I wish to express my unqualified support and enthusiasm for the measures being introduced in this Bill. I congratulate the Minister for the effective action she is introducing to deal with the contagion of drug trafficking and addiction. Communities previously untouched by crime, who lived in peace and harmony, have in recent times suffered the consequence of this contagion in that drug addicts, in the urgent need to feed their addiction, are attacking old and defenceless people in their homes. This has become an unfortunate feature not just of this country in recent times but of every country. The majority of the unspeakable and mindless violence we witness is drug related.
We must all be enthusiastic and supportive of actions, such as those proposed by the Minister in this Bill, to target those who engage in drug trafficking and who cream off their profits from the suffering of addicts and the unfortunate victims of crimes of horrific violence perpetrated by mindless, crazed people who are addicted to drugs.
We are talking about the community at large, particularly those who would normally not even have an awareness of drugs, much less be victims of drug addiction, in other countries, in our communities and in parts of our cities. The most peaceful parts of Ireland are now suffering the consequences of this addiction and that demands the kind of action proposed in this Bill.
For the first time — and this can be confirmed by an analysis of proposed penalties in legislation — the concept of the burden of proof is being introduced on a convicted person. As the Minister said, this Bill does not introduce a burden of proof in relation to the charge of possession or distribution; when a person has been convicted of such an offence the burden of proof passes to that person. This is unique; it is right that we demonstrate that such a person's ill gotten gains do not derive from drug addiction or drug trafficking. If that person cannot discharge that burden then he or she faces the consequence of a confiscation of assets. This important part of the Bill is a welcome innovation.
Regarding the issue of money laundering, which I have addressed on a previous debate in the House, our financial institutions have been used and abused. They have not perhaps taken the stringent precautions which they should; it does not always require Government or a Minister to insist on action. These institutions have their standards and obligations and they should, here and elsewhere, without any direction from Government, ensure that they will not be used as distribution outlet or a safe haven for the ill gotten gains of drug barons and drug traffickers.
However, this has not been successfully done by common cause between the financial institutions. Indeed, I have indicated on previous occasions that the evidence would sometimes suggest the contrary. For example, the banking system in Switzerland still asks no questions and uses numbered accounts. That is a norm which is being followed in many countries now. I have commented on this scandal many times and will continue to do so until it is eradicated.
There is nothing about banks which should allow them to operate under secrecy of that kind, with no questions about the origin of the funds. In many cases it is known that funds came from ill gotten gains — and from tyrants, but that is another day's work. For that reason I welcome this provision in the Bill, but I would prefer if the banks here or elsewhere would ensure that the requirements the Minister is introducing will be implemented. This would enable them to know the identity of each person, the source of their funds and matters of that sort to prevent the laundering of ill-gotten gains through the financial services system. The practical provisions which are a feature of the Bill will go a long way towards dealing with this problem but I am sure the Minister would not suggest that the Bill goes all the way.
Some economies are based on a drug culture and on drug trafficking and addiction. There is criminal enterprise today which makes the Mafia days of Al Capone seem almost harmless by comparison. Drug barons control the distribution and supply of drugs to addicts who crave them. We can see the consequences of this. For example, there are regions in Europe, notably Galicia in Spain, where the administration has been corrupted and undermined by drug trafficking through Colombia and other countries.
We have to look at another reality: no matter how much action we take, is it possible to patrol the seas to prevent from landing those who would bring illict drugs into our country which would undermine the basis of society? Last summer I was walking along the Sky Road, a beautiful part of Connemara, and saw two young men. I wondered what they were doing there. I saluted them and they recognised and saluted me. They were two gardaí on duty, observing the sea line as far as the eye could see. This is commendable but one would have to say that this task was impossible. Will we ever have enough gardaí to deal with this problem? If we succeed in putting these criminals away — and I want this to happen — will we have enough space in our prisons to accommodate them? Can our courts system cope with the growth of this empire of drug related crime?
I welcome the action being taken in this Bill but is there something new which needs to be considered? If not we are reacting to those who control this criminal empire, who are happy to see us attempting to tackle this problem. It was demonstrated in the days of prohibition in America that once distribution through criminal channels is confined, whether it is of alcohol or other addictive drugs, criminals control the empires. They can limit supply to keep up the price. The more supply is limited the higher the price and the more addicts will not be able to get drugs which they crave. This will result in increased crime. We must begin to undermine this control. If not, we will play into the hands of those who want the control of the supply of drugs to be outside the regulation of the only authority which should exercise this control, that is, our elected Government.
Studies recently undertaken, particularly in America and in Europe, suggest there is another way. I would be regarded as very conservative on almost all issues and people might be surprised that I would suggest that it is time for governments to look at that other way mentioned in reports and surveys I read recently. That other way is — and I know there are precedents for this, even in our city — for governments to ensure that the supply of drugs, which are illegal at the moment, is regulated and controlled so that it is taken out of the hands of the drug barons. It has been suggested to me — and there is evidence of this in many cases — that they actually support programmes which try to restrict the supply of drugs because they know that as long as it is kept an exclusively criminal activity they will win all the time by maintaining limited supplies and increasing price levels.
The evidence from Colombia, Spain and elsewhere suggests that the conventional way of battling this problem is not effective. If we always look at it as just a question of law and order and security — which I agree it is — we will just be reacting. Will we ever have enough gardaí or prison places? Can we ensure that we will be able to cope by dealing with it on a criminal basis only?
Prosecution, court proceedings, penalties, imprisonment, all have a very effective function in vindicating the role of the State and protecting the rights of the citizen and I strongly welcome what is proposed in this Bill in that regard. However, I would like us to take a broader view and link into much of the work which has been done, for example, in Holland, Switzerland, Sweden, America, etc. People there are now saying that if drugs — and I am not saying that alcohol and tobacco are not drugs — are causing problems in society, as they are in ours, then it is time that all governments consulted to see if there is a better way of dealing with this as a medical problem.
The distribution and supply of drugs should be controlled through medically or socially regulated channels as distinct from leaving it to the drug barons to operate very successfully in the criminal world they dominate. I hope this Bill gives us an opportunity to at least deflect them. I do not have any experience in this area, direct or otherwise, but I have increasingly observed in recent times a number of reports which suggest that is a very important trend in thinking in relation to drug contagion.