Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Questions (6, 7, 8, 9)

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

6. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on security will next meet. [44407/19]

View answer

Micheál Martin

Question:

7. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if the Cabinet committee on security has met recently. [45242/19]

View answer

Joan Burton

Question:

8. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on security will next meet. [44455/19]

View answer

Brendan Howlin

Question:

9. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Security will next meet. [45466/19]

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Oral answers (23 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 9, inclusive, together.

The Cabinet committee on security deals with issues relating to justice, defence, Garda reform and national security. It last met on Wednesday, 30 October 2019 and the next meeting of the committee will be scheduled in the next few weeks. It encompasses matters that were previously under the remit of Cabinet committees G, justice, and F, national security.

The implementation of A Policing Service for the Future, the Government's implementation plan for policing reform is progressing well. Updates on the progress made to date are available on the policing reform web page at gov.ie.

As part of the implementation of the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, the national security analysis centre was established to co-ordinate across the relevant Departments and agencies in providing strategic analyses to the Government. The centre is establishing its business arrangements in close co-operation with partner Departments and agencies.

With regard to the transformation of the Department of Justice and Equality, significant progress has been made this year, including detailing the new functional design for the new Department and implementing it in August and September. The fifth report of the effectiveness and renewal group is published on the Department’s website at justice.ie.

Work is ongoing to implement the recommendations of the Public Service Pay Commission with regard to the Defence Forces. I welcome the decisions taken by both recognised associations, PDFORRA and RACO, to accept those recommendations. While this will be an important step in helping to get our Defence Forces to full strength, I accept that more needs to be done on both pay and non-pay issues for the Defence Forces.

I want to raise with the Taoiseach the rejection of Judge Haughton's terms of reference for the scoping exercise into the death of Shane O'Farrell, this being relevant to An Garda Síochána and Garda reform. This situation is extraordinary. Earlier this year, Deputy McGuinness asked the Taoiseach why there had not been an inquiry, for which the majority of the Dáil had voted. The Taoiseach rejected that and set out that the intent of the scoping exercise was to examine the different aspects and claims of the case and to attempt to scope out what an inquiry would look like. The Taoiseach also noted that the matters for investigation extend beyond the Garda. Bearing this in mind, is it not of serious consequence that not only has the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, rejected Judge Haughton's terms of reference, he has narrowed the terms of reference published by him in February? This is difficult to understand in light of the fact that one reason this issue came to the floor of the Dáil was because the family and many independent observers were not confident in the quality of the previous reviews. It appears that the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, is limiting the judge to take into account the outcome of the previous reports prepared and not a review of the investigations, which, in the view of many people, are significantly flawed.

Will the Taoiseach and the Government support the motion tonight tabled by Fianna Fáil to reinstate Judge Haughton's original terms of reference and, if not, will they proceed with an independent public inquiry as already demanded by a majority of Oireachtas Members?

I wish to raise a specific issue around the security brief, namely, the issue of hard drugs, which are at the core of most organised crime in our country, and the personal and community devastation which they cause. While the statistics provided for Ireland are behind those for many other countries, the overall picture relating to drug use is clear and disturbing. Following Brexit, Ireland will have the highest rate of high-risk opiate use in Europe. More people are dying from overdoses than road accidents. What we did in terms of road accidents many years ago points to the type of response required. The Taoiseach will be aware that this is not only an issue in the large urban areas in that it has, for the first time, spread to many provincial communities and there is a growing fear for what the consequences are and will be.

There are many dimensions to this problem. The only way of getting to grips with it is to take a whole-of-government approach involving security, education, community development and health actions. Nobody believes that the current level of attention or urgency being given to this issue at national level is anywhere near what is required. The damage caused by the downgrading of community development and drugs policy since 2011 has been significant. The policy of devolving many actions to local authorities has not worked, by any measure. The fact that so many Ministers of State came together last week to highlight this point, particularly around the community development dimension, is an indication of this. There is no obvious commitment to coming down hard and early when drugs first appear in the community. The failure to deliver treatment and intervention services at the required level is undeniable.

Does the Taoiseach believe that current policies are adequate and are delivering and that the current highly devolved and hands-off approach is working, particularly in comparison to the previous approach, which had succeeded in many communities?

I want to raise with the Taoiseach the issue of crime, particularly gangland crime in Dublin, as well as the gangs that operate along the Border, apparently with impunity, particularly given the terrible actions and torture inflicted on Kevin Lunney as he was carrying out his work in Quinn Industrial Holdings, QIH. In the constituency of Dublin West, which the Taoiseach and I represent, there are an incredible number of gangs who are operating in respect of the drugs trade. They are offering children as young as eight to 14 years bikes, trainers and other rewards if they will become runners for them, with horrific consequences for those children down the line.

We know that in comparison with other countries, Ireland has a relatively low ratio of gardaí and policing per head of population. Does the Taoiseach have any proposals to increase the number of gardaí and to introduce further measures against the gangs? In regard to the current epidemic of cocaine use, much of it is among well-off middle class people who think it is okay to take cocaine at the weekend with no subsequent consequences. Does the Taoiseach have plans to take action against the gangs and to put them behind bars, where they deserve to be?

It has emerged that key figures in the campaign of violence against executives in Quinn Industrial Holdings, which culminated in the horrific attack on Kevin Lunney, are heavily involved in criminality activity and smuggling and are connected to dissident paramilitaries. I welcome the Taoiseach's recent visit to the area to meet QIH directors. I agree with the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, that this situation "should have been dealt with sooner and better". I disagree, however, with his ill-informed comment that the people have been let down by local members of the Garda because I believe they have been let down by the State. Should local members of the Garda be left to deal with such serious cross-Border criminal activity, smuggling and the campaign of violence that has been set out to all people in the last couple of weeks? Does the Taoiseach stand over the comments of the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, and will he clarify precisely when these matters were first discussed at the Cabinet committee and when he became aware of the degree and nature of the intimidation against the directors of QIH?

