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Garda Investigations (Continued)

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins] We can also point to other positives. For example, there has been only one murder in Limerick this year. This is against a backdrop of years of multiple gangland murders. It is important that we commend the Garda in this respect.

  It goes without saying that what we read about in this morning's Irish Independent could have had devastating consequences had it succeeded. Those consequences would not only have been for the individual or his family. We must bear in mind that he needed to leave this country and chose to pursue a career with the British defence forces. That this action was planned for his return at Christmas is a chilling thought.

  As I stated in respect of other issues I have raised with the Minister, we must consider the extreme reputational damage that such an event would have visited upon the Limerick and mid-west areas as well as the country. It would have affected business, foreign direct investment and tourism. The people involved have no political ideology whatsoever. They are criminals, plain and simple, and cannot look beyond their next criminal endeavour. It has been well noted on the public record that they are not republicans. Among other forms of crime, they are involved in pimping, illegal tobacco, fuel laundering, digital piracy and counterfeit goods and medicines. This activity costs the Exchequer almost €860 million and is now threatening lives.

  Where is it all going? Many times, the Minister and I have debated in the House the issues of the recruitment embargo and the ability drain due to retirements from the Garda. The Garda Commissioner has informed the justice committee that up to 25 organised crime gangs are operating in this jurisdiction. Have we a handle on this and will the Minister assure the House that we are on top of the issue?

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. He was doing very well until the last three sentences, which were really a contradiction of everything that preceded them. The reality is that the Garda has had an extraordinarily successful year in counteracting organised crime and in dealing with criminal subversion. As the Deputy rightly stated, even one murder is one murder too many, but there has been only one murder this year in Limerick, an area in which there were very substantial difficulties and a large number of homicides in preceding years. The success of the Garda is illustrated by the fact that there are more than 60 members of Limerick gangs currently held by our Prison Service.

In the context of the issue the Deputy raises, the House will of course understand the sensitivity that is in the very nature of operations carried out by the Garda Síochána in the course of countering the activities of paramilitary gangs and that, as a consequence and particularly when such Garda actions are ongoing, Members of the House and I should exercise the utmost caution in respect of what we say in regard to them.

The House will appreciate that the Garda, in counteracting the threat posed by paramilitary groups, succeeds time and time again in preventing them from carrying out planned acts. Of their nature, the detail of a lot of these successes cannot be appropriately put in the public domain. A great many of them never appear in the public domain. However, what I can say is that the Garda Commissioner has advised me that there is an ongoing Garda operation in Limerick aimed at the activities of a certain group and that it would not be helpful for me to make any public comment on it and, in particular, on a specific case.

I thank the Deputy for his full support for the efforts of the Garda Síochána in counteracting the threat that these groups pose and he will appreciate that it would not be helpful to those efforts to go into the detail of Garda operational matters across the floor of this House. Indeed, it would be gracious of the Deputy to acknowledge, as he did at the start of his speech, the extraordinary success of the Garda in these areas and to acknowledge and accept that it has the operational capacity and capability to address these issues with the utmost efficiency.

The Garda remains very active in its efforts to counteract these paramilitary gangs. It continues to monitor them closely and to bear down on all of their criminal activities. A number of recent arrests, charges and convictions in respect of subversive activity are testament to the work of the Garda in combating the activities of these terrorist gangs, and the force is to be congratulated for its continued efforts in this regard.

I have made the point in this House previously - it bears repeating - that to refer to these gangs as some people do as "dissident republicans" affords them an historical respectability that they do not and cannot merit. The fact is these groups are no more than groups of criminals who masquerade as republicans to seek to legitimise their inherent criminality. These are simply criminal terrorists and I do not believe the words "dissident" or "republican" should be associated with them. These gangs are inextricably involved in organised crime, as Deputy Niall Collins said - drug smuggling, fuel laundering, extortion and armed robbery - and there is nothing "republican" whatsoever about organised crime.

I would say also that we all should exercise a degree of caution in discussing these gangs of criminals. They crave publicity and they court notoriety in order to present the appearance of being more important and worthy than in fact they are. Although we cannot ignore that these criminal terrorists present a real and manifest threat, we should always remember that they are in a very tiny minority on this island. They represent nobody but themselves and their own selfish ends; they offer nothing but a return to the dark days of the past.

Countering the threat from terrorists has been always a priority for the Garda Síochána. Nothing has changed in that regard. It should not be suggested that anything has changed, nor should it be in any way suggested that the Garda lacks the capacity to continue with the very important work it is doing in countering the threat that these groups pose. Despite the positive developments of recent years in the North, the Garda has never let up in its efforts to counteract these groups and will continue to target them. I assure the House that this is the case.

The threat faced on this island from these criminal terrorists is a shared threat and I assure the House that the Garda continues to co-operate seamlessly with the PSNI in actively pursuing them. That co-operation has been instrumental in preventing attacks, in combating criminality and, in particular, in saving lives, and I assure the Deputy and the House that the Government is committed to maintaining that high level of co-operation between the Garda and the PSNI and to providing to the Garda the supports it needs to continue with the extraordinary work in which it is engaged and to ensure that these groups are targeted and, where evidence is available, individuals are brought before the courts and properly prosecuted.

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins I thank the Minister. He and I differ as regards the Government's policy on Garda recruitment. We have had many a disagreement in the House on this matter, but this event demonstrates the need for the Minister to give the public some direction as to when the Government will recommence the recruitment and training of new members of the Garda Síochána. We must bear in mind the fact that it takes two years to train new members and that up to 1,200 members could retire during the next 12 months. The force's numbers are dwindling.

It is also worth noting that Limerick has the highest ratio of gardaí to population. That decision has been borne out by the successes. If one could increase the ratio across the rest of the country, including Dublin, the same kind of results would be yielded.

The Minister stated that the community needed to support the Garda. I could not agree more. Nine individuals were arrested in Limerick at the time of the Alan Ryan funeral. These arrests apparently led to the information that foiled the attempt in question. Sinn Féin's spokesperson in Limerick stated at the time it seemed to be an overreaction and that it was disgraceful if people were being arrested for attending a funeral. It is disgraceful that Sinn Féin is sitting in this Parliament and sitting in government in the North at a time when some of its MLAs are protesting outside the PSNI headquarters because a member of that party, Mr. Padraic Wilson, had been brought in for interrogation. It is conducting a two-faced strategy.

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