Crime: Statements

I welcome the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charlie Flanagan, to the House and invite him to give his opening statement.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss a matter of importance to me as Minister. I want to be clear on a most fundamental point: public safety is at the heart of my role as Minister for Justice and Equality. My mandate and that of my Department is to work for a safe, fair and inclusive Ireland. Senators will appreciate the breadth of that mandate and its promise. We want to establish and support the conditions in which citizens and residents of Ireland, in all of our communities nationwide, can live, work and thrive in safety. This involves action at all levels. There is a busy programme of work in my Department to continue to deliver on that mandate. This afternoon, Senators have specifically raised the issue of violent crime in the Coolock area and Dublin more generally. This is a most serious issue. I will address the concrete steps being taken in that locality shortly. If we are to tackle and prevent violent crime, we must look at its roots and the conditions from which it emerges in a more in-depth way.

I share the concern Senators about the destructive impact which drugs and drug-related crime can have on communities. This is beyond doubt. This is not the first time we have had an opportunity to address these issues in the House. As on previous occasions, I commit to listening carefully to what Senators have to say on the issue. When we speak of drug-related crime, I suspect that most people's mental images are of organised crime gangs and the kind of extreme violence Senators raise on occasion. This is not a problem isolated to any one location. The unspoken reality is that this violent crime is in many cases driven by the market for, and increased consumption of, illegal drugs across society. This means that recreational drug use by people who are living otherwise law-abiding lives contributes directly to the most serious forms of criminality. Wherever the purchase and use of illegal drugs occurs in Ireland, whether it is in cities, towns and villages, it contributes to an environment in which organised crime groups see a profit to be made and are given an opening to extend their reach and entrap others in their destructive cycle of debt and violence. I call on Senators to join me in urging those who engage in recreational use of illegal drugs to exercise their personal responsibility to consider the wider consequences of their actions. Those violent consequences may not be visible in their own localities, but they are very real in other areas.

Senators will be aware that Government policy on drug and alcohol misuse is set out in the National Drugs Strategy 2017-2025, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery. This represents a whole-of-Government response to the problem and adopts a balanced and health-led approach aiming to reduce demand for as well as access to illegal drugs. Senators will be aware of the Government's initiative aimed at reducing the number of people criminalised for the possession of drugs for personal use. However, I want to be clear that tackling the sale and supply of drugs is a key priority for the Government and for An Garda Síochána. We will continue to ensure that there is a relentless pursuit of drug dealers and members of organised crime gangs. The Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau leads in tackling all forms of drug trafficking and the supply of illicit drugs in Ireland. Since it was set up in March 2015, the bureau has had significant successes, including the seizure of controlled substances with an estimated street value of €167 million; the seizure of cash believed to be the proceeds of crime to the value of €10 million; and the seizure of 108 firearms and more than 3,000 rounds of ammunition. This year alone, the Garda bureau has been responsible for seizing and controlling substances to the value of €20 million, cash believed to be the proceeds of crime to the value of €2.4 million, and 17 firearms. A large number of seizures and arrests continue to be made. An Garda Síochána is actively engaged on these matters at an international level, including through Interpol and Europol. On Monday and Tuesday of this week, I engaged at EU level with my counterparts and with representatives of Interpol and Europol to ensure that we continue to have opportunities to share best international practice in this area.

There is also significant activity at local level aimed at supporting various preventative and detection initiatives. These include engagement with local and regional drug and alcohol task forces, the Garda youth diversion programme project, the Garda schools programme, the joint policing committees and the community policing fora. I am pleased that during the autumn and winter the Garda Commissioner and his senior management team are availing of an opportunity to visit and participate in joint policing committees, JPCs, at local level throughout the country.

