Criminal Justice Act 1994 (Section 44) Regulations 2016: Motion

I move:

That Seanad Éireann approves the following Regulations in draft:

Criminal Justice Act 1994 (Section 44) Regulations 2016,

a copy of which was laid in draft before the Seanad on the 7th day of June 2016.

I thank all of the Senators present for attending to deal with this issue.

The very disturbing organised criminal activity in recent months has highlighted the part played by the lower level members of criminal gangs. Following consultation with senior gardaí and departmental officials, the Tánaiste has put together a package of measures to enhance our efforts to fight organised crime and secured Government approval for it at the end of May. There are a number of aspects to that package, including the establishment of a special crime task force by An Garda Síochána which will focus on persons involved in gangland activities. Another part of the package is the Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill 2016 which passed all Stages in this House last week with the support of all sides and is before the Dáil on Second Stage today.

We all recognise that Garda operations require practical support, as well as legislative improvements. The Tánaiste is committed to providing the resources An Garda Síochána needs to address the difficult challenges they face. Additional funding of €55 million for An Garda Síochána has recently been approved by the Government. The motion we are debating seeks the approval of the Seanad to draft regulations under section 44 of the Criminal Justice Act 1994 which has been laid before the House. It is another important element in the package of measures aimed at criminal gangs.

It is important that I emphasise that the section 44 regulations are only one aspect of the law enforcement package. The Government's response to crime must, and does, go beyond law enforcement. The Taoiseach and other Government colleagues held various meetings with community representatives from the north inner city of Dublin in recent weeks to hear their concerns about the broader socioeconomic issues affecting the area. I attended one of the meetings. It was a very successful community-based meeting, at which most of the Deputies and Ministers just listened to the local residents rather than talking to them. The community representatives were very appreciative of the visible Garda presence in the area and sought reassurance about continuing resources for local policing. Other concerns raised related to tackling the scourge of drugs, including the illicit sale of prescription drugs, as well as early intervention programmes for children, dealing with educational disadvantage, job creation and apprenticeships in the area, improving the physical environment, social housing provision and community development, including family, youth and recreational activity. The Taoiseach intends to establish a broader task force to address socioeconomic and community development issues in the north inner city. The outcome of those meetings helped to inform the preparatory work around the proposed task force for the north inner city of Dublin. We are determined to make progress on this in the near future. I also note that the new national drugs strategy for post-2016 is being developed by the Department of Health in consultation with all relevant stakeholders.

Regulations under section 44 set the prescribed sum for the purpose of section 38 of the Criminal Justice Act 1994. Section 38 allows searching, seizure and detention of cash gained from, or for use in, criminal conduct. Cash is defined to include notes and coins in any currency, postal orders, cheques of any kind, bank drafts, bearer bonds and bearer shares. Powers under this section may be exercised by a member of An Garda Síochána or any officer of the Revenue Commissioners where he or she has reasonable grounds for suspecting that the cash directly or indirectly represents the proceeds of crime or is intended by any person for use in any criminal conduct. The power of search under subsection (1) is only available in the context of the suspected importation or exportation of cash. This aspect of section 38 is, therefore, more likely to be availed of by customs officers at ports and airports.

The power of seizure under subsection (1)(a) allows the Garda and Revenue officers to seize and detain cash, including cash found during a search under subsection (1), if it is not less than the prescribed sum and the officer has reasonable grounds for suspecting that it directly or indirectly represents the proceeds of crime or is intended by any person for use in criminal conduct. When cash is seized by a member of An Garda Síochána or an officer of the Revenue Commissioners under section 38 it may be detained for 48 hours. Detention beyond 48 hours may be authorised by a judge of the District Court if he or she is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for the suspicion which led to the initial search and seizure.

