Priority Questions

Crime Prevention

Jim O'Callaghan

Ceist:

1. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the actions he has taken to provide additional supports to An Garda Síochána to address a number of recent thefts of automated teller machines, ATMs; if tracking devices are being considered for installation in ATMs to address the issue; if additional Garda resources have been deployed to areas likely to be targeted; if he is satisfied that the mechanisms to facilitate cross-Border co-operation are in place in the context of tackling this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21172/19]

This question relates to the recent thefts of ATMs. As the Minister is aware, there has been a series of such thefts in recent months, particularly in the Border counties and in the neighbouring jurisdiction of Northern Ireland. What steps does the Government believe it can take to prevent these thefts? In that context, I refer to the provision of additional resources or engagement with banks to ensure that they install tracking devices in these machines.

I thank Deputy O'Callaghan for his question. In short, the Government has been liaising with An Garda Síochána, the banks and the construction industry in order to ensure that we have a concerted effort in response to this unacceptable pattern of events.

As the Deputy will be aware, investigations into several ATM robberies are ongoing both here and in Northern Ireland with a view to identifying those responsible. I want to acknowledge very close co-operation between An Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, on this matter.  I have been fully briefed on these investigations by the Garda Commissioner and his team on several occasions. These crimes clearly have a very negative impact on both businesses and communities.

I can also advise the Deputy that my officials, including the Secretary General of my Department, recently met representatives of the banks, as well as the Banking and Payments Federation of Ireland and An Garda Síochána.  It was clear from the meeting that a productive working relationship exists between the Irish banking sector and An Garda Síochána and they will continue to work closely to develop more effective preventative measures against thefts of ATMs. For operational reasons I do not intend to go into all the measures in place in each ATM. However, I am assured that individual risk assessments are carried out in respect of the security arrangements for each ATM, with engagement between the banks and An Garda Síochána where appropriate and necessary.

It is also important to ensure that large plant machinery of the type used in these robberies is securely stored. I am sure the Deputy will join with me in encouraging all farmers, contractors and plant hire companies to remain vigilant. If they have any concerns they should contact An Garda Síochána immediately.

In terms of co-operation, having regard to the fact a pattern has emerged between Northern Ireland and Border counties in the Republic, I assure the House of cross-jurisdiction co-operation here. Deputies will be aware of the joint cross-Border policing strategy operated between the two services, which covers a range of policing activities and contains a series of initiatives in which both police services remain actively engaged.

I thank the Minister. These are very serious and organised crimes. It is apparent to anyone who has looked at them that a pattern is emerging. They are crimes which have been taking place in the Border counties and in Northern Ireland. We need to ensure that there is cross-jurisdictional co-operation between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI.

I agree by and large with what Deputy O'Callaghan has said and I wish to assure the House that the Garda Síochána, in conjunction with interested parties here, the primary stakeholders and the cross-Border initiatives, are making every effort, and I acknowledge their excellent ongoing relationship, to tackle cross-Border issues. This issue is no different in Northern Ireland than it is here. A cross-Border seminar on organised crime took place recently. This is an annual event organised jointly by the two justice departments and the two police services focusing on increased co-operation and best practice in countering organised crime which seeks to exploit the Border. Furthermore, the joint agency task force established under the fresh start agreement engages the two police services in the lead role, with other agencies in structured strategic operational co-operation to combat cross-Border crime. Ensuring this type of co-operation can continue into the future remains a key priority for me.

The Minister also needs to consider resourcing An Garda Síochána in respect of this. Serious criminals are carrying out these crimes. We do not know whether they are armed but it would not surprise me if they are when they commit these offences. We know that in the northern region there is an armed support unit split between Louth and Donegal. The Minister needs to give serious consideration to the immediate establishment and resourcing of an armed support unit for the Cavan-Monaghan region. This is the area where many of these thefts take place. Many of these armed gangs operate in the Border region. We need to ensure that the gardaí are adequately resourced to deal with them. The next question I will deal with is the issue in Drogheda and what needs to be done there but policing the Border is a difficult and dangerous task for An Garda Síochána and the Minister needs to ensure that they are fully resourced to detect and deter these types of offences.