Debt and debt intimidation are also receiving focused attention. The drug-related intimidation reporting programme developed by An Garda and the National Family Support Network has been in place since 2013 to respond to the needs of drug users and family members experiencing drug-related intimidation. Ireland's national drug strategy is unique among the national drug strategies of EU member states in recognising the need to address drug-related debt intimidation at community and local level. It has been agreed that the effectiveness of this programme will be further enhanced through training, knowledge-sharing and awareness-raising. The use of detection dogs is another area that has had a positive impact in tackling drug crimes in recent times. As Senators may know, the Garda dog unit, based in Kilmainham Garda station in the Dublin metropolitan region, DMR, south central division, has a national remit, with additional dog units established in Limerick and Cork.

The Garda Commissioner recently indicated to me that he intends for An Garda Síochána to invest in purchasing and training additional dogs for drug use detention purposes next year.

I refer specifically to Coolock, which has been raised by some Senators. I acknowledge the interest in this area by my colleague, Senator Noone, and Senator Ó Ríordáin. I have condemned the shooting in the Coolock area, which has been referred to in both Houses I will not comment on any individual criminal investigation but I, again, call on everybody to pass on any information, however innocuous they feel it might be, to An Garda Síochána. I heard directly from community groups in the area during a visit earlier this year. I met representatives of various community groups and witnessed, at first hand, the initiatives under way in Coolock, Darndale and Clongriffin. I met local school principals, gardaí and local residents. I understand and appreciate the concerns, and I acknowledge some constructive suggestions that have been put forward. I speak on a daily basis to my colleague, Minister Richard Bruton, and to the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, about issues of concern to them and to communities in that area. I reassure the community that the issue of violent crime in their area is being taken most seriously at the highest levels of both An Garda Síochána and the Government.

On Tuesday night, both the Taoiseach and myself had a meeting with the Garda Commissioner and members of his senior management team in respect of recent incidents in the Coolock area. We discussed the ongoing response by An Garda Síochána. We were reassured about the co-ordinated response being mounted by the Garda, encompassing action on community safety, intelligence, drugs and organised crime. I also previously had the opportunity to meet senior members from An Garda Síochána in Coolock. I was briefed on progress made in the various investigations that are currently under way, some of which are at an advanced stage of investigation and detection. Significant resources are being put into this effort.

Coolock is located in the DMR northern division. The Garda workforce number has increased significantly in that division in recent years, as well as in Coolock itself, with the benefit of record Government funding. Garda numbers in the DMR northern division have increased from a total of 668 gardaí and 44 staff at the end of 2015 to a total of 741 gardaí and 61 staff at the end of October 2019. This represents more than a 10% increase in Garda numbers as well as a 38% increase in Garda staff over the period, which frees up experienced gardaí who can be redeployed to operational policing duties. Taken together, this represents a real and tangible increase in operational policing hours within the DMR northern division. In Coolock station, too, the workforce number has increased. The numbers have increased from 103 gardaí and 11 staff in December 2015 to a total of 117 gardaí and 16 staff at the end of October 2019, and these numbers continue to increase.

In recent times, the Commissioner allocated 13 additional gardaí to the DMR northern division from last week's attestation, of which six gardaí have been assigned directly to Coolock. I had the opportunity of meeting some of the gardaí who have been assigned to Coolock. When I asked them on Friday what kind of time off they would have after their attestation and graduation, they informed me that they were looking forward to being on duty in Coolock on Monday morning last, and they were. I acknowledge that and I acknowledge the work that they are doing already in that area.

I am pleased that the Commissioner has informed me that competitions are being held for key appointments to both the Coolock community policing unit and the Coolock district drugs unit. It is envisaged that these competitions will be complete before the end of year, which is in a few weeks.

As is the case for all stations and divisions, the work of local gardaí in Coolock and DMR north as a whole is supported, where necessary, by Garda national units such as the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the armed support units, the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau.