Section 39 of the Act allows for a judge of the Circuit Court to order the ultimate forfeiture of the cash if satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the cash directly or indirectly represents the proceeds of crime or is intended by any person for use in connection with any criminal conduct. The Criminal Justice Act 1994 (Section 44) Regulations 1996 currently sets the prescribed sum for the purposes of section 38 of the Act at €6,349. The draft regulations laid before the House will repeal the old regulations and reduce this limit to €1,000. Over €8 million has been seized by Revenue Commissioners under section 38 and almost €7 million has been forfeited under section 39 since 2010. The annual report of the Director of Public Prosecutions for 2014 notes that almost 40 files were opened in relation to section 39 applications from both Revenue and the Garda. In terms of forfeiture orders made in 2014, there were eight on the Garda side amounting to almost €390,000 and 24 on the Revenue side amounting to almost €500,000. Reducing the prescribed sum to €1,000 will ensure the Garda or Revenue officials will be able to seize amounts above that amount. An effective response to crime requires that such amounts can be pursued. I commend the motion to the House.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, and thank him for laying out his thoughts on the motion. I am happy to say the Fianna Fáil group will be supporting it, as we have supported all the previous measures brought before this House in recent weeks to tackle gangland crime. We have all been shocked and horrified at the events since last February, in particular, and most recently the shooting in Lusk in north County Dublin of a gentleman who, thankfully, survived that shooting but many people have been horrified that people are being shot and killed in broad daylight. An innocent man was caught up in gangland crime and it is only a matter of time before there will be a fatality unless it is tackled head on. The Government has proposed some sensible motions to deal with it and we are happy to support them.

I was also happy to hear the Minister of State say he was making efforts to address issues in other areas in the north inner city with measures such as the early intervention programmes for children, addressing educational disadvantage, job creation and improving the physical environment, as it is important there be green spaces, adequate housing and clean and safe streets for children to play on and people to walk. I am very happy to support the motion. It is proportionate in the face of the threat facing Dublin and the country, as we have seen it spill out beyond Dublin. I am happy to report that our group will be supporting the motion.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit as ucht bheith i láthair leis an rún seo a chur os ár gcomhair. I thank the Minister of State for being here. We have had a very sincere and reflective series of contributions in the Seanad over the course of discussions on these matters. One common theme among the Members and across the Seanad is that we want to empower the Garda. We want to give it the powers to tackle these criminal gangs. We want to strengthen its ability to seize assets. Sinn Féin will be supporting the motion as it seeks to do so.

One aspect I have been keen to highlight, nuance and articulate during the course of these discussions has been the critical need as this legislation progresses and I hope it will achieve what it sets out to do to ensure it is human rights compliant. We need to take account of international best practice and look 100 miles up the road to some of the successes the Police Service of Northern Ireland and other agencies in the North have been able to achieve in seizing criminal assets and reinvesting them back into the communities. As Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee outlined, we need to invest in people. We need to invest in the communities that are suffering most as a result of the criminal gangs who, unfortunately, for some considerable time have had a stranglehold over many of them. As political activists and public representatives, we know and are of these communities and have been greatly privileged over the years to represent them. They are not looking for handouts, rather they are not looking to be taken by the hand, but they need to be supported. They need to be enfranchised and empowered to enable them to also play a central role because they want their communities back. They want their communities and families to be safe. It is also a matter of how we empower them to be able to work alongside all of the agencies in doing exactly that. Part of it can be directly reinvesting the assets back into these communities, not as an additional top-up or with misgivings, but we should do it in a way that is considerate and compliant with best practice.

Sinn Féin supports the moves to allow the Garda to seize sums at the limit of €1,000. There should be no doubt that we support this element. We support the motion.

I also welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath. It is appropriate that he is dealing with this legislation, given his constituency and his proximity to north County Dublin and his intimate knowledge, going back to his days as a teacher, of how these communities have been affected by crime and criminality. Very decent people are fearful to live in their homes and frightened to go out onto the streets. It is unfortunate that as opposed to the situation improving, it has deteriorated with the particular feuding that is taking place in 2016 so far.

This is a necessary motion. It is an incremental step in the Government's programme to deal with crime and the criminals perpetrating it. In order to put them behind bars, we in the Oireachtas need to stand in solidarity and unity with the people. We need to send a unanimous, clear message from this and the Lower House that we are prepared to take on the people in question and that the Government and those on all sides of these Houses are not afraid to implement whatever legislation is necessary in order to make the streets safe again and for the citizens who live in this city to feel like they can walk the streets without being terrified that they will either be involved in, or will witness, a shooting.

What has gone on in this city since Christmas, in particular, with shootings in broad daylight, captured on closed circuit television, is not good enough. We have to stand in solidarity with the people. The Minister, the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and other representatives, including fantastic hard-working councillors in the north inner city, all attended a meeting where they listened to the community, absorbed their fear and heard of their experience through the stories they told. They also heard the solutions that the people on the ground wanted, namely, resources, armed response units to be beefed up, and proper and appropriate interventions. That is what is happening and what the motion is about.