I will make two points by way of reply. First, in respect of ongoing briefing on this area I mentioned the Garda Commissioner and his team. I have met him four times in as many weeks. I also discussed the matter with the British Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland at last week's British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in London. I want to ensure that the type of co-operation we have will continue into the future. I also had a specific briefing on the matter of ATMs from the chief constable of the PSNI as well as the Garda Commissioner. Second, I assure Deputy O'Callaghan not only the numbers but the Garda resources are very significant. Capital investment is being made in An Garda Síochána. We have an armed support unit in Donegal and in Louth and the Garda Commissioner intends to have a specifically designated armed support unit in Cavan, not too far from the Border. Arrangements are being set in train to fit out the appropriate location and training. It is expected that this will be fully operational by the end of the year.

Criminal Law Review

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Ceist:

2. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to amend the Chemical Act 2008 to deal with the regulation of sale of corrosive substances; if legislation is required to deal with the use of acid as a weapon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21174/19]

I am sure the Minister will agree with me that the recent acid attack in Waterford on Tega Agberhiere and Padraig Sullivan and others was particularly horrific. It was particularly malicious. We need to consider whether our legislation is adequate to ensure that we can deal with the use of acid as a weapon and whether consideration should be given to the sale of certain products to minors.

I am aware of the vicious and horrific attack in Waterford City on 25 April where the perpetrators of a serious crime used a corrosive substance to attack three young victims. Garda investigations into this assault are continuing and I do not want to say anything in this House that might pre-empt that investigation in any way. I urge anyone with information to contact Waterford Garda Station on 051 305300 or the Garda Confidential Line 1800 666 111. This was a truly shocking incident. Corrosive substance attacks can result in some of the most horrendous, life-altering injuries and I utterly condemn the perpetrators of this violent attack. I expect that the full force of the law will be brought down on anyone found to have carried out such an attack in this jurisdiction. I wish the victims of this attack a speedy and full recovery. I spoke directly to the parents of the three boys in question and I acknowledge the particular and horrific nature of the crime.

In terms of criminal legislation, the punishment for such a crime can be up to life imprisonment and I cannot see that further criminal legislation is needed. I do acknowledge however what Deputy Ó Laoghaire has said. Assault offences are dealt with comprehensively under the Non-fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997.

The Deputy raised other legislation in particular the Chemicals Act 2008 which would primarily be a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys. I have spoken directly to her on this issue. I also refer to the Poisons Act 1961 which provides for the regulation and control of the distribution and sale of poisons, which is the responsibility of the Department of Health. The expertise in these matters rests in those two Departments. I have spoken directly to Deputy Humphreys and asked my officials to make contact with those Departments to see if there is anything further that needs to be done that might reduce the risk of similar attacks in the future.

I echo the Minister's call for anyone who has information to come forward to the gardaí in Waterford. Mr. Agberhiere spoke after this appalling attack of the fear of being left blind and being left with permanent scars. Padraig Sullivan, another young man who was attacked in the same incident, described the pain as being like someone holding a lighter constantly on his leg, burning it, and afterwards it was as if his body numbed. These attacks are rare in this jurisdiction, however, I am concerned at the potential for them to be imitated and there is a rise in these kind of attacks in Britain. They are particularly malicious given that the attacker has chosen to use the substance as a weapon with the intent of causing maximum harm without the intention to cause death. We need to be proactive. I can ask the Minister to consider further actions that can be taken. Can acid in this form be considered under Irish legislation an offensive weapon?

I assure the Deputy that I would be happy to explore all avenues. I have been in direct contact with the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, who has responsibility for chemicals legislation and officials from my Department have been in touch with the Department of Health which has primary responsibility for poisons legislation. The Deputy mentioned a situation in the UK and I acknowledge that there has been an alarming number of acid attacks in the UK in recent years. Retailers there have been encouraged to make voluntary commitments in respect of the responsible sale of acids and corrosive substances. This voluntary commitment includes agreeing not to sell products that contain potentially harmful levels of corrosive substances to persons younger than 18 years. While not currently in place in this jurisdiction I would be keen to explore this. I would be happy to hear any suggestions the Deputy might have in respect of this. I will of course accept the primary criminal justice response in respect of this but other Departments are involved too.

The Minister has partly pre-empted what I was going to say. There is a voluntary code in Britain, and perhaps it could be put on a statutory basis in Ireland, that products which contain either 10% or 12% materials such as sulphuric acid, sodium hydroxide, hydrochloric acid, ammonium hydroxide and suchlike should not be sold to people younger than 18 years.

Perhaps that should be considered in the context of statute law. As far as I am aware, there is no restriction on those under 18 being able to purchase such materials. Some of these products are household goods and will have to be available to people to buy. That said, do we need to consider who they should be sold to, whether they should be sold to minors, who typically do not need them to the same extent, and whether restrictions are required?