The sustained increase in resources in the area demonstrates the commitment of Garda management to this area. It is important that we are reminded that, by law, the use of Garda resources, including the deployment of personnel, is for the Garda Commissioner and not for me, as Minister for justice. This is entirely appropriate as decisions on operational matters must be left to policing experts. I acknowledge, that although I discuss the issue on a regular basis, with the Garda Commissioner and his team. I reassure Senators and communities that the Government fully supports An Garda Síochána in its work to tackle organised and drug-related crime in Coolock, in Dublin and throughout the country. The Garda budget for this year was €1.76 billion and this will increase to €1.88 billion in 2020. Alongside that, capital investment this year was €92 million. That is a 50% increase on the total for 2018, and it will increase further to €116.5 million for next year. There are currently approximately 14,300 gardaí nationwide supported by more than 2,600 Garda staff. These numbers continue to increase towards the Government's target of an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 by 2021, comprising 15,000 sworn Garda members, 4,000 civilian staff and 2,000 members of An Garda Reserve. These are big numbers because I know that a visible policing presence reassures communities. Proactive policing and a visible Garda presence throughout the country can be expected to increase further as the new Garda operating model is rolled out across the country.

I want to say categorically that the full force of the law-----

-----is being brought to bear on those behind this violence and related criminal activities whether in Coolock, Dublin city or any other part of the country. I want to reassure not only the people of Coolock and Dublin but the people of this country.

I am here on behalf of Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile. Crime and criminals come in many forms. When they leave their calling card behind them, people of all backgrounds carry the burden of their behaviour. Whether we live in large cities, small towns or in the countryside, crime has the same impact. It instills fear and isolation wherever one lives, creates personal and community instability, lowers the morale of both the police and communities, and instills despair.

It does not matter to criminals whether victims and communities are left reeling from a drugs crisis, which claims lives on a regular and frightening basis, particularly in Dublin. It does not matter to criminals whether families have had their homes burgled, whether persons have had their bikes or cars stolen, whether farmers have their farm implements stolen, whether persons have been bullied by a neighbour or youths who are out of control, or whether people have been beaten up for who they are or what they look like. Statistics show the scale of crime and they were reflected in a document entitled, Tackling Rural Crime, that Sinn Féin issued last April. Last year, there were 16,380 burglaries and 70,000 theft-related offences; vehicle theft increased by 3% from 4,594 in 2017 to 4,737 in 2018; robberies and sexual offences increased by more than 10%; €8 million worth of equipment and tools were stolen from construction sites; and 14,000 bicycles were stolen of which 83% were stolen in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and Galway.

The first port of call for a distressed person trying to cope with the impact of a crime on him or her and his or her family is An Garda Síochána, which is to be expected because people look to the police for protection. People deserve to feel safe in their homes, on their streets and in their communities at all times day and night in all circumstances. The facts show that this is not the case.

One issue that I wanted to raise is the increase in homophobic attacks on our streets all around Ireland. Every week, when I look at Twitter, there is a new incident where a gay, lesbian or trans person has been beaten to a pulp. I refer to a person called Callum but as I have not spoken to him I will just use his first name. He tweeted: "Absolutely disgusting to say that myself and my boyfriend went out to enjoy my friend's 18th and got beaten up by four guys in Limerick last night".

Craig McHugh said on Twitter-----

I remind the Senator not to name names in the House as people cannot be identified like that in the House. He can make his point but must refrain from naming people.

It is a public Twitter post.

These are the rules of the House and we all have to comply with them and I thank the Senator.

I do not think there is any malice in the Senator's utterance.

I have no problem with the Senator making his point but I ask him to please refrain as the rules of House-----

These individuals are the victims of the crime.

I am aware of that but we cannot name people so that they are identifiable in the House. I thank the Senator.

Someone says on Twitter that these things seem to be happening a little more lately and he asked if hate crime legislation is not essential. Are the LGBTQ community expected to be trained in martial arts in order to protect themselves? Should this not have serious consequences?

I am aware that a strategy was published by the Minister's Department. I had a conversation about hate crime legislation in this House last year or two years ago, and I have raised it numerous times. A particular moment struck me in this House, it was one that I did not enjoy, when I was told that we did not need hate crime legislation in Ireland because we did not have a problem with such crime. It was a Minister in the Minister for Justice and Equality's own Department who said that. Is the Government committed to legislating or bringing forward such hate crime legislation before the general election? If we had started the process two years ago when we made these calls, we might have the ability to tackle this issue. At the moment people are feeling very much empowered in their homophobia, racism and sexism.

