Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Ceisteanna (10)

John Curran


10. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the operations in place by An Garda Síochána to deal with the issue of public and on-street drug dealing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47675/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Justice)

The Minister is aware that on-street drug dealing and drug dealing in public places has increased in recent years. That is evidenced by the increased prosecutions and seizures by the gardaí. Those who are members of joint policing committees are well aware that this issue is constantly debated. In light of this increasing problem can the Minister inform the House what particular operations have been undertaken to address this issue?

I share the Deputy's concern about the destructive impact which anti-social behaviour and drug-dealing can have on communities and the importance of tackling such behaviour effectively, both for the communities and for those involved in drug taking which leads to so many drug-related deaths in our communities.

Government policy is guided by the national drugs strategy "Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery - a health led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017-2025". This represents a whole-of-government evidence-informed response to the scourge of drug and alcohol use in Ireland. Implementation of the strategy is led by my colleague, the Minister for Health, although obviously it includes a wide range of actions for all stakeholders, including my Department and An Garda Síochána. The strategy recognises the need for a balanced health-led approach, reducing demand, while also reducing access to illegal drugs and the Deputy will be aware of the Government's initiative aimed at reducing the number of people criminalised for the possession of drugs for personal use. While this move will support the vulnerable people who use drugs, it is essential to continue the relentless pursuit of drug dealers and I intend to develop an increasingly punitive approach to those who seek to involve children in drug-related crime. My officials are currently examining policy approaches to tackle this issue, including the potential to develop legislative proposals in this area, taking account of international best practice.

I thank the Minister for his response and I do acknowledge that drug addiction is being appropriately dealt with through a health-led response. My particular question, however, is about the scourge of on-street and public drug dealing. It is not just a Dublin issue. My colleagues inform me it is happening around the country. It is undermining communities and businesses. We have heard examples of businesses which have felt threatened and intimidated because there is drug-dealing going on in front of their premises and they have relocated. In light of the issues around public and on-street drug dealing we cannot allow that become the norm and the public face of our towns and cities. I acknowledge that the operations of An Garda Síochána is a matter for the Garda Commissioner but the Commissioner also has to be mindful of Government policy and in that regard deal specifically with public and on-street drug dealing. Can the Minister advise what particular operations will be in place?

The House will appreciate that my responsibility is within the criminal justice area. I remind the House of the work of the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, a body that is having significant success in disrupting drug trafficking and the supply of illicit drugs in Ireland as well as organised crime groups.

Since its establishment in March 2015, the bureau, which now has 105 gardaí attached to it, has been responsible for the seizure of controlled substances with an estimated street value of approximately €167 million, with substances to a value of €20 million seized this year alone. Deputy Curran is correct that cutting off the supply of drugs to dealers in this way results in a reduction of instances of public and on-street drug dealing. I share the Deputy's concern in this regard. In the same period, the bureau has been responsible for the seizure of cash, believed to be the proceeds of crime, to a value of €10 million, as well as 108 firearms and over 3,000 rounds of ammunition. I am informed that there are several policing operations in place nationwide which aim to tackle the sale of drugs and organised crime in appropriate areas, including the areas referred to by Deputy Curran.

I thank the Minister. I did not refer directly to any specific areas because I do not wish to attach stigma to particular areas. Many of the areas in question would be known generally.

I acknowledge that the intelligence-led operations by An Garda Síochána and the National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau have achieved significant successes against gangland crime and in seizing guns and drugs. I am specifically raising operations to thwart and put an end to the very public face of on-street drug dealing. This problem has grown and become the norm in certain areas. People are fearful, feel intimidated and are avoiding parts or our cities and towns. The problem has disrupted businesses, a number of which have relocated as a result of it. The Minister will remember Operation Pier, which operated out of Pearse Street, and dealt in particular with street dealing in the Aston Quay area. An Garda Síochána, through the Garda Commissioner, needs to mount a number of targeted operations to thwart that type of on-street drug dealing.

I mentioned the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau and its importance. I will not repeat my comments in that regard but I will add that the divisional drugs units, to which more than 220 Garda personnel are currently assigned, are also tackling drug-related crime on a local basis throughout the country, supported, as needed, by the national bureau. Targeted intelligence-led operations addressing on-street drug dealing are planned in particular areas, cities and towns. I acknowledge what Deputy Curran said about naming specific areas.

The House will appreciate that the Garda continues to make significant efforts to deal with this issue. In doing so, it has the support of the Government in the form of record levels of investment, including a budget this year of €1.76 billion, which will increase further to €1.882 billion next year. This will support sustained recruitment of Garda members, which I expect will translate to further successes by the Garda organisation in dealing with the problem of drugs and organised crime.

I thank Deputy Curran for raising this issue. He is one of the Deputies who consistently do so and I will be happy to continue to engage with him, agreeing, as I do, that this is an area of the criminal law that needs a sustained and relentless focus on the part of An Garda Síochána and criminal justice agencies.