Obviously, an attack of this kind could be considered a serious assault occasioning grievous bodily harm or a similar category of offence. However, will the Minister consider whether an attack using household products that can be acidic and can cause serious damage could be considered assault with a weapon? Are these products considered offensive weapons under current legislation? If not, will the Minister consider the position in respect of them? I am of the view that they should be classed in this way.

The short answer is "Yes". I have been examining the position in other jurisdictions, with particular reference to the laws in the United Kingdom, as mentioned by the Deputy. A new law was introduced last year in the UK that criminalised the possession of sulphuric acid above 15% in strength by a member of the public without a particular licence. The penalties for possession of such a substance without a licence are a maximum of two years imprisonment and an unlimited fine. In order to obtain a licence, applicants must disclose a legitimate purpose for acquiring the substance and any relevant health issues. While such individual licensing offences are not currently in place in this jurisdiction, I have listened closely to the Deputy and I would be happy to explore further whether reform is needed in this area. Attacks such as those referred to in the Deputy's question are most unusual in Ireland but that is not to say we should not be vigilant.

Organised Crime

Jim O'Callaghan

Ceist:

3. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the progress made in tackling an ongoing feud in Drogheda, County Louth; if he is satisfied that An Garda Síochána has sufficient resources to tackle the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21173/19]

I want to ask about the dangerous feud in Drogheda that has been ongoing on for the best part of a year. I am concerned, and I know the people of Drogheda are concerned, that insufficient resources were put into policing in Drogheda and that this has allowed this dangerous feud to escalate. I want to know from the Minister what additional resources have been supplied to date by the Government and whether it is his intention to keep those resources in place. What other measures does he propose in order to resolve this very serious criminal feud in the town?

I join the Deputy in condemning unequivocally the criminal activity in Drogheda. I have visited the town of Drogheda on a number of occasions in recent months - including two weeks ago in the company of the Garda Commissioner, Mr. Drew Harris - to meet the gardaí involved in tackling what is a feud. I have been briefed by the Commissioner about the dedicated policing operation, Operation Stratus, which is in place in Drogheda and which specifically targets this ongoing, highly volatile situation.

Operation Stratus consists of high-visibility patrols and checkpoints, days of action and covert policing initiatives targeting specific parties involved in the feud. The operations are supplemented by personnel from the regional armed support unit, the drugs unit and the divisional roads policing unit and have resulted in the seizure of considerable amounts of cash, firearms and controlled drugs.

I am informed that a number of arrests took place last weekend as part of Operation Stratus. On Friday, gardaí investigating ongoing criminality in Drogheda attended the scene of a stolen burnt-out car. The follow-up investigation led to three males being arrested and charged in respect of this incident. On Sunday, gardaí searched a house in the Hill View area of Drogheda town. During the course of the search, gardaí recovered quantities of cocaine and cannabis herb. Other paraphernalia, including weighing equipment and documentation, was also seized. I am informed that during the follow-up operation a person was arrested and is currently detained for questioning under the Criminal Justice Act 1984.

I welcome the Garda Commissioner's recent announcement that an additional 25 Garda members will be assigned to Drogheda, adding to the existing Garda strength of approximately 120 members. I also want to reassure the local community in Drogheda that there are specialised regional armed support units based in the northern region at Dundalk and Ballyshannon. Members of these units are highly trained and equipped with a variety of non-lethal and lethal weapons. They perform high-visibility armed checkpoints and patrols throughout the region and support and supplement the national emergency response unit, which has also been deployed to Drogheda in recent times.

Since last summer, there have been 74 connected incidents relating to this feud. This is not something that has recently become known to the public at large. In fact, representatives in Drogheda, Anthony Moore and James Byrne, were in touch with me repeatedly from last summer informing me about the extent of the problem with this feud but, more importantly, also about the lack of Garda resources there.

I attended a public meeting in Drogheda some months ago and I was surprised at the large crowd in attendance and the concerns being expressed. It is fair to state that a small number of people are terrorising a large section of the community in the town. While they are not terrorising them directly, because of their activities relating to this gangland feud, there is an indirect fear throughout Drogheda. We have seen how feuds can severely damage other cities, whether it is Limerick or parts of the north inner city of Dublin, but we have seen those being resolved through resourcing. I want the Minister to commit that the resourcing announced recently, which I welcome, will be maintained and that there will be significant recognition by the Government that this is a problem that needs resources.