The issue of crime is challenging and difficult and unfortunately, there are many victims of crime every day. I note, however, the Government has introduced and passed legislation to enhance the rights of victims of crime.

Drug culture is a serious problem and not just in urban Ireland or in Dublin. Unfortunately, drugs are now freely available in every town and village. The people who are using drugs on a recreational basis need to look into their hearts and come to terms with what they are doing and what their actions are leading to. Every illegal drug that is taken in this country has been brought into this country illegally, 95% of the time by organised criminals and drug dealers who are feeding up the line to the violent gangs that do not exist in Dublin alone. We have seen much media coverage on this and I have great sympathy for my colleagues in Dublin who are dealing with the awful consequences of organised crime, which ultimately leads to many murders.

People who go out on a Saturday night and decide to take a line of cocaine need to realise that cocaine in this country is illegal and must be sourced through back channels in an illegal way. That is done, by and large, by organised crime gangs. Garda Commissioner Harris and the Minister, Deputy Flanagan - the two people in this country who lead the whole area of law and order, and justice - get this issue and have done a significant amount of work in highlighting the challenges, the difficulties and the problem that recreational drugs is causing.

I have engaged with a group in Blanchardstown who ran a campaign called Think Before you Buy. Councillor Ted Leddy introduced me to the group about three years ago in my capacity as Government spokesperson on justice in this House. I spoke at the group's conference, where I deputised for the former Minister, Frances Fitzgerald, three years ago. I have worked closely with the group since. Its campaign is very simple. Professional people in middle Ireland who are unfortunately dabbling in recreational drugs are doing this probably without giving any thought whatsoever to the consequences. The Think Before you Buy campaign is as it says, namely, to think before one makes a purchase. I have spoken on a number of occasions to Commissioner Harris on this particular issue and the Think Before you Buy group behind the campaign, which is Blanchardstown drugs and alcohol task force, together with Councillor Leddy, were with me at Garda headquarters four to five weeks ago where we met the Garda Commissioner. What was supposed to be a 30-minute meeting ended up being nearly two and a half hours. The Commissioner was very taken with what the group was proposing and how it was proposing to do it. The engagement with the Commissioner was heartfelt and something very positive will come from it. The Commissioner committed that day that the project would go on to the national drugs task force agenda at its next meeting. He also committed that day to using to using An Garda Síochána social media to alert people in middle Ireland, who are educated and have had the same opportunities as all of the Senators and I have had but who unfortunately are taking drugs. The campaign asks people to listen and realise the damage that they are doing, not just to their own health and communities, but the fact that they are contributing to murders in Dublin, Limerick, Cork and everyone else where people are losing their lives as a result of falling out or coming on the wrong side of serious criminals who are making millions of euros from drugs.

The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, was in this House couple of years ago - probably not even that - when we changed the law on the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, where small-time drug dealers in towns like Ennis, Ennistymon, Clonmel and other places are making money, driving flash cars, and living a lifestyle that is completely beyond their means, are now to be targeted by CAB. It is interesting to note that the figures that CAB have achieved in 2018 is its highest figure since it came into existence. That is because we changed the legislation. Small-time drug dealers are causing raic just as big-time drug dealers are, and are feeding into big-time drug dealers and are destroying the lives of so many decent, honest, hard-working, genuine families. A young person just gets caught up in recreational drugs and some, unfortunately, end up taking heroin and destroying their lives. These are good people, with hearts, intelligence and so much to offer this society, but unfortunately they just go down the wrong line.

People like Senators Ó Ríordáin and Warfield, my colleague, Senator Noone, and I and the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, are all on the one page. We may differ on how we are going about it but everyone agrees in trying to get some sort of a handle on this.

