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Tuesday, 7 Jul 2015

Other Questions

Stardust Fire

Questions (6)

Terence Flanagan

Question:

6. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if she will provide an update regarding investigations by her Department into the Stardust tragedy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27054/15]

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Oral answers (10 contributions) (Question to Justice)

My question is to ask the Minister for an update regarding the new evidence provided to her Department by the Stardust victims' committee in regard to the cause of that fire that tragically took place in 1981. Has she an update on that and when will her Department make an official response to the new evidence that has been presented?

I am very conscious of the deep impact the fire at the Stardust in 1981 has had on individuals and families concerned, and on the wider community. I met the Stardust Victims and Relatives Committee last year and that meeting provided me with an opportunity to hear at first hand the ongoing concerns of the committee in regard to this tragic event.

The Deputy will be aware that these events were the subject of a tribunal of inquiry which reported in 1982 and an independent legal examination which reported in 2009. The report of the independent legal examination concluded that in the absence of any identified evidence as to the cause of the fire, the most another inquiry could achieve would be another set of hypothetical findings, which would not be in the public interest. The then Government, as the Deputies present will be aware, accepted those findings and motions were passed in both Houses of the Oireachtas endorsing those conclusions and expressing sympathy with the families.

Following my meeting with the committee and hearing the representatives' concerns, I appointed an official in my Department to liaise with the committee and who has engaged with representatives of the committee in the intervening period.

A researcher associated with the committee, who is known to the Deputy, submitted material relating to these events to my Department and a meeting was held with the researcher and another person associated with the committee. The material previously submitted and the matters raised at that meeting have continued to be examined in my Department.

I wish to advise the Deputy that some of the matters the committee raised, which it raised with me previously, are subject to a Garda investigation, and that is ongoing and quite complex at present. I am informed by the Garda Commissioner that it is, as I have said, a complex investigation and I cannot do anything that might cut across that investigation, but there has been ongoing contact with my Department and a range of material has been submitted which has had further analysis. I will be back in contact with the committee in regard to that analysis.

I thank the Minister for her response but the victims' committee is anxious about the delay in receiving a response to the new evidence that has being brought to light which is being examined by her Department. Can she give a commitment that it will be examined in a timely manner? The Minister said she meet the victims' committee, which was very much appreciated, but that was more than a year ago. I know there was an issue about evidence being presented and then being taken back but that evidence is now with her Department. Can she make sure that the most qualified people examine that information and that a decision on it will be made in a timely manner?

As the Deputy is aware, the evidence that was given to my Department was withdrawn. We made every effort to have the evidence presented to us again so that we could examine it in good faith. We did that and that has happened. It is complex material. It is partly composed of, and makes reference to, among other things, a report of the tribunal of inquiry, transcripts of evidence to the tribunal of inquiry and the report of the independent legal examination.

I assure the Deputy that we have been examining the material. A specific official has been assigned to examine it. A great deal of time and effort has been put into examining the material to try to analyse what is new. Is there new material? Is it different from the evidence presented previously? It is complex. If it was simple it would have been done before now, and I remind the Deputy that there have been two investigations already. We will be in contact with the committee again shortly and will be responding to the material that has been given. It is up to the committee then to come back to us.

I thank the Minister and ask her if she will make a commitment to contact the victims' committee over the coming weeks. Can she shed any light on the allegations made to An Garda Síochána? Can she give an update to the House regarding that? I know she does not want to cut across an inquiry the Commissioner has organised but has she anything to report to the House on that matter?

Yes. As I said, we are taking the material that has been given to us seriously. There is an individual officer assigned to it who has put a huge amount of time and effort into going through the material and responding to many telephone calls and contact from the committee. That contact will be made, and we will revert to the members of the committee asking for comment on a variety of issues.

With regard to the investigation, when I met the committee the members raised concerns with me which I do not want to put on the floor of the House now because they are the subject of the Garda investigation. When they were told to me I did say to the committee members that they should report any details they had relating to that particular issue to the Garda. There is a Garda investigation and it continues.

I will take a brief supplementary from Deputies Broughan and Mac Lochlainn.

I thank the Minister also for the responses. Is it the case that the Garda investigation of some aspects of this desperate tragedy of 1981 would not preclude the Minister from immediately setting up a commission of investigation under the McDowell 2004 legislation?

I have had the opportunity to meet with the families on a number of occasions and the Minister will know that they remain deeply traumatised. There is a deep sense of injustice in regard to the inquiries and reviews that have taken place over the years. My personal opinion, based on evidence I have seen, is that justice was not served. If I am correct, that is appalling because this tragedy resulted in the biggest loss of life in the history of the State. I appreciate that the Minister is facing a wide range of reviews and allegations across spectrums of Irish society, but this one is of huge importance not just to the families but to the Irish people. Whatever support the Minister's Department officials can give should be provided. The families have limited resources but what they have put together with those limited resources is impressive, and they deserve a chance to revisit this entire issue.

