite all their verbal jousts.

——by the then Minister and rightly so. I presume that if the Opposition is in a position to make good, sound, original and helpful suggestions to the Minister by way of a Private Members' Bill, he will give them due consideration.

In that regard, the recent murder is a watershed as far as the country, including Limerick, is concerned.

I do not know the Minister's views on charging criminals. The Special Criminal Court has been used in cases such as that in Limerick because one cannot get people to give evidence as they are terrified that their doing so will compromise their safety and well-being. The Special Criminal Court has been used, certainly in Dublin, in cases where witnesses have been threatened and in respect of which juries could not be sworn in. The life of anyone who becomes a member of a jury in a case involving one of the crime gang families is immediately in jeopardy and he or she must be protected. Such a risk could not be taken in respect of a member of a jury or his or her family. This is why the action taken by the Minister in conjunction with the Taoiseach and his other Cabinet colleagues will receive tremendous support from people throughout the country. This is an opportunity to clamp down on what is occurring in Limerick, parts of Dublin and other areas. The root of most of the problems is the use and abuse of drugs. The use of drugs by middle income people fuels the demand, especially for cocaine. Dealing such drugs leads to fights between the gangs which operate in cities at present.

Again, I praise the work of the Garda Síochána and Customs and Excise personnel for the enormous haul of drugs last week off the coast of Cork. It is not the first time this has happened. It was a huge amount, estimated as being worth €750 million, with a street value of as much as €1 billion. It was destined for the United Kingdom but some of it may have returned to this country because of access to Britain through Northern Ireland. It is very difficult to control all the borders between the two administrative areas. We directly benefited by the capture.

When the CAB was established people were confident it would be successful but its success has been outstanding. It was put on a statutory basis in October 1996, and to the end of December 2007, interim and final restraint orders to the value of €71million and €35.5 million, respectively, were granted. In the same period, tax and interest demands were worth almost €222 million, with in excess of €180 million collected. That is a considerable success story for any organisation. The financial benefits accrued to the State by bringing this money into Government coffers supports the work by the Garda and other agencies. That is very important.

I note that the Minister has approved an additional ten staff to the bureau, namely, five gardaí, two financial analysts, two tax officials and an additional administrative assistant. The work is a matter of investigating the background to and ownership of properties. There is much information regarding ownership of bars and large outlets. All these should be researched to find out how people might have funded significant investments in public houses when it was not apparent they had funds at their disposal. The banks may have provided those funds but in some cases it is understood that criminal families are involved in so-called legitimate businesses by using ill-gotten gains.

I congratulate John O'Mahoney, the detective chief superintendent, his team and everybody involved. Every member of the Garda at every level is co-operating in this regard and the work is a credit to everybody, including the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern. He should take a bow. He is under attack many times in his job but in this respect he and his force deserve great credit for what they have achieved.

I thank the Senators for their contributions. As a matter of record, because everybody is claiming credit for the genesis of the Criminal Assets Bureau, I shall throw in my tuppence too.

The Minister is right.

I said earlier that the State responded. In fairness to the Oireachtas, it was one of the fairly significant times when all parties came together as one. Senator Norris may be correct concerning the exhortations made by Deputy Tony Gregory and it is true that the Rainbow coalition brought in the legislation with the acquiescence of all the parties, including my own, in Opposition. I was Chief Whip of my party from 1994 to 1997 and I recall that Deputy John O'Donoghue brought forward a very detailed Bill on the criminal assets issue. The then Government accepted the spirit of that legislation and brought in its own Bill to which we were very much able to consent.

The Criminal Assets Bureau has been very successful. A number of Senators, including Senators Hannigan and Bacik, pointed out that we have a new focus on middle ranking criminals. We are still going after the high rollers as well as the middle ranking ones.

An issue was raised about the return of assets to the USA. There is a facility in our legislation that permits the return of assets to individuals where it is proved that they are the rightful owners of the assets.

Senator Regan raised the issue of bilateral treaties and sharing agreements, as referenced in paragraph 7.7 of the report. The bureau's chief officer and legal officer are looking at this matter and I would be very much open to proposals in this regard.