This is not just an urban problem. It was such a problem up to about a decade ago. Now, it is in many areas. I live in a tourist area. Due to the population of Lahinch, where I am from, ballooning from 600 to 15,000 people during the summer, the whole issue of drug-taking has become prevalent. Along the entire coast of County Clare, in places like Doolin, Kilkee and other areas, drugs, unfortunately, are freely available. I do not know how any Government can deal with it. All we can do is our best to put the infrastructure in place but most importantly, we need to organise advertising campaigns. It has worked with smoking where we have spent millions on such campaigns to alert people to the dangers of smoking. In the past six years, the percentage of our population that is smoking has reduced from 23% to 17%.

I wish I could say that the percentage of our population taking drugs on a recreational basis was 17%, but that is not the case. It is far higher. It is an awful lot higher. We need to spend tens of millions of euro. We have to engage with kids at primary and early secondary school level to try to educate them and bring them with us.

I will conclude on that note. I totally support what all colleagues are doing in this regard. We must all work together. There has to be a unanimous political approach. We all need to work together in this regard. This problem is destroying our communities and the lives of many young people.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I called for this debate last week. I decided not to call a vote on the Order of Business on the day in question, which was a week and a day ago, to facilitate a debate this week. I did so in the hope that the Minister would produce something that would give a little hope to those of us who are trying to come up with a comprehensive response to what is happening in the Coolock area. However, it would be an understatement to say that I am disappointed with what we have heard from the Minister this afternoon.

I would like remind the Minister of what happened in the north inner city at the beginning of this Government's term in office. It bears repeating that in response to a cycle of murder at that time, the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, commissioned a task force. Every stakeholder in the task force came to the conclusion that we could not police our way out of the cycle of murder. The reasons behind the cycle had to be investigated. Why was it that every time a young man is murdered - it tends to be young men who get murdered - there always was someone else, possibly younger, willing to step into his place? The task force spoke to principals, teachers, community workers, people involved with the local drugs task force, representatives of community organisations and local public representatives. The proposals that the task force came up with seem to have worked because they indicated that the Government cared and wanted to get results. The task force is still in existence and the ripple effect of what it achieved is still being felt.

I worked in a school in the north inner city approximately ten years ago at a time when there was a feud in the local area. I used to go to work every day during the feud, which had an indescribable effect on the children of the community. A dark cloud of fear and tension hangs over a school, a local area and an entire community while the violent crime associated with such a feud is ongoing. I am reluctant to name areas because I do not want to stigmatise them. I have spoken, however, to a school principal in the Dublin 17 area of a school that had a murder committed outside its gate. A little dedication to the young man who died is still in place outside the school gate. The principal told me about how traumatised his pupils were. We discussed the possibility that the school will lose a much-needed teacher.

For the best part of a year, I have been asking in a non-partisan and constructive way for the Government to replicate in Dublin 17 what it did in Dublin 1. I am still not getting a "Yes". I just do not understand why the Government will not do this. I am asking it to collect a group of people in a room, where they will speak to something deeper and more profound than just policing. They should talk about inequality, job opportunities, educational disadvantage, the nature of drug use and the nature of pain and trauma. They should talk about the disadvantage that has resulted in five murders in seven months in the recent past. I am not the only person who has a terrible suspicion that if there were five murders in seven months in Stepaside, Portlaoise or Castleknock, there might be a different response from the Government.

The Minister mentioned the national drugs strategy as a new way forward. I was one of nine former Ministers of State who signed a statement last month criticising the Government for its inability to hear the voice of the community sector in that strategy. Unbelievably, every former Minister of State with responsibility for drugs, going back to the 1990s, signed this statement. We come from three different political parties. Nobody wants to make political hay out of murder. Although I genuinely have no interest in trying to score political points out of murder, I think people in this House, in the other House and in society need to know that this is not normal. The idea of a child walking past crime scene tape on the way to school should break everybody's heart. The State should do absolutely everything in its power to ensure such a scene is not repeated.