I thank the Deputies for their questions. On the Shane O'Farrell case, which will be debated later in the House, we all accept that the process has taken much longer than any of us would have liked. However, Deputies will appreciate that the terms of the reference of the scoping exercise - it is normal to do a scoping exercise before a commission of inquiry - must be compliant and in line with jurisprudence established by the Supreme Court in the case of Shatter v. Guerin, which judgment was delivered by the Supreme Court after the original terms of reference had been finalised. This is what gave rise to this change.

The terms of reference for the scoping exercise are focused, as required by the law and as clearly set out in the Supreme Court in Shatter v. Guerin, to reduce the risk of legal challenge to the recommendations of the scoping exercise. The judgment requires that the terms of reference of the scoping exercise be as specific as possible to remove any potential ambiguity and also focused enough to provide a timely outcome to ensure fairness to all parties. However, they still allow for a review of the issues intended.

Judge Haughton is free to make any recommendations that he sees fit and the O'Farrell family are also free to make any representations to Judge Haughton in regard to any matter that they would wish to see inquired into in any future inquiry. The focused terms of reference of the scoping exercise also allow consideration of what broader public policy issues highlighted by the case, such as breaches of bail conditions and execution of warrants, merit further consideration. Throughout the process, the Department of Justice and Equality has consulted with the Office of the Attorney General and we are all anxious to see progress on this matter.

I ask Deputies to understand that the Minister for Justice and Equality cannot, and should not, prejudge Mr. Justice Haughton's report or change the terms of reference, just as he is about to issue his initial report, in a way that does not comply with the law. I understand that Mr. Justice Haughton may be able to produce his report in the next few days.

In response to some of the questions I was asked on drugs policy, we have a national cross-government drugs strategy monitored by the Cabinet sub-committee on social policy. The implementation of the national drugs strategy is driven by the national oversight committee, which has 35 members. We recently added a civil servant from my Department to that committee. Some 11 of the 35 members represent task forces in the community sector so they are very much involved in the oversight committee. I am of the view, as is the Government, that our approach to illegal drugs should be health-led rather than criminal justice-led. However, we need to acknowledge that it has a criminal justice aspect because so much of it is connected to crime and criminal activity. In terms of the kind of things we are doing, people will be aware of the efforts the Government is making to provide a new injecting centre in Merchant's Quay. We are working with Merchants Quay Ireland on that. Unfortunately, the city council refused planning permission but we are going to An Bord Pleanála because we want to do it. We have agreed with the Simon Community to build a 100-bed addiction services centre for people who are homeless and who are addicts to get them off the streets and into a centre where they can have their addiction treated. We are working with the Simon Community on that. We have also made Naloxone much more available. That drug can be used almost instantly to save somebody from an opioid overdose. It was not widely available five or six years ago but it is now. On foot of the expert group report, we are going to move away from a situation whereby if somebody is found in possession of a small amount of drugs for personal use, the default option is prosecution and towards a more health-led approach, giving somebody the option of attending a health-led rehabilitation programme. We do not want to end up in a situation whereby we criminalise large numbers of people for possession of a small amount of illegal drugs. That is not an approach that has worked but we are not going as far as full decriminalisation or legalisation. I know some people would call for that but we are not going to go that far.

On Garda resources, the budget for the Garda next year is €1.88 billion, which is the biggest budget for the Garda ever.

Community development.

To answer the question that was asked, the number of gardaí has increased every year for four or five years now. I think the strength is above 14,000. As part of the reform being led by the Garda Commissioner, more civilian staff are also being hired, which frees gardaí to be out on the front line doing policing, which is what people want them to do; they want to see them in cars, on bikes and out on the street. That is very much being driven by the Garda Commissioner and it is happening now in a way that it did not happen in the past. The Garda is getting additional equipment and new vehicles and there is an armed support unit now in every region. There is real investment in policing very much under way.

Local drugs task forces have a budget of €28 million, which has held steady or slightly increased since 2014. It had been cut back by the former Ministers of State, Deputies Curran and Shortall, in the years previous to that.

It is a fact, I am afraid, I know the Deputy is not into them but it is a fact.

The Taoiseach was a member of that Government, with Deputy Shortall.

The Taoiseach should embrace collective responsibility before he starts handing it out.

What is good for the goose is good for the gander on that remark by Deputy Howlin. I absolutely accept the collective responsibility for that.

The Taoiseach changed the model; that is the point.

I very much support the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne's approach. While I appreciate that some community groups and local drugs task forces would like full autonomy on how they spend the money they are given, she is of a different view. She wants to make sure the money given to the task forces gets to the people for whom it is intended - those who are addicts and drug users - and to communities and that it does not get used in other ways. I very much support her view that we should monitor how money is spent and approve projects in advance. She is very strong on that and I support her on it. Of the nine former Ministers of State with responsibility for drugs who were mentioned, it is noteworthy that all of them are members of Opposition parties but none of them made contact with me directly to share with me their concerns about the drugs issue. They did so through the media.

Is it a sin that they went through the media?

When I do it, the Deputy gets upset about it.

Is it a sin? They drew public attention to it.

It is certainly not a sin but when the shoe is on the other foot, the Deputy has a bee in his bonnet about it too.

I do not. Former Ministers from Pat Rabbitte onwards are quite entitled. He was a Member.

Tell him first.

Let us not bicker. We will move to Question No. 10.