Priority Questions. - Garda Operations.

Tom Enright


84 Mr. Enright asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he has had discussions with the Garda Commissioner to re-establish the Garda murder squad; and, if not, his plans to have such discussions with the commissioner. [27793/01]

As the House will appreciate, the deployment of Garda resources and the investigative methods used in murder cases are matters for the Garda Commissioner. I have been informed by the commissioner that a number of national support units have been established, working under an assistant commissioner. These units include the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation which investigates all forms of serious crime including murder and organised crime. While responsibility for the investigation of crime rests with local garda officers, the bureau provides assistance to serious investigations through a range of expertise and skills available within it. Staff assist in preliminary inquiries, case management, incident room management, general investigation, file preparation and other ancillary aspects of criminal investigation. Specialist investigation teams within the bureau carry out these tasks when requested by local gardaí or on the direction of senior Garda management. The system is designed to meet modern policing requirements in an efficient and professional manner, both at home and internationally. Personnel and expertise from former units have been incorporated into the national support units.

All killings, regardless of the circumstances involved, are the subject of rigorous Garda investigations. The identification of a motive, such as an association with organised crime, and the evidence available in its support are key elements of the investigation and prosecution processes. Organised crime is undoubtedly one factor in the murder rate. The Garda Commissioner has informed me that the necessary resources have been directed towards such areas of criminal activity and that a continued proactive and integrated approach is taken by the Garda to the investigation of cases where the involvement of organised criminals is suspected. I have been assured that no effort will be spared to solve such crimes and bring to justice those involved.

Almost all murders recorded to date this year have been detected and such a high detection rate indicates that the strategy being pursued by the Garda, which I have outlined, is effective.

With regret, I have to disagree with the Minister's reply. There is a high level of unease, worry and concern in the community regarding the number of people who have gone missing. That the bodies of more than eight women and a number of men who have gone missing have not been recovered is a cause for serious concern. In view of public concern, will the Minister discuss with the Garda Commissioner the policies he believes should be undertaken regarding the re-establishment of the murder squad? I ask the Minister to ensure that a specialised, top level unit is available for the immediate investigation of murder or missing persons cases. While I am pleased that progress has been made by the discovery of the body of a German journalist near Drogheda, there is great concern about other people who have gone missing. I ask the Minister to look into this matter as a priority, to relieve some of the concern and to help solve crimes.

The situation regarding missing persons is that Operation Trace was set up by the Garda Síochána to see if there were similarities in relation to the disappearances of certain women and to see if a pattern could be established. No evidence has been produced, however, to suggest that a serial killer was involved in the disappearances of the women.

In relation to the murder squad, I have said that a unit of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation can be called on by local gardaí. Alternatively, the unit can be sent to a given area on the instructions of Garda management. I have spoken to the Garda Commissioner on a number of occasions in relation to the unit and he strongly believes that it is the most effective way to tackle crimes such as murder.

I will allow Deputy Enright a further brief question.

There has been disappointment that the Minister and the commissioner have apparently scaled down Operation Trace. Rather than scaling it down, I ask that new people with fresh ideas be brought to the operation. Such a move is essential. The Minister said there is no evidence of a serial killer, but the many similarities in the cases of missing women merit further investigation. While I agree that the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation is progressive, I call once more for the re-establishment of the Garda murder squad, which had many successes.

I have dealt with Deputy Enright's queries regarding the murder squad. Operation Trace was established by the Garda Commissioner in 1998 and is headed by an Assistant Garda Commissioner. It has devoted a considerable amount of time to the re-examination of the cases of a number of missing persons. Garda authorities have informed me that no discernible pattern emerged to support the theory that a serial killer is responsible for some disappearances. The manner in which the women disappeared creates particular difficulties for investigating gardaí. Criminal profiling and analysis based on crime scene examination are not possible if there is no crime scene. Pathological evidence is not available if a body has not been found. I understand that victim profiling has not established a link between the cases.

It is important that it be understood that while the theory cannot be discounted, no evidence has emerged to suggest that a serial killer is at work. It goes without saying that any new lead will be vigorously investigated by the Garda. I am not aware of any scaling down of Operation Trace. The Garda Síochána is anxious to trace all missing persons.

That concludes Priority Questions.