Thursday, 16 May 2019

Ceisteanna (1)

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]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Justice)

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.