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Other Questions. - Garda Operations.

Thursday, 17 October 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 555 No. 4

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 12. Mr. Stagg Information on Emmet Stagg Zoom on Emmet Stagg  asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell  the steps being taken to deal with the problem of theft of works of art, as highlighted by the recent number of raids at Russborough House; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18514/02]

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell The investigation into thefts of works of art is co-ordinated by the art and antiques theft investigation unit attached to the Garda national bureau of criminal investigation. I am informed by the Garda authorities that the unit is assisting local gardaí in investigating the robberies at Russborough House. One person stands charged before the courts in connection with the robbery which took place on 26 June 2001. I am further informed that the theft which took place on 29 September 2002 is the subject of a major ongoing investigation. In the circumstances, it would be inappropriate for me to comment any further on ongoing Garda operational matters, as is the long-standing practice on the part of the holders of my office.

In relation to specific security arrangements at Russborough House or other institutions where fine art is housed, it would also be inappropriate for me to comment in any way, other than to say the Garda Síochána has liaison procedures with appropriate institutions in relation to such matters.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte I ask the Minister to forgive my ignorance. I did not know we had an art and antiques theft unit. Would the Minister not consider it a good idea if the unit took up residence in Russborough House? I do not know if it has spare capacity, but it seems the unit would be productively used if it was resident there. These thefts have almost become an exchange between certain criminal gangs and the Garda and it is surely time for a more radical assessment of what ought to be done in respect of the priceless paintings housed there and the frequency of incidents we have seen in recent years.

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell It is difficult to know where to begin in relation to this matter. I know the Deputy is speaking tongue in cheek in making his suggestion, but to deploy Garda personnel on a permanent basis to mind collections in locations such as Russborough House is not practicable. Therefore, the owners and trustees of such collections must make such security arrangements as are appropriate to the degree of risk they encounter in relation to the collections for which they have responsibility.

I do not wish to comment on the ongoing investigation in this case as that would not serve a useful purpose. However, I share the Deputy's view that there is something profoundly disturbing about an in-your-face deliberate ploy on the part of individuals who must be organised to some degree, whoever they are, to rub the noses of the public in their own criminality.

[1121]Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan Question No. 159, which I have submitted, is related to this matter. Are there not two such dedicated units in the Garda, one to deal with organised crime and the other to deal with the theft of works of art and antiques? To what extent have these units advised areas of potential danger from theft throughout the country, how often has this advice been given and to what extent has it been taken?

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell The investigation into theft of works of art is co-ordinated by the art and antiques theft investigation unit attached to the Garda national bureau of criminal investigation. The theft of fine art and antiques caters for a specialised niche market and the Garda has developed a certain expertise in the investigation of such crimes. The unit, through a range of activities, endeavours to heighten the awareness of the public and persons likely to come into contact with stolen or dishonestly handled property of this type and provides operational assistance and expertise for Garda personnel investigating specific crimes.

To keep abreast of international markets and establish contacts with places into which such property might be fenced liaison is maintained with art and antiques dealers, museums and galleries worldwide, in addition to maintaining liaison with similar police investigation units in neighbouring jurisdictions and on the continent of Europe.


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