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Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2020 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1003 No. 7

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Thomas Gould: Information on Thomas Gould Zoom on Thomas Gould] This is happening during the time of a pandemic. A number of weeks ago, a man had to walk from Farranree, on one side of Cork city, out to the SouthDoc facility on Kinsale Road because he did not have the money for a taxi and he was too afraid to get a bus because of the number of people testing positive for Covid at the time. That is some distance. I spoke to a woman with a disabled son and two other children who had to leave her home in Blarney, drive past the SouthDoc building in Blackpool, which should be open but is closed, and out to the SouthDoc premises on Kinsale Road. She had to wait there for 40 minutes with her children because her husband was at work. This debate is about fraud and white-collar crime. What the SouthDoc service is doing in Cork is wrong and it is in breach of its service level agreement. Something needs to be done about it.

As I said, this debate is about crime and particular technicalities, but I have outlined the real facts about what is happening for people in this country. I hope they will be dealt with for once and for all. The SouthDoc facility in Blackpool was closed last March. For 11 months, the State has paid for a service that is not available. That is fraud.

Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú: Information on Ruairí Ó Murchú Zoom on Ruairí Ó Murchú I am very glad to have an opportunity to speak in the debate on the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2020. I acknowledge that it is a very technical Bill. As with a number of other Bills we have dealt with, it is concerned with updating our infrastructure to deal with international crime and make sure we are following EU directives. That is all absolutely necessary and is to be supported. I agree with the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, when she spoke earlier, that there are jurisdictional questions that need to be dealt with. I would like to see some detail in that regard and in terms of the outworkings. In the generality, however, all of us would be in support of ensuring that we have the infrastructure and the ability to deal with European-wide and international crime, particularly fraud offences and cyber-related crime.

In recent times, particularly during the Covid pandemic, we have all been inundated with text messages, WhatsApp messages and Messenger messages promising us this, that and the other. Most us know - if we do not, it is brought to our attention very quickly by Joe Duffy and others - that such messages are generally come-ons by fraud enterprises. We all must be on the ball all the time in that regard. As much as one sometimes sees these things and laughs at them, one finds that there are people who fall for them. The people who operate the frauds do so on the basis that it is worth their while. Sometimes they put people who are already in fairly precarious scenarios into even worse monetary situations. That level of organised crime needs to be dealt with. Whatever level of infrastructure we require to do it needs to be provided. In that sense, I completely support the legislation.

On the wider issues, I have spoken previously about the need to ensure we have all the tools we need to deal with the times in which we find ourselves in terms of cybersecurity. There are difficulties and questions to be answered as to whether there will be one overall body to deal with this and what the relationship will be between it and the Garda and the Defence Forces. We are talking about an issue that crosses many planes. We have spoken about straightforward crime and the fact that we have a tax on our communications infrastructure. We know that some of these crimes impact on business, whether they are literally fraud or denial of service attacks, which put a business out of operation for a period of time and have an impact monetarily and in terms of how the world perceives that business. These issues are incredibly important. As I said, we need to ensure we have the required specialist capacity and ability, specialist training and specialist personnel. There are questions to be answered as to whether such personnel will have to be seconded to the cybersecurity body or whether there will be a crossover between the Defence Forces and the Garda, especially when we are dealing with issues to do with cybercrime as it relates to national security. I do not always enjoy using the term "national security" but we need to get some level of information in that regard.

In regard to communications infrastructure and the broadband network, people say to me quite often, as I assume is the case with other Deputies, that the lack of broadband provision in certain areas amounts to a crime. In fairness, I welcome the indication by the Tánaiste that he, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and others are engaging with National Broadband Ireland, Eir and other bodies with a view not only to speeding up the roll-out of the national broadband plan but also to improving Internet connectivity in general. I commend the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, in this regard. An issue was brought to me by a company in Deputy Gould's constituency regarding antennas that were useful in being able to provide broadband provision using mobile telephone services. Their use was found technically to be in breach of legislation but through engagement with the communications committee and my interaction with ComReg, the latter has come up with a solution to the matter. That may be beneficial to many people and is to be welcomed. It would be remiss of me not to mention this issue when we are talking about the realities of cybersecurity and ensuring our infrastructure is sound. We all know the difficulties in this regard and that there are wider issues to address. There is talk that a new electoral commission will have to look at particular questions relating to the impact of social media on the outcome of elections. There are the microanalytics and all the various toolsets that we are now aware of and the impact they may already have had on particular referendums and elections. There is a wide body of work to be done in regard to our communications infrastructure, cybercrime and the regulations we need for the new world we have in terms of social media.

As we are talking about crime, I could not let the moment pass without dealing with some of the traditional elements of crime that are still with us. I have talked before about the drugs pandemic. It is one that will be with us when we are beyond this particular and tragic Covid-19 situation. In fairness to the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, I have welcomed a number of speeches they have made and their commentary on the need to deal with these issues in a holistic sense. A whole-of-government response is required. It must be a cross-departmental effort, involving the Departments of Justice, Health, Education, and Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. Everybody accepts that. The Minister, Deputy McEntee, facilitated me in having a conversation with Vivian Guerin in regard to the scoping exercise he is carrying out into crime in Drogheda. I also spoke to Mr. Guerin about the need to look at the situation in the entire county of Louth. We know about the interaction of criminal gangs across the board, particularly in Dublin, and the particular scenarios that have arisen in that regard. There is an acceptance that the set of rules, tools or skills that are needed to deal with the drugs pandemic should be capable of operating across the board. We will not be able to separate out particular areas and we need to, for want of a better term, attack everywhere at the same time.

I welcome the plan for a Citizens' Assembly on crime.

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