The Minister could have walked in today and said that he has listened to what we have said and appreciates the success of the initiative in Dublin 1, where people feel that the State is working well because community organisations and local representatives are being listened to. The Minister could have acknowledged that we cannot police our way out of this and explained that he knows what comes from disadvantage and disempowerment. He could have said he knows the Government needs to have engagement with the Garda but that other issues must be talked about as well. In fairness, what the Government did in Dublin 1 seems to have had a level of success and should be replicated in another area where there has been a cycle of murder. If the Minister had taken such an approach, I would have been the first person to say that he has his finger on the pulse, understands the issues and is advocating for solutions. I would have been the first person to congratulate him. However, I cannot do so because I have not heard what I need to hear. I am genuinely lost for words because it would be so simple.

If the Minister were to act on my recommendation, he would get such engagement and such appreciation from families that are suffering from drug intimidation. I have been told that parents are not allowing their children to go outside any more. If one visits certain parts of the north side in glorious sunshine, one does not hear the laughter of children as they play. Their parents are keeping them inside because of the nature of the atmosphere in which they are living and growing up. Families are saying they just want to get out. When I proposed the idea of a task force, I was trying to get beyond the classic Punch and Judy debate on Garda numbers that goes over and back between the Opposition and the Government. I was trying to find something deeper, more profound and longer lasting. The Minister has just rebuffed it. He was a member of the Government that established the north inner city task force. The current Government can deliver on the proposal I have made but the Minister has said that it does not intend to do so. I just do not get it.

We needed to have a campaign for a new Garda station in Dublin 13. It was announced in June that this campaign had been successful. We appreciate the decision that has been made in this regard because the many new families in this growing community need a proper policing resource. However, if the Minister thinks that coming in here and giving us a list of Garda numbers will solve the issue, he is wrong. I honestly do not think he gets it.

I will finish on this point. I appreciate that the Acting Chairman has allowed me some extra time. I want the Minister to know that I am sick of hearing about murder in the community I try to serve. I have tried to be constructive. I am honestly lost for words as I try to understand why the Minister does not see this as I do. Why does he not feel the need to commission a task force that might come up with solutions that ensure no more children in this community have to walk past Garda tape on their way to school because another murder has taken place? I feel like I am wasting my time.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House and I thank Senator Ó Ríordáin for requesting the debate. As has been outlined, the area encompassing Coolock and Darndale has clearly become a black spot for gangland and drug-related crime. I attended a meeting with the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, a month ago in Coolock Garda station and in Northside Partnership with various stakeholders, which in a sense was made up of the protagonists Senator Ó Ríordáin refers to in the local area. Many of the points that have been made were raised with the Minister on that occasion. It would not be fair to suggest that he is not aware of, or somehow has not addressed, this issue.

Based on the interactions I have had with the Minister about the issue especially in recent times, it is clear that he is taking it very seriously. As recently as this week he had a meeting with the Taoiseach and the Garda Commissioner on the issue, which indicates his serious focus on the matter.

I agree with Senator Ó Ríordáin that we should not politicise this matter. While the task force has the effect of getting groups together and focusing on the issue, based on the crime figures for the inner city, I am not sure it has been as successful in this area as the Senator might believe. In fairness to the Minister, he is responsible for matters of criminal justice. It really would be a matter for the Taoiseach to decide on that. When I spoke to the Taoiseach about it, he made the point quite fairly that Ballymun looked for a similar task force. The Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, has looked for a similar task force in her area.

I know what the Senator is saying and I will get to the point about how serious it is in Coolock. However, it is a question of how to adequately and appropriately allocate the resources to get the results necessary. Having a task force makes sense and I agree with much of what Senator Ó Ríordáin has said. However, we need to consider how effective it will be. It might be worth having a debate with the Taoiseach on the wider issue of a task force because we need to look into our hearts to decide if setting it up would have the desired results. Based on my interaction with the Minister and gardaí in the area, it is clear that there is major focus on this issue. Many additional resources have been allocated to the area. It is being taken seriously. That is my understanding.