I thank Opposition Members in the House for their very constructive support for the motion and the other legislative measures brought forward in the past three or four weeks to deal with this appalling vista and scourge on decent hard-working people who are just trying to get on with their lives. They live in a great city. We will ensure we will deal with the individuals in question, silence them and put them behind bars.

That is what the people expect us to do and we will do it.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath. It is my first opportunity to welcome him to the Chamber and I congratulate him on his appointment.

I support the motion which, as the Minister of State said, is to enable the reduction of the sum prescribed in section 38 of the 1994 Act, under which cash suspected of being proceeds of crime may be seized by gardaí or Revenue officers. The Minister of State has set out the effect of the motion, to enable the reduction of the sum from more than €6,000 to €1,000.

We had a full debate on the context for this change and the implications of it when the Tánaiste was before this House on 5 July to discuss the Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill, which I know is being debated today on Second Stage in the Dáil where Deputy Brendan Howlin is speaking for the Labour Party. The Bill we debated and passed which is now before the Dáil reduces the threshold value of properties subject to the 1996 Proceeds of Crime Act from €13,000 to €5,000. It creates a new administrative power for officers from the Criminal Assets Bureau to confiscate property they reasonably suspect to be the proceeds of crime. As the Tánaiste is aware, I spoke on both Second Stage and Committee Stage of the Bill in the Seanad some weeks ago to argue that the new powers need to be accompanied by sufficient safeguards to ensure the provisions of the Bill are sufficiently robust to withstand constitutional challenge. I put forward an amendment on that point and we debated it. It was the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy David Stanton, who took the amendments on Committee Stage; the Tánaiste was here on Second Stage. The issue will be debated again in the Dáil. I also spoke on Second Stage about the need to protect against unforeseen consequences flowing from the reduction of the threshold. Again, I brought forward an amendment on that issue, about which Deputy Brendan Howlin is speaking today in the Dáil, relating to the proceeds of prostitution.

The point I made about the Bill should be reiterated in the context of the motion. We must ensure that by reducing the threshold which all of us support, we do not widen the net too broadly with regard to the people who may be brought in under it. I know that some groups have concerns about civil liberties such as the potential for harassment and so on, with people being brought in for very small amounts. Having said that, in the context of serious concerns about rising levels of organised crime, there have been calls for the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, to be allowed to target proceeds of crime held by mid- and lower-level actors in local organised crime. That is undoubtedly the reason for this reduction. That is something we all very much support.

To take up the issue of organised crime, particularly in the north inner city, which is an area very close to the Minister of State's heart, I reiterate the need for a north inner city task force to be set up as a matter of urgency to tackle not just crime in the area but also, equally importantly, economic disadvantage to tackle the causes of crime, as well as its effect. I know from working with the Minister of State on the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality that he will share that view on the need to tackle both the causes and the effect of crime. I know that he would also share the view that a criminal justice response cannot be the only response or the only way to tackle organised crime. Those are just a few of the broader points to be made, but we support the motion. As I said, we very much support the united front we are all presenting against organised crime and the need to ensure that effective powers are given to the CAB and other law enforcement agents to tackle crime at that level, but we must ensure we take a balanced approach, knowing as we do that the proceeds of crime legislation presents a very delicate balancing of different due process concerns with the need to tackle organised crime.

I will be brief. I was watching the debate on screen and felt the need to come to the House and reiterate my opposition to lowering the thresholds with regard to a mini-CAB. It contributes to the cycle of criminality. We are talking about removing small amounts of cash - around €1,000 - whether from the drug trade or the black economy in general such as street traders and counterfeit goods. Whether we like to acknowledge it, they are keeping communities afloat in certain areas. Until we address the reasons those areas need to move to such an economy, which obviously include inequality, poverty and the need to find other markets for them to survive, I do not think it is appropriate to lower the cash amount to €1,000. There have been many stories over the years about people carrying out murders and killings because amounts as little as €1,000 were owed to those higher up the ladder. Targeting those at the very bottom and taking cash quantities of €1,000 from them leaves them extremely vulnerable, owing that debt or owing favours to those at the top of the chain, on whom these measures have absolutely no impact. This will actually attack the most vulnerable on the street. I know that this is in response to what is happening in the north inner city, but it affects other trades. It effectively becomes a working class court system. People are pitted against one another. If a person is seen to have extra cash in working class areas, does that leave him or her open to being reported? People will end up being pitted against each other. All these measures, in both the drugs Bill a few weeks ago and the proceeds of crime Bills, have gone for low-hanging fruit. I know that the Bill will pass, but I felt the need to come and say I want to play absolutely no part in contributing to the cycle of criminality that lowering the threshold to €1,000 will bring.