As Minister for Justice and Equality, I am determined that the situation in Drogheda will not be allowed to continue. There has been a sustained and concerted effort on the part of An Garda Síochána to bring those engaged in the feud to justice. An Garda Síochána is dedicated to tackling gang-related violence in Drogheda and to ensuring the safety of all citizens in the community and the wider area.

The Garda station in the town is in the Drogheda district, which forms part of the Louth division. On 31 March last, 122 Garda members were assigned to Drogheda district, 112 of whom were assigned to Drogheda Garda station. The work of local gardaí is supported by a number of Garda national units that are active in the Drogheda area - the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the armed support unit, the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau. Since the reopening of the Garda College in September 2014, almost 2,600 new gardaí have been recruited. I assure the Deputy that, in light of the recent announcement by the Garda Commissioner that a further 25 gardaí will be assigned to the Drogheda area, there is a sustained and concerted effort taking place. As the Garda Commissioner stated, the allocation of extra resources to Drogheda is not a flash in the pan and it will continue, as needed.

I welcome the increased resources that were allocated to Drogheda but I do not shy away from making a criticism of the fact it should have been done much sooner. This is a feud that has been going on for a considerable time. The additional Garda resources will be important and useful in trying to deal with the criminality of the gangs involved but, obviously, more is required in order to resolve issues such as this. We have a problem not just in Drogheda but throughout the country with young people being attracted to and taking drugs. We need to ensure that they are fully informed of the dangers of taking drugs, how drugs can destroy their lives and leave a shadow hanging over them for the rest of their lives. I do not think enough is being done in that respect to warn young people about the dangers of drugs. If we can do that, it will close off part of the market that exists for gangs that thrive on the sale of illegal drugs. At the heart of the problem in Drogheda are two gangs feuding over a market for drugs.

Operation Stratus has been in operation in Drogheda since last year. There have been significant successes on the part of the Garda in more recent times and, as I mentioned earlier, there have been successful operations and arrests. Over the Christmas period, there was a seizure of drugs worth in excess €110,000 at Moneymore and one person was charged in that regard. There was the discovery of three firearms and a consignment of drugs at Boyne Rovers football club in Drogheda last March.

On 10 April, four residential properties were searched, one vehicle was seized for examination and a quantity of suspected cannabis and cocaine, with an approximate value of €5,000, as well as a quantity of mobile telephones were seized. Three men were arrested. Also in April, gardaí arrested four men in connection with a shooting incident and a number of premises have been searched in connection with this investigation. On 22 April, An Garda Síochána discovered a handgun and nine pipe bomb components during a search of open ground at Moneymore. To date, 319 proactive searches have been carried out in the Drogheda area along with 870 armed support unit and roads policing checkpoints and 1,250 proactive uniform and plain clothes patrols.

There is sustained and concerted action by An Garda Síochána under Operation Stratus.

Domestic Violence Policy

Ruth Coppinger

Ceist:

4. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on the introduction of a court order against harassment (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21288/19]

There is increasing awareness of coercive control and its role in connection with violence against women and domestic violence, yet there is nothing to stop unwanted contact or to assist people breaking free from harassment or abusive relationships. Will the Minister listen to the experience of women such as Jessica Bowes who are asking for the introduction of no-contact orders, as have been introduced in other countries?

A couple of days ago, the Deputy published the Domestic Violence (No-contact order) (Amendment) Bill 2019. This Bill provides for a new no-contact order that would enable a court to prohibit the respondent from communicating with the applicant where the respondent has subjected the applicant to harassment. The Bill defines harassment as conduct that has occurred on at least two occasions that causes another person alarm or distress. It proposes that a person could apply for a no-contact order against any other person and to amend the Domestic Violence Act 2018 to provide for the new no-contact order.

I acknowledge the Deputy's strong role in respect of support for victims of domestic violence. I commend the courageous victims of abuse who have come forward to seek positive changes. In legislating to ratify the Istanbul Convention, we have recently introduced a wide range of legislative reforms.

In the first instance, as with every new legislative proposal, it will be necessary for the provisions of the Deputy's Bill to be carefully and thoroughly examined by my Department, in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General. As the Bill was published only a couple of days ago, the Deputy will appreciate that it has not yet been possible for this examination to be completed. The Government will give the Bill full consideration before Second Stage and I look forward to an extensive and constructive debate on its provisions on that Stage.

In addition, I believe the Oireachtas committee scrutiny process will be of great value as it will provide an opportunity for detailed examination of the Bill's provisions before Committee Stage and for the committee to hear the views of relevant experts in the area. In view of the wide scope of this Bill, which encompasses not only its main focus of domestic violence but could also, because of its broad terms, apply to behaviour such as disputes between neighbours or online disagreements, I believe it would be useful for the committee to consult experts in the area. There are many stakeholders in that regard and I am in regular contact with many of those groups.

