“That Seanad Éireann:
- the increased presence of organised criminal gangs operating throughout the State;
- the fear that exists in local communities as a result of the increased prevalence of organised crime and criminal gangs in the State;
- the increased prevalence of drug use and drug related crime across the country;
- the impact of increased drug use and drug related crime on communities;
- the terrible legacy and continued existence of criminality in the border region;
- the continued existence of illicit trade between border counties and Northern Ireland;
- the prolonged thuggery that was allowed to carry on in County Cavan;
- the fear that exists in communities in border counties as a result of increased criminal activity;
- the unprecedented increase in the requirement to deploy armed Gardaí to different communities that would never previously have had a need for armed Gardaí;
- the absence of any garda stations in large areas of rural communities and the impact these closures have had on communities;
- the failure of the Government to respond adequately and in a timely manner to the need for extra and more visible gardaí on the ground;
- the support that exists for An Garda Síochána and the fight against crime;
- the success of An Garda Síochána in fighting certain types of crime provided they are given political priority by Government;
- the work of the Armed Support Units;
- the work of the Criminal Assets Bureau; and
- the establishment of a statutory cross-border multidisciplinary agency to target criminal activity at the border region;
- the formulation of an effective strategy to combat the worsening drugs crises;
- increased surveillance of drug distribution networks and legislative changes to facilitate action against those who are using children as part of those networks;
- the provision of increased numbers of Drugs Task Forces;
- budget provision that will enable the Gardaí to implement targeted intelligence driven operations against organised crime, gangland murders, drug trafficking and other criminal activity;
- the promotion of a community-based policing strategy to address the underlying causes of crime and to provide reassurance to communities experiencing the fear of crime, particularly in rural communities.”
I welcome the Minister to the House. I acknowledge the presence of Councillor John O'Leary along with his friend from Waterford, and welcome them to the Chamber.
There is an escalating crime problem with gangs of organised criminals, once the preserve of the cities, now operating in towns never before affected by such criminality. Increased drug use and drug-related crime is impacting on every town. Armed support units are now being deployed with increased frequency. People and communities are living in fear.
Fianna Fáil recognises the success of An Garda Síochána in fighting certain types of crime, provided they are given political priority by Government. The Government has become complacent and we hope this motion and the ensuing debate will help to counteract it. The increased presence of organised criminal gangs operating throughout the county is concerning. Organised crime and gangland violence were once the preserve of the cities but this is no longer the case. Longford, Drogheda and, most recently, my constituency of Cavan-Monaghan were all affected. While many of these gangs have links to the drugs community in which they are carrying out these attacks, they do not fear law enforcement. The use of guns is sending shock waves through communities and many attacks taking place in settled residential areas often happen in broad daylight. Too many lives have been lost.
A study from the European monitoring centre for drugs and drug addiction reported at the beginning of the summer that cocaine use in Ireland is now the third highest in Europe. According to the most recent statistics from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, there has been a 16.5% increase in recorded incidence of drug offences compared with the same period last year. Fianna Fail is calling on Government to establish a national drugs education and awareness campaign. It is vitally important that happens immediately. People taking drugs must understand the connection between their actions and organised crime.
The prolonged thuggery that was allowed in County Cavan also highlights the need for increased resources for An Garda Síochána, particularly in the Border region. This is all the more pressing as we face the prospect of a hard Brexit. Policing in the Border area has particular challenges that require a collaborative approach between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI. We are assured an armed support unit has been set up in the Border region, albeit it took a long time to do it and I understand that those members are being taken from elsewhere. We are also assured that a task force is in place to deal with cross-Border crime.
In 2015, Fianna Fáil brought forward legislation seeking to establish a statutory cross-Border multidisciplinary agency to root out cross-Border criminality. Now, more than ever, such a body is needed. The Government must resource the Garda Síochána to ensure that they can implement targeted intelligence-driven operations against organised crime, drug trafficking and other related crimes. It will take one simple action to address the issues, that is, resources. Without resources we are going nowhere. We need Garda on the beat. As I observe criminality currently, our policing seems to be reactionary. Following the recent deaths that occurred in Drogheda, the reaction was to flood the area immediately with gardaí. The same happened in Dublin and in Limerick in years gone by. This clearly illustrates that there are insufficient gardaí on the beat. If we had enough on the beat, these incidents would not happen at the frequency they are. I refer to preventative rather than reactionary policy.
I can give examples of what I am talking about in County Monaghan. Some 15 years ago in Clones Garda station, there were 16 gardaí, four sergeants, and one detective. Today there are only two gardaí and one sergeant. In Monaghan, the numbers have been depleted to a point where they are struggling to get gardaí out to respond to incidents as they happen. Clearly, this is having an adverse effect not just on our community but on the gardaí themselves. Garda morale is very low.
Recently to add insult to all of that, at a time we are less than 30 days away from Brexit, the Cavan-Monaghan divisional headquarters, which are located in Monaghan, have been downgraded and are being relocated to Drogheda. If one looks at the three counties concerned, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth, Monaghan is in the centre. Surely from an operational perspective, it would make more sense to have Monaghan designated as a divisional headquarters. Our fear of what will happen is that large towns such as Dundalk and Drogheda, where there is the most activity is where most gardaí will be located. That will be at the expense of counties Cavan and Monaghan. I sincerely hope this new plan works but I have grave concerns that it will not. We clearly need more resources. We need more gardaí on the beat. Preventative policing is the way forward. What disappoints me from talking to people in the community and in the Garda Síochána is that there has been little consultation with those who work at the coalface day in, day out. They have had no input into this plan whatsoever and that is very disappointing because some members of the Garda have served in the Cavan-Monaghan division for more than 30 years. When a plan is being devised, surely those on the ground who deal with the issues day in, day out should have been consulted. From that point of view, it is time that the Government took crime more seriously and properly resourced the Garda by way of personnel, vehicles and IT. Unless we do that, this upward trend of criminality will continue.