It is horrendous that there have been five murders in seven months. It is a lovely community. As the Minister was told when we met in Coolock, parents feel they should not let their children go out. Senator Ó Ríordáin is not overdramatising that. That fear has been engendered by the activity in the area.

There has been considerable success in Limerick which is mostly down to Garda activity. I do not disagree with the idea of a task force. If it were to happen, it can only help. I feel that a quasi-task force has been set up in that the gardaí in the area are very focused on the issue. I believe that the role of the Minister for Justice and Equality in the Department he heads up is to ensure that the station in Coolock is properly resourced. I will not go through the figures the Minister mentioned, but there has been a significant increase in resources there.

Tackling organised crime in Coolock and neighbouring areas will require initiatives involving all actors - departmental officials, the Commissioner and local community groups. However, all those people are involved in this. I am interested in the results. If the Taoiseach decided to set up a task force it might be a good thing to do. I hope it would have the effect Senator Ó Ríordáin believes it will. Based on the figures I have seen in Dublin generally, while it sounds good to suggest it, the jury is out on whether we will attain the results we would hope.

I was very impressed by the local Garda approach and that many gardaí in the area are going along to park runs.

I will conclude in a moment.

They are interacting with young people so that young people feel the gardaí are approachable. Unfortunately, drug dealing and everything to do with organised crime is often glamorised in these areas. Young people look up to these drug lords. They see them driving big cars and wearing expensive watches. In an area that is traditionally less well off, it makes the drug area slightly more attractive in a perverse way. I agree with many of the comments Senator Conway made in that regard.

I ask the Minister to pay as much attention as he can to this area. Based on my interactions with him, I know he is very focused on the issue. There could not be enough focus on Coolock and the surrounding areas when it comes to this pervasive problem that is affecting the community in a very deep and harmful way.

I ask the Minister for an update on the site that has been identified for a Garda station at Northern Cross.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House. For once, I probably disagree with Senator Noone. I do not want to see gardaí on park runs; I want to see them patrolling the flat complexes in the inner city.

I am not saying they should not do that.

There is a resource element in respect of our capital city. Looking at the number of gardaí per 100,000 citizens, the figure for Dublin looks quite good when compared with the rest of the country. However, this does not take account of the 6 million tourists who come to the city annually or the 200,000 commuters who come into the city every day. When those elements are factored in, it is clear that the resources in the capital city are quite low.

In my area I have seen community gardaí being used to police protests at the greyhound stadium. They have to do so because it is a public order issue. The resources are pulled away twice a week to police the entrance to the Google offices because of protests outside some of the social media companies in the area. At the same time, we do not have a community garda who could go on a regular basis into Pearse House.

In parts of the city, including Coolock, the north inner city and the south inner city, young people are being left behind. They see a booming city with some people making a lot of money, but their community being left behind. They see brand new blocks containing €1 million apartments while they are being left behind in dilapidated Dublin City Council housing built in the 1940s and 1950s with very little upgrade. Some of them recently only got a sink in their bathrooms.

I accept people make career choices. They do not have access to the educational opportunities that others have. In many ways I have sympathy for the Minister. He is suffering as a result of the period when the Garda College in Templemore was closed with no new gardaí coming out. The previous Government reopened the college and at last new gardaí are coming out, but they are simply replacing gardaí who are retiring.

Do task forces work?

The south inner city local drug and alcohol task force, which is managed from St. Andrew's resource centre, offers second-chance employment courses and construction skills training. Some of those who attend the centre are ex-prisoners, who often go back to a life of crime. The centre has a success rate of approximately 60% at getting people into full-time employment. When we talk about breaking the cycle of crime, it is important to remember that it is poorer communities which suffer most from the loss of life and anti-social behaviour associated with that crime. Gangs are roaming the city and terrorising disadvantaged communities. The people living there are the ones who see the real effect of gang warfare and organised crime. I regularly get telephone calls from elderly people who are hoping it will rain that night so that some of these people might be off the streets. They are being terrorised in their own neighbourhoods.