Senator O'Donovan raised the issue, as he always does, of the fishing industry. The reality is that the CAB is designed to chase the proceeds of all crime no matter its provenance. If there is crime in the fishing industry that the CAB can deal with, it should do so.

Concerning the net financial gain, it would be incorrect to talk about net gain to the State. The CAB is not designed to gain resources but to go after those people who have ill-gotten gains. However, it is fair to say that, as a State, we have taken in far more than it has cost to run the bureau.

A number of Senators raised the issue of ring-fencing resources which suggests that these areas are already starved of resources and that they need more. The reality is that under the young person's facilities and services fund, a major fund provided for by the Exchequer under the dormant accounts scheme, there has been considerable investment in those areas, in particular those geographically disadvantaged areas where drugs have had significant effect. There have been major efforts to deal with the services and to respond to people who are victims of drug abuse. Approximately 8,500 people avail of methadone programmes and other services funded by the Exchequer. It is my view that it is better the Exchequer fund these services on a more long-term and constant basis rather than rely on funds that may or may not come through from the CAB.

Before I deviate from the subject of the CAB, Senator Coghlan raised the question whether there should be a separate CAB in Limerick. I would not want——-

I did not mean a separate CAB but a separate office there.

——anyone to be under any illusion. The CAB operates throughout the country. I know it operates in my own constituency. Operation Platinum took place in County Mayo in 2008 whereby the CAB, working with local gardaí, searched a considerable number of properties and made some very significant seizures. That operation is ongoing. Again, this is because of the profilers we have put in place. There are a number of full-time asset profilers in Limerick who are in constant contact with CAB officers in Dublin. There is a continuing operation in Limerick and that has been the case since the CAB was formed. The bureau now has 90 asset profilers throughout the country who feed information into headquarters.

The Government is criticised right, left and centre. I had to make a decision in my Department going into 2009 concerning the contracting Exchequer situation, with a significant reduction in the resources in comparison with the previous year. I decided to do two things. First, I decided that, as a principle, I would concentrate on tackling crime. I did this some months ago long before any of the current problems and it was my first and foremost priority. When we were doing our Estimates, I read in newspapers that there would be a freeze on Garda recruitment. I decided, and told my Department officials, that whatever I did, I did not want to go back to a situation where we would reduce the numbers of gardaí on the street. That is why the numbers of gardaí on the street will rise from 14,200 to 14,900. Despite the difficult financial circumstances in which I found myself, I decided we would have more gardaí on the streets. For years, we have heard that too many gardaí are working behind desks. Civilianisation of the Garda system has increased by 60% in the past two years and we now have between 2,000 and 2,500 civilians working with the Garda Síochána to relieve its workload.

I had to make a decision on whether to freeze Garda recruitment. While I have been criticised for my decision to significantly reduce funding for some of the softer areas in the Department, I speak for all political parties when I state that it is much better to continue to increase the number of gardaí on the streets than to return to a time when Garda numbers declined because recruitment ceased and retiring gardaí were not replaced. It must be accepted that our streets are much better policed than they were a number of years ago.

I decided to increase funding for the Criminal Assets Bureau by 20% or €1.5 million. The outturn for the Garda overtime budget this year was €108 million. Next year, a reduced sum of €80 million will be available for Garda overtime. I accept this will cause difficulties because overtime is always required due to the nature of policing and the need to respond to incidents as they occur. I informed the Garda Commissioner two or three months ago that he had to ring-fence €21 million of the overtime budget, €1 million more than in the previous year, for Operation Anvil, which is specifically designed to pursue organised crime in Limerick, Dublin and elsewhere.

The Government should be given some credit. While decisions regarding funding for other areas in the Department may be criticised, my foremost priority, one which I believe is shared by all Members, is to keep gardaí on the streets. For this reason, I concentrated on maintaining Garda numbers. The results of this approach are evident from the figures. As a result of the efforts of the Garda in recent years, homicide offences have decreased dramatically, falling by 56.7%, in the third quarter of this year and 44.9% year on year.

