“The events of recent days – particularly the deaths of wholly innocent members of the public caught up in gangland conflict – have made it tragically clear that what has been achieved already must be built on so that we can protect our society from the dangers in our midst. A Government can have no greater priority than the safety of its people and it is against that background that we have taken a series of decisions which involve a comprehensive programme of measures to ensure that the full resources of the State are brought to bear as never before against the activities of those who have showed a callous disregard for the rule of law.”
These are the words of former Minister for Justice, Mr. Michael McDowell speaking on 19th Dec 2006 in presenting Draft Legislation on the 2007 Criminal Justice Act. He further went on to say
“It is no use willing the end of gangland activities unless we have the means.”
That piece of legislation introduced quite a number of means to deal with this scourge, however here we are two years later and still waiting for some of the on the ground operational measures which would have an impact in relation to the collection of evidence against these gangs in order to pursue a successful conviction.
If we are hindered in clearing the first hurdle in apprehending and establishing a case against these gang members then all the bail laws, sentencing recommendations and judicial instruments are relatively useless. I speak of the establishment of the national DNA database, the upgrading of Garda communications equipment, the updating of interview principles and procedures.
I don’t think anybody in this house can but fail to be horrified by the murder of Shane Geoghegan in Limerick the weekend before last. This type of murder has become an almost predictable pattern in that we are now seeing this persistent murdering of innocent people because of and only because of gangland crime.
The Minister’s response last week to me seemed one of resignation, one of acceptance of the current status, an acknowledgement so to speak that we as a society will have to put up with this.
I want to ask the Minister, Has anybody been convicted using the 2007 Criminal Justice Act for directing gang activity? As far as I know there has not. Why is this so? The object was to be seen to be doing something about the threat.
I want to ask the Minister is it possible that members of criminal gangs may be perverting the work of the newly established Garda Ombudsman in that any Garda action, such as search and interview, taken against gangland members is reported to this statutory body and must in law be investigated. Are statutory offices such as this open to abuse?
I want to take this opportunity to commend Gardai, especially in Limerick on their work in solving the cases presented to them. Better police work solves crime in the short run. The Gardai have to be lucky all of the time, the gangs can be merely lucky occasionally. I do have concern that the conviction rate for murders with firearms between 1998 and mid-2006 was just 17%. Too many of these cases remain under investigation for many reasons. We have to make sure that the Gardai are facilitated with whatever means to do their job properly.
Gardai need their long-promised digital radio communication system. At the moment, they work with an out-dated system that can be easily hacked into.
The Minister in Dec 2006 spoke of
“The High Level Project Group for the new digital radio system which will be used by the Gardai and other emergency services signed off on the procurement process which now goes to financial due diligence and will be approved by the Minister for Finance in the coming days”
High Level Project Group, procurement process, financial due diligence, Finance Approval, all the usual web of obfuscation and paper shuffling and the Gardai still wait.
The establishment of garda sub-stations in communities would have a positive effect because gardai aren’t seen as only arriving when there is trouble, an interactive and proactive force that are already part of the community would be a progressive piece of policy that would help in the long run.
Criminal Age of Intent
There is anecdotal evidence that progressive pieces of legislation in the field of Juvenile Justice introduced on our statute books, such as raising the Criminal Age to 12 are now being exploited in that children younger than this are becoming involved under the direction of more mature gang members in gangland activity. We have seen ten year olds in the past year in pocession of bullet-proof vests. I would hope that under the current legislation the Minister can deal severely with more mature gang members who might exert this malign influence on children. If not, I would like to see the crime of influencing children in the context of gang criminal activity on the statute books.
I believe that procedures involving the Garda interrogation of suspects need to be amended. Gang members are instructed on how to resist questioning. As a criminal or gang member you can receive this instruction courtesy of You Tube on the internet. I want to ask the Minister is it the case that a Garda has to transcribe his or her questions during questioning despite the aural and video recording of Garda interviews. If this is so, it would seem to me to be an unnecessary interruption of the process. Surely an accurate video representation of an interview should be sufficient.
The issue of gangland crime is really all about the drugs trade in Ireland. Gangsters who now rule with near-impunity jealously guard and fight for territory. We have seen seizures in the past year in this country approaching €1 billion. This gives some indication of the scale of the business. The link between gang suppliers and middle-upper class consumption has to be acknowledged. In order to break this link recreational drug users should get community service, they should be put to work in the areas of the country worst affected by gangs and drug use.
Further to this monies seized from gang activity should be pumped back into the communities affected by this behaviour.
Whilst we have to deal with this current epidemic of gangs in the most stringent manner possible, we must not forget that ultimately progressive social policy such as regeneration solves crime in the long run. The only way to tackle the subculture of gangland crime is to reduce the numbers becoming involved in it. Steering young people away from criminality before they become seriously involved will reduce involvement in gang crime
The Limerick regeneration project has come under pressure with the recent threat against staff and property. This is something that must be studied carefully
I listened on Monday night to an interview with former All Black Jonah Lomu who turned on the Christmas lights in Limerick. This man is a worldwide sporting icon. He spoke of his early life in South Auckland, New Zealand and how friends of his had died as members of gangs. He through some direction managed to avoid this lifestyle. He spoke of a sense of belonging as being the key to his progression.
I think you would be hard pressed to find any city in Ireland with that same sense of belonging as Limerick. You have a sport like rugby, in this city, which has none of the connotations that it might have in other locations. It is enjoyed by everybody. The city is well represented by Garryowen, Shannon, Young Munster, Bohemians and Old Crescent to name but some.
Take the Garryowen club of which Shane Geoghegan was a member. The crest they carry on their jerseys is a five sided star, representing the parishes of Limerick city, if this is not an open declaration of community and a representation of sound values then I do not know what is.
It beholds us in this Dail to support these communities and not allow these values be eroded by the minority involved in gangs.