Adjournment Debate. - Criminal Assets.

I thank the Chair for allowing me to raise this important issue on the Adjournment. I am bringing this proposal, which I have raised with successive Ministers for Justice, to the attention of the Minister and the Government. I raise it today at the request of many local community organisations and anti-drugs groups in areas of Dublin city which have suffered greatly during the past 20 years as a result of the drugs crisis.

The proposal is that, where moneys or assets are confiscated by the courts from drug dealers and where these moneys are then returned to the Exchequer, the Government of the day, in the person of the Minister with responsibility for the drugs issue, should, in each case, make special grants of the same amount as that confiscated available to community and sports projects in the designated drugs task force areas. These facilities would be of benefit to both young people and the elderly, all of whom have been victims of the drugs crisis, though in different ways.

This proposal would not cost the State or the taxpayer a single penny, it would simply involve the redirection of moneys seized from drug dealers back to those whom those drug dealers had exploited. It would also take the form of an additional grant to under-resourced community facilities. There would be no question of these moneys replacing other grants currently available or of community projects having to wait until confiscated moneys became available. This proposal would simply provide an additional resource for under-resourced projects.

I will provide a specific example to the Minister. I campaigned in recent years in support of anti-drugs groups for the establishment of the youth facilities fund which is now in place and which is disbursing grants in drugs task force areas. This fund is very worthwhile and represents a tremendous initiative in the provision and financial underpinning of community, youth and sports projects.

One of the largest single grants from this fund was allocated to the Cabra area in my constituency. A sum of £810,000 for the construction of a community sports and recreation complex has been made available on the initiative of the Cabra Community Against Drugs Organisation through its involvement on the Finglas/Cabra local drugs task force, of which I am a member. However, the total estimated cost of building the complex at John Paul Park, Nephin Road, is in the region of £3 million which leaves a shortfall of £2.2 million. Cabra Community Development Ltd. recently launched a major fundraising campaign as its contribution to the overall cost and no doubt further Government grants will also be made available to this project.

In this case, as in many others, an additional badly needed boost could be provided by an allocation from the confiscated assets of drug dealers. It seems reasonable and logical that a community group which has successfully and voluntarily struggled against drug dealers, marched against them, worked to provide treatment facilities for the victims of drug abuse and which is now working to provide youth facilities in an attempt to divert young people away from the nightmare path of drug addiction should be given direct grants from the moneys confiscated from those who made vast profits by exploiting young people in the areas to which I refer. I emphasise that this is just one example of how this proposal could work.

There is one further argument I will make in support of my case. Most people now agree that it was neglect on the part of successive Governments which gave rise to the heroin/drugs crisis in disadvantaged communities, particularly those in Dublin. State neglect led to direct community action and this, in turn, led to belated Government action, the results of which are now, I hope, beginning to turn the tide.

I strongly believe that, in retribution for the appalling years of neglect, it would be a worthwhile gesture to accept this demand, which emanates from the communities to which I refer, and redirect the confiscated assets back to the drug plagued designated areas. Regardless of the contents of his script, I ask the Minister to agree to at least consider this proposal.

Confiscation of the proceeds of drug trafficking or the disposal of the proceeds of crime generally arise under the terms of the Criminal Justice Act, 1994, and the Proceeds of Crime Act, 1996. The terms of those Acts require that moneys realised as a result are to be paid into or disposed of for the benefit of the Exchequer by the Minister for Finance. Therefore, any change as suggested by Deputy Gregory would require a change in the legislation governing confiscation. In that context, I am not sure that having the matter raised on the Adjournment is the appropriate way to deal with it.

Be that as it may, I acknowledge the concerns raised by Deputy Gregory. There is no doubt that those communities which have suffered as a result of the activities of drug dealers have to be assisted to rid themselves of this menace. It seems the real point which concerns the Deputy is that the profits of drug dealing which the State succeeds in having confiscated should be put back into helping those communities to recover and that this funding can only be guaranteed, at least to some extent, by ensuring that the sums which are confiscated are returned to these communities to finance drugs awareness or other projects.

The Deputy is well aware of the initiatives which are under way as part of the Government's multi-agency approach to dealing with the drugs problem. These involve my Department and other agencies to divert young people, in particular, away from a life of crime and from involvement in drugs.

The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform provides funding of more than £1.7 million annually for Garda juvenile diversion projects targeted at young people in the ten to 18 age group, particularly those who are seriously at risk of becoming involved in drug misuse and crime, who are already involved in crime or who are likely to drop out of the education system prematurely. There are 29 such projects at present in Dublin and other major urban centres. The Garda are also involved in other initiatives to reduce the demand for drugs among young people, including drug awareness programmes, visits to schools and juvenile diversion programmes.

Under the national drugs strategy, a sum of £10 million has been allocated on an annual basis to support the implementation of more than 200 projects proposed by local drugs task forces in their areas. A further £15 million over a two year period was allocated in August 1999 to support the development of new service development plans by the local drugs task forces.

Furthermore, the Government has allocated £35 million over three years, up to 2001, under the Young People's Facilities and Services Programme. The money will assist in the development of preventative strategies in disadvantaged areas, where a significant drugs problem exists or has the potential to develop, through the development of youth, sport and recreational facilities and services.

These initiatives will contribute substantially towards dealing with the drugs problem in those communities worst affected as well as the associated problem of social exclusion. In this latter context I should mention the significant funding being made available to tackle social exclusion under the national development plan, including £16 million to facilitate the expansion of the Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme and approximately £70 million for additional crime prevention measures.

Funding for all of these initiatives is provided by the Exchequer. I am sure Deputy Gregory would agree that even if it was not contrary to standard public accounting procedures to transfer particular revenues to particular purposes, there is significantly greater certainty of funding arising from these initiatives than would be the case if it was dependent on diverting sums realised from the confiscation of the proceeds of crime.

While I appreciate Deputy Gregory's concerns in raising this issue, I hope he will agree that the current arrangements for the provision of funding on an unparalleled and historic scale for these and other initiatives is the best way to counter the effects of crime, especially drug trafficking and related criminal activity. In addition to these funds, it appears the Deputy is seeking an expression by the powers that be of their abhorrence of drug dealing by committing some or all of the funds arising from the 1994 Act and the 1996 Act to areas worst affected by the problem concerned.

As the person who pushed the Proceeds of Crime Act, 1996, through the House from the Opposition benches, I can confirm that the Bill received the full support of Deputy Gregory and others. Under the legislation it was intended that the proceeds would be frozen for a period of seven years and that only then would the funds revert to the Exchequer or, in the alternative, if the owner could be found, to the true owner of the illicit assets.

I appreciate what the Deputy is saying, even while it would affect the standard public accounting procedure. Over time the House will have the opportunity to consider what should be done with the funds, which are currently frozen, when they are realised for the Exchequer. The Deputy's suggestion can be given serious consideration by the Government of the day on that occasion and by this House in the meanwhile.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.05 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 11 April 2000.