I remind Deputies of the facts of the situation of the independent legal examination, which reported in 2009 and was accepted by the Government of the day, and an apology given, and the view that at this point another inquiry would not be possible. To quote, "the most another inquiry could achieve would be another set of hypothetical findings, which would not be in the public interest." That is what was said in 2009. However, notwithstanding that, I have met the committee. I have got the new material. I want to have the fullest possible information available to me before making any decision as to how the issue might be progressed. I know the committee members are extremely anxious about this issue. As the Deputy said, it was the greatest loss of life in tragic circumstances. A draft preliminary examination of the material has now been completed. I will be going back to the committee and asking for the members' response, and I will then examine what they have to say. There are some other issues which they have brought to my attention as well.

Organised Crime

Questions (7)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

7. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the extent to which she continues to examine the activities of organised criminal gangs, with particular reference to their membership and potential growth; the action taken, or proposed, to deter the growth of such gangs, with particular reference to discouraging young persons from becoming involved; if a particular strategy is to be employed in this regard; if proscription has been considered as an option; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27013/15]

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Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Justice)

This question relates to the ongoing activities of organised criminal gangs and their ability to attract new membership and also the extent to which existing procedures are in place to combat them effectively.

Tackling organised crime in all its guises is a key ongoing priority for the Government and An Garda Síochána. This is reflected in the Policing Plan 2015. Effective action has been taken in the past and in recent times against many of the criminal gangs operating in this country, not least by the development of the Criminal Assets Bureau but also good quality Garda investigations, as evidenced by the fact that there are people currently serving time in prison in respect of 24 of the 25 murders carried out in Limerick.

The Garda Síochána has various programmes and targeted activities in place to tackle organised crime. These are designed to, as suggested by the Deputy, disrupt and dismantle the operations of criminal organisations. This involves a great deal of international work as well. Increasingly, criminals are operating across borders and An Garda Síochána works closely with Interpol and Europol in this regard. That is very important.

We are seeing significant results in terms of arrests being made and people being brought before the courts, as well as drugs and firearms seizures. Across the European Union, people are becoming increasingly concerned about the level of firearms smuggling taking place. I am in contact with the Garda Commissioner in regard to all aspects of serious crime, including the threat posed by criminal gangs. Criminal activity, in terms of the ever more sophisticated means being used by criminal gangs, is a challenge to every country. It is important that the Garda Síochána is well resourced. For this reason, we have invested in additional Garda vehicles and extra policing.

I thank the Minister for her reply. Are there any specific measures that might be employed to deter the enhancement of membership of criminal gangs, which young people find attractive? What measures are most effective in meeting that particular challenge? Is it education, further education or severe action against criminal gangs that is required? What is most likely to be effective?

The Garda Síochána recently indicated that drug seizures provisionally valued at in the region of €60 million were made by it during 2014. There have been many significant drugs seizures here and abroad, including the seizure off the south west coast of Ireland last September of cocaine which had a street value of €358 million and the seizure off the Spanish coast of cocaine valued at €210 million, which is a clear indication that the operations of these criminal gangs is being interrupted.

With regard to discouraging young people from involvement in criminal activity, this is a priority area. The Irish youth justice service and the Garda youth diversion projects nationwide do important work in this regard. Additional funding has been made available this year from the Dormant Accounts Fund to enable expansion of the network of diversion programmes countrywide, thereby ensuring the availability of additional youth workers to work with An Garda Síochána across communities in identifying young people at risk and ensuring they can be diverted from the life of crime, about which the Deputy has spoken.

In view of the fact that in particular areas it is virtually a badge of honour to be a member of a criminal gang in terms of the status and power of authority it provides, has consideration been given to proscription? Why should it be an honour to be a member of a criminal gang and what action can be taken to combat that?

The Deputy is proposing that we provide for an offence of membership of a criminal gang in a manner similar to the approach taken from time to time by way of Offences Against the State legislation with regard to membership of proscribed organisations. It is important to understand the issues which arise in seeking simply to outlaw membership of a criminal gang in such a manner. Chief among these is that such gangs do not have quite the same permanency as proscribed organisations in terms of organisation and structure. Such matters are kept under review but the most effective disincentive to this type of activity is effective policing, disruption of activities and seizure of goods. The Criminal Assets Bureau, as I said, has had a huge impact over the years in targeting property. That approach continues to be an effective way of dealing with criminal gangs.

The Minister referred in her response to the situation in Limerick. Unfortunately, gangland crime has raised its ugly head once again in the city, with an attempted hit last week on a former gangland figure next to the sports campus at the University of Limerick. There is huge concern among people there at the potential re-emergence of gangland violence following a period of relative calm in the wake of the incarceration of a large number of gangland figures. The potential reputational damage to Limerick if this type of activity is allowed to happen again is hugely concerning for both tourism and business. Will the Minister find time to come to Limerick to meet gardaí working on the front line, business people, those working in tourism and residents? They would welcome her reassurance that this is a priority issue for her Department.