On the technicalities of this, the Minister will be aware that as a small party Solidarity has little Private Members' time to progress Bills. Will he consider amending the Domestic Violence Act and conduct an inquiry into this? I will outline some research from Scotland where non-harassment orders, on which we based the Bill, have been introduced. It is a very similar jurisdiction and has a similar culture. Before introducing the non-harassment orders, a study was conducted that involved interviews with the police and many people involved in the area. Male ex-partners were found to be the largest group of people who could not accept the end of a relationship. The Minister spent a large amount of money telling people what they should do if they see violence, but there is nothing to help women - obviously there can be male victims but I am referring to the majority - if they are trying to get away from somebody who is not willing to accept "No" for an answer. In the study the sheriff said: "... the isolated incidents which have led up to the non-harassment order may not actually be criminal offences. It's the cumulative effect ... it is very concerning that somebody can keep on texting ...". Another person said: "These men will quite often pose a serious threat to women." We have seen cases recently where women have been severely beaten and killed. We want to prevent that happening and give people a means of escape.

I agree with the sentiment expressed by the Deputy, but it appears that the Deputy publishes a Bill on Tuesday and wants it enacted by Friday.

Not Friday. I am just asking the Minister to consider it. There is no need for exaggeration.

The Deputy is aware that there is a Dáil and Seanad process and I ask her to acknowledge the existence of that process in her utterances in the Chamber and outside.

I remind her of the Domestic Violence Act 2018 which has been fully operational since 1 January last. It improves the protections available to victims of domestic violence under both the civil and criminal law. In particular, section 6 of the Act enables a person to apply for a safety order to prohibit the respondent from using or threatening to use violence against the applicant, putting the applicant in fear, watching or besetting a place where the applicant resides, following the applicant or communicating with the applicant, including by electronic means. The Act extended eligibility for safety orders to applicants who were in an intimate relationship with the respondent prior to the application but who were not cohabiting.

There are protections under that Act. I will be happy to look at the details of the Deputy's Bill but I again ask her to acknowledge that there is a process in which we must engage to ensure that what we do is operationally sound.

This issue has been raised previously and is not new to the Minister. I am not expecting anything by Friday but asking the Minister to seriously consider it. There is a problem with existing legislation. One can impose no contact if somebody gets a barring order but this is about a person who may not have been in an intimate relationship with the other person. The person might have just started the process. That person cannot get a barring order. In addition, as Jessica Bowes pointed out on "Prime Time", receiving bunches of flowers and declarations of undying love cannot be reported to a garda as breaching the barring order. Ms Bowes had a barring order in place. The contact increases, then it becomes more menacing and there is a cumulative effect, as I mentioned.

I disagree with the Minister. The Dáil has been balefully slow in responding to this issue. There have been huge protests. There is the global #MeToo movement, there were the #IBelieveHer" marches in Dublin last year and the "This is not consent" protest with regard to a thong. What have we changed since then? There will be a second Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland, SAVI, study, which the Minister should have agreed to sooner and which will take five years to complete. The measure I have proposed could be enacted quickly. I ask the Minister to meet women who have experienced this behaviour and to have the Department examine my proposal.

This Government is committed to continuing its work in providing protections to victims of domestic and sexual violence and holding perpetrators to account. I will approach the Bill published a few days ago by Deputy Coppinger with that commitment firmly in mind.

Road Traffic Offences

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

5. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the work he is undertaking to ensure that disqualified drivers do not continue to drive and that their licences are surrendered as mandated in the courts to the court clerk; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21248/19]

There is an ongoing scandal of disqualified drivers continuing to drive. It has been highlighted continuously by road safety activists such as Ms Susan Gray and the PARC road safety group, yet the figures are stark. The Minister's colleague, Deputy Burke, reported that approximately 83,000 licences of banned drivers were not surrendered in the past eight years. The Minister gave me figures for the past two or three years which are equally stark. Is it not past time that the Road Safety Authority, RSA, the Garda, the Courts Service and the information technology systems worked together coherently to end this problem once and for all?

Deputy Broughan makes a very important point. I am seriously concerned about this issue. It was discussed in detail by the Garda Commissioner with the Committee of Public Accounts last Thursday. I am in complete agreement with the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, that this behaviour is a blatant abuse of the criminal justice process.

