Thursday, 16 May 2019

Ceisteanna (3)

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]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Justice)

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.