I have been to Limerick, where I met and thanked front-line gardaí for the work they are doing with communities. I commend the people of Limerick who have co-operated with An Garda Síochána. That engagement helped to ensure the imprisonment of those responsible for the heinous crimes, including murder, that were committed there. An investigation is under way into the situation to which the Deputy referred and a person has been arrested in connection with it. It would not be appropriate for me to comment further other than to encourage people who might have information to come forward. It was through that combination of Garda work and community co-operation that those crimes were dealt with effectively in the past. The only way to deal with this type of criminal activity is through a very robust response from the Garda Síochána and from communities.

Garda Resources

Questions (8)

Seán Kyne

Question:

8. Deputy Seán Kyne asked the Minister for Justice and Equality in the context of investment in vehicles and information technology, if members of An Garda Síochána are receiving the resources required to facilitate mobile policing, which is particularly relevant in more rural areas and also in locations which experience greater numbers of visitors in the summer months; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27053/15]

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Oral answers (4 contributions) (Question to Justice)

My question relates to investment in Garda Síochána vehicles and information technology. Specifically, my concern is whether members of the force are adequately resourced to facilitate mobile policing, particularly in rural areas and areas where there are high levels of tourism-related activity in the summer months.

The Government has invested nearly €29 million in new Garda vehicles since 2012, marking a massive increase on the €4.8 million provided by the previous Government. We have had 370 new Garda vehicles come on stream since the start of this year. In addition, I recently secured sanction for a further €700,000 for the purchase of new specialised response vehicles to support gardaí in reacting to current and emerging crime threats, including those committed by highly mobile gangs. There is a growing problem with mobile gangs moving from one location to another. The best way to combat this is by ensuring gardaí have the resources they need to facilitate mobile capability in intercepting such crimes.

The Garda has had a very high success rate in apprehending burglaries and so on. However, it has been brought to my attention that there is a need for stronger sanction in respect of such crimes. To that end, I will be introducing stronger legislation dealing with bail for serial offenders.

Serious and serial offending has to be dealt with by imprisonment; that is the reality. Consecutive rather than concurrent sentences can be imposed for such offences. The allocation of the resources of An Garda Síochána is an operational matter.

On resources for the Garda, one of the major gaps which has never been dealt with in this country is the question of appropriate ICT. This Government has taken action and will respond to the Garda Inspectorate's report. I have worked with the Minister, Deputy Howlin, on appropriate levels of investment in ICT for An Garda Síochána because there will be more effective rostering and operational decision making when the ICT to support effective policing is in place.

I thank the Minister for her response and welcome her commitment on ICT and the stronger sanctions for bail and serial offenders. I also welcome her commitment and that of her predecessor on the investment in An Garda Síochána in terms of reopening Templemore, the new recruits - some 550 are now in training - and the investment in Garda cars.

In rural areas, the visibility of gardaí, in terms of the presence of a Garda car or cars in a locality, is very important in terms of making people feel there is an effective police presence and that they are more secure in their homes, particularly elderly people. There needs to be continuous investment in gardaí and Garda vehicles and resources because it is very important for people's peace of mind, in particular those living in rural areas.

I refer to the regular meetings the Minister might have with the Garda Commissioner or assistant commissioners. Do they get down to the nitty gritty, such as Garda divisional levels, recruits, concerns that might be brought to her attention and areas that would benefit from more recruits or vehicles?

The deployment of gardaí in particular areas is an operational issue for the Garda Commissioner, but I bring to her attention concerns that are highlighted to me about particular areas. I understand the Deputy's point on rural communities. The change in policing in terms of more focus on mobile units is in no way intended to detract from community policing, which is essential in urban and rural and gardaí are committed to that. Given the changing nature of criminal activity, the gardaí have to be very agile in responding to the type of crime we are now seeing.

I have met many representatives from communities in rural areas in the past year and have been very impressed by what they are doing. There is great community involvement in working with the Garda on the text alert system, which has been very effective in many rural communities. I reassure the Deputy that there is as much a focus as ever on community policing in the rural context, but the way in which it has been done has changed. As I said, gardaí have been given the resources to respond in a more agile way to the crimes that have been committed by mobile gangs.

Garda Oversight

Written Answers follow Adjournment.

Questions (9)

Clare Daly

Question:

9. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality further to Parliamentary Question No. 112 of 26 May 2015 the number of cases that were before the internal review mechanism, where additional information was received or sought; her views in relation to the number of cases that have had their review concluded; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27011/15]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Justice)

The question relates to the independent review mechanism established by the Minister to investigate allegations of historic cases of Garda malpractice. A progress report was sought. The Minister told us there were delays and initially she thought it would take eight weeks. In turned into a year because, she said, extra information was sought. My question deals with the number of such cases in which extra information was sought and the status of the cases before the mechanism.