I am not questioning the Garda Commissioner, who must work with the resources he has and deploy them where there is the highest risk. However, we must look to prevention, which is not happening, rather than dealing only with the aftermath of crime. In the south inner city, young people of 12, 13 and 14 years of age are dealing because they see it as their way forward in life and the best career choice open to them. As Senator Noone said, it is how they can buy the fancy watches and the best clobber. However, they do not get the best education because their schools are not adequately resourced. The voluntary payments are not forthcoming to pump extra money into those schools so that the children attending have equality of opportunity with children in the richer parts of the city. We must remember that the people who come to the inner city to purchase drugs are fuelling drug crime in the north and south inner city and areas like Coolock. That is something we must not stand over.

I join Senator Ó Ríordáin in his call for a task force. It must be multifaceted in its approach because policing alone cannot resolve the problems of the poorest communities in our cities. This is not just a problem for Dublin and we are already seeing drug crime spreading out to other areas. That is a consequence of the market economy of which we hear so much from economists. Dealers are extending their markets to Mullingar, Athlone and Portlaoise because of the drive for profit to support their expensive lifestyles. It is difficult to persuade a 13 or 14 year old to stay in school and work hard and they can have a bright future when their postcode will go against them when they apply for a job. They see their future as being in the low-level criminal activity - "low-level" is not my description of it - of drug dealing. We have difficult decisions facing us. We can work to ensure that all sectors of society share in the recovery rather than allowing only the wealthy to do so. We must put additional resources into the most marginalised communities. The south inner city local drug and alcohol task force has been somewhat successful but it needs to go much further.

Senator Noone referred to the figures showing an increase in crime. The problem is that there is no quick fix for this problem. We need a long-term strategy and gardaí must win back the confidence of people in the affected communities.

There have not been many speakers, so a little leeway would be appreciated.

I have already given the Senator significant leeway.

This is a subject close to my heart. Not many politicians go into these areas in the south inner city. People living there feel they have been deserted by mainstream politicians who do not even attend public meetings on drugs and crime. We need to roll up our sleeves and ensure these communities are represented and that they get the resources they need. Otherwise, we are storing up a huge problem for the future. If we cannot send gardaí into the inner city on a regular patrol, they will not build the confidence, contacts and intelligence they need within local communities. If a garda is pulled out to Temple Bar or one of the embassies or to police a protest outside Google's offices, those communities will effectively be lost and we will have an even greater crime problem. Some of the 13 and 14 years olds of today who have begun dealing will make up the next wave of criminals. We have a chance to stop the cycle.

The Minister cannot tackle this problem alone and we must have a multifaceted approach. The Minister for Education and Skills has a role to play and, above all, there must be investment in these communities so that people living in them have the opportunities which are not currently available to them. They see multimillion euro apartments going up beside them and huge investment in office complexes. We will soon have an announcement by the Taoiseach about the investment in the innovation hub which will bring 10,000 people from abroad to work in the heart of the south inner city. There is no opportunity for people already living in that community to get a job in the new hub. They feel they have been pushed aside. The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, can work on the crime and Garda resources issues but we need a multifaceted strategy. A task force will be useful, but finding a solution to this problem is a task very much for the long road.

I acknowledge Senators' contributions. This is a most important debate and I am pleased to attend it. I am not sure what Senator Ó Ríordáin was saying about the debate not taking place when he initially tabled the motion. I was not here on Tuesday but was keen to ensure, whenever the debate took place, that I would be in the Chamber to answer it.

I do not subscribe to the view that a rota of Ministers of State who do not have direct responsibility for a particular topic is sufficient when it comes to debating matters like this. I was pleased to listen to Senators' views. As far as the Garda Síochána is concerned, I am satisfied that every effort is being made in challenging circumstances. I had the opportunity of a late-night meeting with the Garda Commissioner on Tuesday, ahead of this debate. Senators from across the city have raised important points. I have taken note of them and will be happy to return to the Chamber at a future date to discuss the issues further.

The Seanad adjourned at 3.30 p.m. until 1.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 10 December 2019.