Garda numbers in Limerick have increased by 12% in the past year, taking the overall figure from 422 to 474. When Mr. John Fitzgerald, who leads the regeneration project in Limerick, commenced his work he asked for an additional 100 gardaí. Garda numbers in the city increased by 95 and by 43% since 2003. I understand the city has more gardaí per capita than any other area outside Dublin.

Since its inception in 2005, Operation Anvil, which is specifically designed to pursue gangs in Limerick and elsewhere, has resulted in 120 arrests for murder, 3,600 arrests for burglary, the seizure of 2,250 firearms, 57,406 drug searches, the seizure of 20,770 vehicles and the recovery of property worth €31.1 million. Outside Dublin, 21,500 arrests were made and 900 firearms seized under Operation Anvil during the same period. Since 2005, an astonishing number of checkpoints — 102,000 — have been performed under Operation Anvil in the Dublin region alone. Several months ago, when the Estimates were being prepared, I decided to ring-fence a large sum for Operation Anvil to ensure that a substantial part of the overtime allocation was not used for any other purpose. That remains the Government's priority.

I will address some of the issues raised in both Houses in the context of the awful tragedy that took place in Limerick. Calls have been made regarding mandatory sentences for murder. Mandatory life sentences are already imposed on conviction for murder. The trend in recent yeas has been for life sentence prisoners to serve longer sentences. The average length of a life sentence is 15 years whereas it was only 7.7 years ten or 15 years ago. Clearly, therefore, those who receive a life sentence today will spend much longer in prison than would have been the case had they been convicted some years ago. It has never been the practice of Ministers for Justice, nor will it become practice while I am in office, to permit anyone involved in organised crime who is convicted of murder to be released after a short time. Such persons will not be allowed to leave prison before 15 years have been served.

Some Members have called for the establishment of a special Garda unit for Limerick. The new regional response unit was first established in the southern region, of which Limerick is part. Many people indicated that 24-hour surveillance is required in Limerick. In recent years, 24-hour covert and overt surveillance has been carried out in the city and these practices will continue. The emergency response unit works in the city with the divisional teams operating in the area of drugs and other crime areas.

Calls have been made to appoint a special assistant commissioner for Limerick. The assistant commissioner for the southern region, which includes Limerick, is fully involved in tackling crime in the city. Designating the destinations of assistant commissioners is a matter for the Garda Commissioner. The Commissioner indicated yesterday during a meeting with the Taoiseach and me that he is satisfied with the Garda resources available in Limerick. I reiterate that Garda numbers in Limerick have probably increased more dramatically than anywhere else.

Members referred to the idea of allowing the opinion of a Garda chief superintendent to be sufficient to charge a gang member. In cases involving the Offences Against the State Act, the courts have already held that the opinion of a chief superintendent is not conclusive and it is a matter for the court to decide how much weight such an opinion should be given. It is often said that we made such provision in cases involving the Provisional IRA and other terrorists. Once Provisional IRA members recognised the courts and gave evidence that they were not members of a proscribed organisation, the court ignored the evidence of a chief superintendent.

Case law and strong legal advice suggests that allowing as evidence an opinion of a chief superintendent that a person is a member of a criminal organisation or gang would amount to a statement, without evidence, that the accused is guilty, would lead to evidence as to bad character of the accused and would be so prejudicial that it could not be countered by any direction by a judge to the jury. In effect, such a provision would be unconstitutional as it would not allow a fair trial.

Allowing that the Special Criminal Court is a court without a jury, normal murder trials are by jury. In the event that legislation were introduced to permit a chief superintendent to give an opinion, any chief superintendent who did so would be required to face cross-examination, during which he would have to give the reasons he arrived at his opinion. He would then, in effect, have to state the terms of bad character against the accused before the latter is found guilty. The courts have decided and legal advice has shown that to do so would be ultra vires vis-à-vis the Constitution in that it would not be fair procedure because persons are entitled to be presumed innocent until found guilty by a court or jury and are, therefore, entitled to their good name. The proposal to permit chief superintendents to give an opinion in such cases has been examined many times by this Government and previous Governments and has been found to be in conflict with the Constitution and contrary to the concept of a fair trial. The taking of evidence by videotape is already allowed by section 57 of the Criminal Justice Act 2007 and the Garda is at an advanced stage in implementing this provision, which is very complex. It involves the taking of evidence by videotape and having it in transcript form as well.