I thank all of the Senators who contributed to the debate. I am particularly grateful for the support for the measures taken by the Government to fight organised crime. I will respond in a few minutes to the individual issues raised by Senators. It is important to note that the proposed regulations we have debated will strengthen the capacity of the Garda and the Revenue Commissioners to seize cash by lowering the threshold for the exercise of this power under the Criminal Justice Act 1994 from over €6,000 down to €1,000. Lowering the threshold to €1,000 strikes the right balance between limiting the power of seizure to substantial amounts of cash and enabling the Garda and the Revenue Commissioners to take more effective action against organised crime. There are safeguards in place in the legislation. Detention beyond 48 hours is not possible without judicial authorisation.

On some of the points raised in the debate, I thank Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee for her support in dealing with violent gangs and organised crime. That is something we have to deal with as part of the strategy. She is right. We have to deal with early intervention, educational disadvantage and the physical well-being of the north inner city. There are many other areas across the State where we have to deal with the physical aspect. We also have to deal with the environmental issues such as economic, social and educational disadvantage. All of these have to be part of the package. Yesterday I was at a meeting with the Taoiseach at which we raised all of those issues. Some Senators dealt with crime, others with drugs; I particularly zoomed in on educational disadvantage and some of the examples of good practice in disadvantaged areas. The Senator is right that we have to have an overall package to deal with this issue.

Empowering gardaí was mentioned by Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile. We have to have gardaí to tackle these gangs, but we also have to have a Garda force that does not demand the respect of the community but that will go out and earn it. This applies to all public services across many of these areas. If a good local teacher, local garda, local HSE worker or staff member, or somebody who works in a youth club builds the respect of young people and the rest of the community, he or she can do an awful lot of good. That is something we have to develop. Often it is the calibre and quality of the people on the front line that matters.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile also raised the issue of human rights compliance. That is something about which we always have to be vigilant.

I agree with Senator Martin Conway's point on the proximity of the issue. Many of us know some of the people directly involved in these horrific murders. It is particularly sad for those of us who do. I agree that we need to send a clear message that every Member of this House will not accept this kind of behaviour and neither will the people of the north inner city, in this case, or the people of Galway, Limerick, Cork or any part of the country. That message has to go out and it is important that people get it.

When I attended the meeting in the hall in Sheriff Street, that was the message we received from the local community, namely, the need to deal with this issue, that the community needed protection and safety but that they also needed economic and investment to tackle social issues such as housing.

Senator Ivana Bacik spoke about the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, and the issue of safeguards. I agree that the safeguards have to be 100%. With regard to the CAB, there is potential for the development of an effective community redistribution system which is being considered as part of a medium-term review of the overall proceeds of crime legislation. Funds seized by the CAB will be distributed to the local community. This issue has been discussed and was also discussed by the late Tony Gregory many times. The potential system is being examined and the Senator is correct also about the issue of safeguards.

Senator Lynn Ruane made reference to smaller amounts. I disagree with her on this issue, but I believe strongly that one has to have concerns about the inner city issues and proper task forces to tackle economic disadvantage. I accept the Senator's point about the street traders and such people because 20 years ago I was involved in campaigns with the late Tony Gregory in dealing with this type of issue. However, I do not necessarily agree with having a threshold of €1,000. We must ensure we target, most of the time, the bigger crime lords and criminals who should be the focus. We have to listen to all dissenting voices in this debate because we can all learn from this process. It is very important.

It is also the case that a person who is affected by the detention of cash can at any time apply to the court to have it released if the detention is not justified. That is a part answer to that issue. As I have said, this proposal is part of a package of measures aimed at combating organised crime. The measures include proposals to strengthen the Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Act 2005, proposals for additional funding for An Garda Síochána and greater engagement with the local community in Dublin city on the broader socio-economic issues which must be addressed.

I thank all Senators for their contributions and will absolutely reintroduce a task force. The answer is that a task force will be set up and we started that process with a meeting yesterday. That is the next stage of the development and response to this issue. I will bring the matters discussed back to the Cabinet sub-committee.

Question put and agreed to.
The Seanad adjourned at 5.15 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Friday, 15 July 2016.