Tackling organised crime is a key priority for the Government and An Garda Síochána.
From time to time, the question arises about providing for an offence of membership of a criminal gang in a manner similar to the approach taken in the Offences Against the State Acts with regard to membership of a proscribed organisation.
Organised crime is constantly evolving and several issues arise in seeking to simply outlawing membership of a criminal gang in such a manner. Most significant is the fact that a criminal gang is unlikely to have the permanency of organisation and structure that a subversive organisation has traditionally had. Relationships in criminal gangs tend to be more fluid, with shifting memberships and alliances. New splinter groups and new gangs can form overnight.
Part 7 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 (as amended by the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009) establishes a number of offences targeting the activities of those involved in organised crime. These offences include participation in a criminal organisation and directing a criminal organisation. The latter offence specifically targets those in criminal organisations who give the orders without requiring their direct participation in the commission of criminal offences. On conviction, this offence carries a penalty up to life imprisonment.
The Criminal Justice Act 2006 also makes it an offence to conspire with one or more persons to do an act that constitutes a serious offence, irrespective of whether such act actually takes place or not. Evidential provisions as to the existence of a criminal organisation were introduced aiding prosecution for the offences under the Act. Provision was also introduced so that where a serious offence is committed as part of or in furtherance of a criminal organisation, it shall be treated as an aggravating factor for the purpose of determining sentence.
In recent years a number of other legislative measures have been introduced to tackle gang-related and associated crime. The Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Act 2016 provides additional powers for Gardaí, in particular, powers to allow for the immediate seizure of assets suspected of being the proceeds of crime. An Garda Síochána and in particular the Criminal Assets Bureau are already making use of these provisions.
Overall I believe that sufficient legislation already exists for the prosecution of offences relating to organised crime and to target the proceeds of crime and that An Garda Síochána has both the determination and the resources to tackle gangland violence in our communities.