The legislation in relation to covert surveillance should be introduced earlier. This legislation is extremely complex. It is about the Garda's ability to enter private property to install bugging devices. For years the Garda has been operating intrusive surveillance and that has been very beneficial to it. This legislation will be more or less the same as the legislation we had in 1993, interception legislation, where phone calls and postal packages may be intercepted, subject to very strict conditions. That legislation will merely give a statutory grounding to what is already being done by the Garda.

On the right to silence, a number of people said publicly that needs to be changed. We changed the law on the right to silence in July last year. That was recommended by the Hogan commission on balance in the criminal law, a report which I suggest Members of the Oireachtas should read closely. I will introduce further measures in that regard to assist victims. That legislation will be brought in, hopefully, in the spring of the new year. The new law provides, on the right to silence, that inferences may be drawn at a trial where a person remains silent, when he or she is asked a question by the investigating garda. Inferences may be drawn for failure to account for marks on the body or whatever. Inferences may be drawn by failure to account for someone being in a particular place. In addition, a further provision is added in a new section, 19A, about inferences that may be drawn from failure to mention during the interview certain facts that are later relied on at trial by the defendant. Again, the right to silence has been fairly dramatically changed.

A number of Senators, particularly in the Labour Party, have raised the issue of putting the witness protection programme on a statutory basis. I asked the Garda Commissioner yesterday whether he required that. It must be remembered that the witness protection programme has been in place since 1997 and has always been properly funded by Governments since then. The Garda Commissioner is adamant that he does not want the witness protection programme on a statutory footing as that would take away the flexibility he has in relation to it. Obviously, given the types of circumstances he has in vogue to get witnesses to go forward to assist in trials, he must have that flexibility.

It has also been suggested that we should refer cases to the Special Criminal Court. Under existing law the DPP — the Garda can make application — has a right to refer trials to the Special Criminal Court without jury. He can do that only in circumstances where be believes the ordinary courts are not capable of dealing with a particular situation. The Garda Commissioner said at our meeting yesterday that if he had the same level of success in the rest of the country as he had in Limerick, he would be very happy. If one looks at the statistics in relation to a number of significant murders and serious offences, one sees the success has been greater in Limerick than anywhere else. That would effectively negate the opportunity of the DPP to refer cases to the Special Criminal Court. The people of Limerick have been very good in the response they have given to some of these more serious offences. What the Garda Commissioner, I and others were doing in the past couple of days was encouraging people to come forward, a very small element of people who clearly know what is going on, particularly in the context of a vehicle being stolen, to be used a couple of weeks later, as in the awful murder of Mr. Shane Geoghegan. There are people in this State, particularly in Limerick, who clearly know who these people are. The Garda has a very clear suspicion, as do others, of who the culprit was in this case, but suspicion is not good enough in a democracy. There must be hard evidence and that is why we have given, and will continue to give, the Garda the power it needs.

I am open to all suggestions on legislative change, but I would not want to hoodwink anyone into believing there is a quick fix to any of these issues. I will not say that by bringing in legislation we will stop all crime for the future, but it is accepted by independent academics and observers of this situation that the type of legislation we introduced in 2006-07 is very robust — it could be regarded as draconian. It is in place and very little else can be done from a legislative viewpoint, other than bringing in internment, and I am not sure whether the Irish people, or indeed the Oireachtas, would want internment or indeed whether the courts would allow it.

That is correct.