We have discussed the number of cases which were referred several times. The criteria were wide and the timeframe turned out to be quite different from what I indicated at the beginning, given the scale of the cases that were referred and the mechanism I set up. It is the first time a government has taken steps to examine a range of cases of concern to a variety of people, including Deputies. It was an unprecedented exercise which had not been previously attempted.

It provides an independent, objective and consistent approach to dealing with these complaints.

A total of 320 complaints were referred. The Deputy knows the process of the independent review mechanism so I will not go over it again. Counsel are totally independent of my Department and they determine the steps necessary to review each case. They have the facility to request my Department to seek further information from the complainant or from other bodies which they believe may hold information relevant to their considerations. Further information was provided by complainants in over 200 cases. In recent months, a huge amount of material was continuously submitted by complainants which had then to be examined through the independent review mechanism. Information was also requested through my Department at the request of the panel from the Garda Síochána and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission in approximately 80 cases.

I have asked a judge to review the reports going out to individuals. The judge has examined quite a number of cases at this point and, in many cases, the reports have been sent out.

The Minister has not dealt with how many of the cases have been concluded. Subsequent to the question being tabled some of the people who made complaints have begun to get replies, and to say what they received is beyond their worst expectations is probably an understatement. The letters I have seen from the panel represent a re-abuse of people badly let down by the system. I am speaking about cases of unexplained deaths which family members believe to be murder, as in the case of James Goonan, where the reply of the panel to the family was that it was very sorry for the family's loss but that the family's problem seemed to be that the Garda did not investigate the murder properly. The panel concluded that it would not ask the Garda to reinvestigate it, which would have been bad enough, but ask the Commissioner for a report. That was the outcome of a year's deliberation in the case of an horrific death of an elderly gentleman. A woman spoke to me this morning about sexual abuse allegations involving her two children which were not investigated. The answer she received was that the case went to the DPP and that was it. The whole point behind this was that people had problems with the investigative process, be it with the DPP or Garda, and to get an answer such as this exposes the entire system.

An independent process was established whereby all of the material available on particular cases was reviewed by independent counsel. The 300 cases varied considerably. Some were about property, some had been before the Supreme Court, some were historical cases from 20 years ago or more and some were more recent. In every case the panel examined the material independently and objectively. Approximately 80% of the cases have finished. Some came in more recently so they are not finished. Replies have started to be issued to the complainants. An independent judge has examined the summary from the panel and has looked at the letters which have summarised the work of the panel. There are many references to third parties so the entire material cannot be sent out. The review panel put in place is objective and fair.

I cannot go over the details of each case with the Deputy. She may cite the details of individual cases but I am not in a position to go into the reasons and I owe it to the complainants to give them as much information as I can. I cannot respond to particular cases highlighted by the Deputy. An independent process was put in place which was fair and which independently reviewed all of the material, which has never been done before. Recommendations in many of the cases will be made for further action of varying types. Some cases will be referred to An Garda Síochána. The Garda Síochána will have new protocols. In certain instances, GSOC will be asked to conduct an investigation where there was never an investigation before. There is a variety of responses to individual cases. I am not in a position to respond to the individual cases. It would not be appropriate for me to do so. I can describe the fair process put in place with an independent panel.

The Minister should be in a position to do so. I would like her to re-examine the figures and statistics she gave. It is precisely out of respect for the complainants that I raise these queries. People such as the family of John Kelly are outside in the lashing rain because their brother's death has never been explained. We put out a call last time we had Question Time to ask many of the hundreds of people who submitted those complaints whether any of them had been asked for extra information or had any of them resubmitted extra information and been examined on it. People came back and all said not in their case. We are aware of many cases like the Tuohey family where evidence came to light and the panel patently refused to look at it. I do not believe the process carried out any serious examination. This side of the House raised concerns that it was an attempt to divert attention from the growing anger among some of the families for justice. Of the replies we have seen so far, there has not been one, and the Minister did not answer how many of the cases have been concluded, because none of the conclusions we have seen, and we have begun to see many, would accept the viewpoint the Minister has put forward.

I have given the Deputy information which stated further information was supplied by complainants in more than 200 cases. That is the fact of the matter. I do not know with which complainants the Deputy is in touch. I accept her bona fides but I am telling her more than 200 gave further information. The process of the independent review is not a commission of investigation or an inquiry designed to make findings such as a commission would. Its purpose was to triage the allegations to see whether further action was needed. I have given an indication of the type of further action recommended in some of the cases which have been seen. The letters have begun to go out on the cases which are completed and this process has been overseen by an independent judge.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.
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