Under the Road Traffic Acts, the penalty for driving while disqualified is a fine up to a maximum of €5,000 and-or a prison term of up to six months. It is a legal requirement for those disqualified to return their licences to the licensing authority, that is, the Road Safety Authority.

As the Deputy will be aware, the penalty for failing to do so is a fine up to a maximum of €1,000 for a first offence, and up to €2,000 for a second or subsequent offence. There can be no argument that the numbers of those failing to comply with the surrender of his or her licence are nothing short of shocking and I agree that we need to act to ensure this is dealt with speedily and comprehensively. However, while the figures are of concern, I am informed that they do not necessarily correlate to the number of persons driving while disqualified. Failure to surrender a licence does not necessarily mean that person continues to drive during the period of disqualification. Equally, a person may surrender a licence but choose to flout the law and continue to drive illegally. Therefore, it is important that gardaí have the ability to detect in a timely manner those who decide to drive without a valid licence.

As the Commissioner pointed out, the Garda ACTIVE Mobility project will greatly assist gardaí in ascertaining the current status of a licence at the roadside. The system will allow Garda members to take an image of a licence, or input the data manually, at which point front-line gardaí will be immediately notified as to whether the licence is valid or not. I am informed that the current aim is that 2,000 of the new handheld devices will be issued by the end of the year. Of course, it is crucial that the data which underpin these devices are up to date, and I understand that An Garda Síochána is continuing to work with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, which holds the driver licence data to this end.

Banned drivers are involved in between 11 and 14 deaths every year, and 500 banned drivers were involved in serious crashes in a two-year period in the middle of this decade. The Minister's figures are incredibly stark. Before Christmas, the Road Safety Authority, RSA, told me that in 2016 the number of drivers with a court disqualification was 8,296; driver licences surrendered amounted to only 1,035; the number of drivers with penalty point disqualifications was 1,054; and the driver licences surrendered numbered only 476. The figures for 2017 were very similar, with 9,449 court disqualifications and a similar number of refusals to surrender licences. The last figures the Minister gave me, up to September of last year, present a similarly dire situation. We have heard about the handheld devices and I note the comments the Commissioner, Drew Harris, made to the Committee of Public Accounts about the list of policing priorities for 2019, which I welcome. Can we see some real action on this?

I share the Deputy's concern and these figures are stark and totally unacceptable. I wish to acknowledge the importance of enforcement, which is crucial. The development and supply of handheld devices under the Garda mobility strategy will facilitate more effective road traffic enforcement via front-line access and real-time information, including relating to drivers who may be disqualified. I also acknowledge the importance of the implementation of the strategy. This is currently being rolled out on a phased basis and it is expected that the 2,000 mobile devices will be given to members of the Garda national roads policing bureau by the end of this year. This is underpinned by resources in the amount of €1.5 million in current spending in budget 2019, which will allow for the roll-out of the mobility project to commence. I am happy to keep the Deputy informed and I have raised it with the Road Safety Authority as well as my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. I agree that the practice is totally unacceptable and needs to be addressed urgently.

The list of policing priorities for 2019, which Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has reported to the Oireachtas, is very interesting and includes policing our roads, safeguarding road users, denying criminals the use of roads and spot checks on roads. These are very important as they help to identify disqualified drivers and alert us to criminal behaviour. The head of the RSA, Ms Moyagh Murdock, addressed the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport and said the level of compliance was entirely unacceptable and demonstrated a disregard of, and disrespect for, road traffic legislation from those individuals. She drew a contrast with Northern Ireland where, she said, there seemed to be a far less cumbersome system in which a licence was surrendered there and then, in the court. Even when an appeal is possible, the licence is retained by the court. This is another example of where Northern Ireland appears to be ahead of us in policing terms.

I attend, on a regular basis, the joint ministerial meeting with Ms Murdock and her team, as well as other stakeholders and departments, and this is an issue I would be happy to pursue on an urgent basis. As noted by the Committee of Public Accounts last Thursday, An Garda Síochána is currently preparing a series of actions to address the issue of the non-surrender of licences, which will cover both enforcement - or the lack of enforcement, as Deputy Broughan might refer to it - and public awareness. I have requested a Garda report on this matter and I will closely monitor developments in this regard. In the meantime I am informed that, as an interim solution, An Garda Síochána has developed a report whereby members can search for disqualified drivers in particular geographical areas, thereby assisting local enforcement. We have handheld devices and data updating and An Garda Síochána will target particular local geographical areas where there may be acute instances of what are totally unacceptable practices.