The Criminal Justice Act 2007 introduced new offences for membership of an organised criminal gang, with an imposition of five years in prison, and for committing an offence for a criminal gang, ten years. Some people ask whether cases have been brought in relation to that. It is much more difficult — it was somewhat easier to ground a case against a terrorist organisation — to ground an offence as to what constitutes a gang. We introduced new procedures to allow for the use of witness statements, where the witness recants and fails to stand over a previous statement, due to intimidation. The State had a very successful case very recently, when 11 witnesses made written statements and recanted those when they came to court. The judge, because of the change we made, was able to ignore their swearing under oath that they did not want to give evidence. He was able to take the written statement and convict a person for ten years of a very serious offence. Therefore as a result of the change made by the Oireachtas, a serious criminal has been put away.

We also brought in, under the 2006 Act, increased penalties for possession of firearms. We strengthened the mandatory ten-year sentencing for drug trafficking. In the 2007 legislation, we tightened the bail requirements. Now the opinion of a chief superintendent that bail should be refused because a person is likely to commit a serious offence is admissible as evidence under that. There is new mandatory sentencing for repeat offenders and a restatement on the rules governing the right to silence. There are post-release monitoring orders and protection of persons orders to assist the Garda in the supervision of convicted persons and protect witnesses and victims.

We made other changes. There is an indefinite retention period for taking finger prints. The use of reasonable force is allowed in the taking of finger prints, which is draconian in any democracy. There are restrictions on giving video evidence of Garda interviews to suspects. There is the detention of suspects for up to seven days to facilitate the investigation of serious offences, such as murder involving a firearm or explosive, capital murder, possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life and kidnapping involving a firearm or explosive. In the legislation there is also a provision on admissibility in evidence of a videotape of the Garda interview without contemporaneous Garda notes.

As I said, I will bring in a criminal procedure Bill under the justice for victims initiative I announced some months ago. One of the major issues in that legislation is doing away with the rule of double jeopardy. This is a very significant departure from normal criminal law. That legislation is well prepared and the heads of the Bill will go to Government before Christmas for drafting. I hope to have the Bill published before spring 2009. We are including in the Bill something that came up before. We always keep legislation under review and we will continue to do so, but because this issue arose over the past few months, this legislation, which is primarily to deal with some of the issues in the Hogan report on balance in the criminal law, particularly in relation to giving more power to the victims, we are empowering the DPP to seek an order to allow cases to be retried, following an acquittal, including cases where there has been tampering with evidence or with the trial process. We are also introducing a provision whereby notice must be given by the defence. What has happened in recent times is that a number of defence teams have brought in new evidence at a very late stage in a criminal trial. Because of this change they will now have to give notice of such evidence. They will not be able to take the prosecution short by producing evidence at the last minute.

I spoke on this matter on the Adjournment in the other House last night, but it is a fairly restricted way of operating. There is a debate on crime tomorrow, but I felt it was necessary to come to this House and use the opportunity — albeit regarding CAB — to say to all political parties here that the Government is open to any suggestions on legislative change that is necessary, but I must counter that. It must fly from a legal point of view, because irrespective of whether we like it, we have a Constitution which states implicitly that people are entitled to a fair trial.

I thank the Cathaoirleach for giving me some leniency to speak. A number of points were raised recently regarding CAB and bringing people back from Spain and other countries. The Garda Síochána has liaison officers in all major embassies in Europe. We have full-time gardaí in London, Madrid, Paris, Amsterdam, the Hague, where they work with Europol, Lyon, working with Interpol, and in Lisbon, working with MAOC-N, the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre for Narcotics. When I was in the Department of Foreign Affairs, and in my current Department, I was to the fore in setting up this. We also have customs officers in the Hague for Europol and in Lisbon for MAOC-N, and we will have an additional person there in the coming months.

There is a provision for Members to ask questions if time is available. As we have approximately seven minutes, I will allow questions.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving us such a full and considered response, and I agree with his comments on the 2006 and 2007 legislation, which I also referred to earlier. He is correct in saying this legislation gave extensive powers to the gardaí, some of which could well be described as draconian in nature, and those powers are enough to ensure trials are likely to proceed more easily to conviction. I am also grateful to him for indicating that he will bring a criminal procedure Bill before the House, and I look forward to debating that.

