Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Questions (4)

Mattie McGrath


3Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if the Metal Theft Forum has finalised its report on the metal theft crime prevention and reduction plan in view of the fact that it was expected to do so by the end of March; the reason for the delay in finalising this report; when this report will be published; his plans to deal with the growing problem of metal theft; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30003/12]

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Oral answers (11 contributions) (Question to Minister for Justice)

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the drafting of a metal theft crime prevention and reduction plan is at an advanced stage and that this work is proceeding in consultation with the stakeholders represented on the metal theft forum. I understand the plan will be finalised shortly. I look forward to the outcome of this process and will study any Garda recommendation concerning regulation, in conjunction with all stakeholders and relevant Departments. Consideration of such recommendations will also need to have regard to the issues arising from the report on the cash for gold trade which was prepared by my Department and which I published yesterday.

In addition, my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, is examining waste licensing and permitting legislation to ensure all necessary provisions, particularly those relating to traceability, are in place to avoid circumstances which could be exploited by criminals. A draft set of regulations was circulated informally to relevant stakeholders earlier this year. Following feedback from this process, the Minister will shortly consult on a second set of draft amending regulations to counter metal theft.

An Garda Síochána is very much aware of the increase in the theft of metal and targeting such crime, as well as burglaries and theft related crimes generally, through a number of initiatives, including its work with the metal theft forum. This Garda operational response is ongoing and taking place in parallel with the formal development of the plan.

I share the Deputy's desire that the metal theft crime prevention and reduction plan be finalised in order that the overall response to this type of crime is as effective as possible. I am confident the Garda is doing everything it can to progress this complex matter, in consultation with the other stakeholders, so as to ensure a properly considered and strategic response.

I apologise for my absence when the question was due to be taken. A report on the cash for gold business was published yesterday. We are thinking around the problem of scrapping precious metals. I welcome the publication of the metal forum report and the decision to submit it to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Defence. However, as the Minister knows better than anyone, action is needed. It would be better for him to address this problem rather than consulting the archives to enable him to comment on speeches people may have made six or seven years ago before they entered the Oireachtas. The theft of metals is a problem. I introduced a Bill in March which the Minister rejected out of hand.

The Deputy should ask a question.

Why did the Minister not allow my Bill to pass on Second Stage in order that it could go before the Select Committee on Justice, Equality and Defence? The report being sent to the committee will probably be followed by another. While the Garda is doing its best and enjoys my support in this matter, it does not have the tools of the trade and is being led a merry dance because there is no traceability. As a result, people can take what they like and plunder homes and protected buildings without anyone doing anything about it.

The publication of the report yesterday means my question is out of date. However, I am tired of reports and consultants and want action to be taken for the people I represent. The Minister is more interested in referring to the city of Derry as Londonderry than he is in dealing with the problems people are facing.

It is very difficult in the context of the ramblings of the Deputy-----

They were statements of fact, not ramblings.

-----to know what I should reply to.

The Minister should do his job.

On the basis that the Deputy has a serious interest in these issues, I hope shortly to receive the forum report from the Garda which is anxious to ensure it is comprehensive. I anticipated originally that I might have received it by this date. As soon as I receive it, I will consider its contents. I expect it will also be made available to Members.

On the cash for gold issue, the Deputy knows the reason his Bill could not be accepted. While I am sure it was a well intended measure, it failed to take cognisance of other relevant legislation and did not address the issue in the appropriate manner. It would have given rise to a range of unnecessary side-effects, including unnecessary expense.

I kept faith with the Deputies. I told the House that we would publish a detailed report on the issue. The report clearly raises a number of matters. The Garda Commissioner has confirmed that all of the cash for gold outlets have been visited by the Garda Síochána. In his view, there is no direct relationship between the opening of these outlets and any increase in burglaries. Between 1999 and 2011, there has been a 2% increase in burglaries. While one cannot ever condone the offence of burglary, given the context of the current economic climate, this is not a dramatic increase in burglaries. There is no evidence to indicate a connectivity with cash for gold outlets.

Another difficulty with the Deputy's report is that he would have provided for legislation which did not address the blindingly obvious, which was that the cash for gold industry is partly web based. People see advertisements on the Internet and they send goods through the post. This does not involve people entering retail outlets. The report ignored entirely the reality that for decades, jewellery shops and antique shops have traded in second hand jewellery. The Deputy's legislation did not address that issue. As a result of the very detailed submission furnished to the joint Oireachtas committee, I hope that that committee, in conjunction with the enterprise committee which has some remit in this area, will consider that report and make proportionate and appropriate recommendations.

Where there is lawful business being conducted, it is important that we do not introduce some extra layer of bureaucracy which results in legitimate businesses incurring unnecessary expense to no benefit to the general public, or to the investigative capacity of the Garda Síochána.

The Minister has his head in the sand. My Bill has shortcomings in it and I would be the first to admit that. It was sent in last November and it only reached the floor here in March, so there was plenty of time for him and his officials to look over it and advise me in whatever way possible. The fact is that homes and precious buildings are being plundered. The Minister had a taste of that when he was abroad, so he knows what it is like. I do not wish that to happen to anybody, because it is a terrible intrusion on people's privacy.

Going to committees, sending reports and listening to what the Garda Commissioner says is one thing, but I am meeting senior officers up and down the country who are saying something different. They know the facts. I would be the last person to call for more punitive legislation to affect small businesses, but we have to regularise the situation. Jewellers are dealing with this for years, and rightly so, but they have a code of practice and I was not talking about them, nor was I referring to cash for gold solely. I was talking about precious metals that have been taken from farms, historic buildings and everywhere else. If somebody is telling me that burglaries have only increased by 2%, then the Minister must be living in Londonderry.

I thank the Deputy for his usual constructive and coherent contribution to the debate on a serious issue. I look forward to receiving his report from the justice committee on the matter.