We should also acknowledge the bravery of the many victims, and their families who have come forward to give evidence leading to successful prosecution in the past. The Minister is right. We must bear in mind the need for a fair trial and observe constitutionality in all criminal legislation brought forward.

I have a specific question on CAB for the Minister. I am glad to see his emphasis on a multi-agency approach, which has been important in the role of CAB in the past. The current chief bureau officer is a Detective Chief Superintendent. Is there scope in the future for the appointment of a chief bureau officer who is not a garda? I think I am right in saying the first chief bureau officer was not a garda. The Minister has said new, non-garda staff have been appointed to CAB, and is it possible to see a non-garda appointed in the spirit of the multi-agency approach?

I will take three Senators together and then we will have the reply.

I, too, am grateful to the Minister for his comprehensive response to everything that was raised. Will he confirm that he will continue with the policy of not tying the hands of CAB or the gardaí in tackling the drug overlords and gangland crime and that he will be continually responsive to the ongoing need for resources in this area?

I would like the Minister to comment on the direction of operations from within prisons, as we have read much on this. Presumably it is something that is being dealt with and that we want to root out. I accept what he says on our constitutional constraints regarding a fair trial.

I compliment the Minister on a fulsome debate on this important issue, at a most appropriate time given the unfortunate and tragic incident that occurred in Limerick. A point was raised by a colleague, and is often put to me, that it is perceived by the general public that some of the more reputed criminals find shelter in places such as Spain. I accept that CAB cannot do anything about that. Is there a lack of extradition procedures with some European countries?

I am very concerned. The south of Spain is a lovely place to live. Some eastern European countries I have visited on holidays, such as Bulgaria, have a tendency to carry on old criminal liaisons that existed before the Iron Curtain fell. The worry is that some hitmen are brought in here from eastern Europe — that is a known fact. Many of the guns that come in are brought from eastern Europe. Can we improve, within Europe, enforcement in the smuggling of drugs and guns? I am concerned that high-profile criminals who seek refuge or retirement in the sun seem to be able to get away. Can the Minister respond on these matters?

Regarding the head of CAB, since the first appointment of the solicitor Mr. Barry Galvin, a member of the Garda Síochána has been at the head, and it is the strong view of the Garda Commissioner that a garda should be at the head.

Regarding directing operations from prisons, because of the latest technology there is no doubt that criminals are endeavouring to get mobile telephones into prisons, and there has been evidence that they have been successful in that regard. Members will be aware of some incidents in prisons, in Mountjoy and other places, where there have been riots, supposedly due to over crowding. They have not happened because of over crowding, they have happened because of the tightening of the security regime in prisons. Some high-profile cases include mobile telephones taken into prison in a cake and in the nappy of a child brought into prison. Airport security-type machines are now present in all of our prisons.

There is a diminishing population of mobile telephones in our prisons. We have been trialling, in the Midlands Prison, a very successful system to block mobile telephone signals in and around the prison. The difficulty in older prisons is the thickness of the walls. Mountjoy and Portlaoise prisons also have hospitals across the road from both of them, and blanking out mobile telephone signal has interfered with the workings of the hospital, and people living nearby. Under our telecommunication laws, the State is under a strict obligation on the blocking out of signals. A very successful pilot scheme has been trialled, and operated, in the Midlands Prison and we hope to roll out that to the rest of the prisons.

Senator O'Donovan asked about extradition. We are now party to the European arrest warrant and all the European countries party to that have the ability to extradite from other member states. Our liaison officers work full-time in all of the major locations where there are large elements of an Irish population and where there is significant drug trafficking through those centres. I assure the House that the Garda and security services are extremely adept in that respect.

The CAB was one of the first such tried in Europe. The Northern authorities quickly followed our example and set up their Assets Recovery Agency, which is now a part of SOCA in the UK. Recently, I attended a conference in Enniskillen, at which there were more than 200 policemen and revenue commissioners from various agencies, with my counterpart, Paul Goggins. There is tremendous co-operation North and South in this area.