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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 Ruairí Ó Murchú: Information on Ruairí Ó Murchú Zoom on Ruairí Ó Murchú] We need to set a date, accepting the difficulties with regard to the pandemic at this point. It is vital that we take the conversation outside of politics, this place and Leinster House and put it out to the people. We should look at best practice throughout the world. We need to deal with what we need from a health-led response, combined with the absolute necessity of a police or Garda response to criminal gangs and criminal elements.

I have spoken many times, as have others, about the fact that, across the board, but especially in working class areas, people have to deal consistently and constantly with drug debt intimidation. It has become day-to-day business for certain people and a day-to-day nightmare for a significant number of people. People often come to us or to other people who work in the community about this. They use a drug dealer's first name and say they are going around to a person's place. I do not want to use an actual name because, in fairness, if I were to use one or two names people would know exactly who I am talking about. These people are better known than I am. The person will say to me he is going around to do a deal with X to ensure X does not attack his house or the houses of his son, daughter, grandson or granddaughter. This is what we are dealing with across the board and we need to deal with this in a full-scale way.

I have said this to the Minister previously. I have no difficulty with the person who becomes absolute lead in this. At this point, in my head and on the basis of the conversations I have had with the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, it is her responsibility. Obviously, there is an element that involves the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, who is responsible as regards drugs. This issue needs to be consistently and constantly brought to Cabinet. Someone has to take the lead in dealing with this issue, even in the middle of the pandemic.

Luckily, we have seen incredible work by An Garda Síochána at local and State level. We have seen significant moves made against criminal gangs, and that is all positive. We know that sometimes it is a drop in the ocean. We all look at court appearances and we are aware of the situation. Senior gardaí say this as well. There is a roundabout scenario where there are addicts who are on the hook for drug debts. They end up going out and possibly burning down someone's house or inflicting or threatening violence for the main drug dealer. The main dealer is not especially concerned since he has a disposable fool to do it, for the want of a better term. That person will end up getting arrested and put back in the system. That is absolutely necessary. In some cases, this occurs for lesser crimes. The problem is that person may want to get services, may need services or may need rehabilitation. The gardaí will tell anyone those services are not in place. I know the chief superintendent in County Louth, Christy Mangan, has said many times that we are going to lose a generation to cocaine. He has been quoted in here and in many newspapers.

We need to give the drugs issue importance and put it front and centre. It needs to be at Cabinet level. As I have said, I welcome what I am hearing in the narrative and in the conversation pieces from the Minister in respect of this. We need to see action and a plan. At this point, we also need a timeline in respect of the citizens' assembly and dealing with the drugs crisis.

There are many other issues, for example, the housing crisis. We also know of many communities where the problem of minor crime can have more of an impact on the lives of people. This arises especially where we are dealing with dysfunctional families and people who need supports because, as a state, we have failed to put in place the supports and have allowed situations to fester. Two things happen. We fail a generation and this impacts on the people who live with these circumstances as well. I am calling for a review in respect of the powers and supports that can be brought into play. The local authority has a part to play but we need to resource services such as the HSE, Tusla and youth justice services that are fit for purpose. In fairness, the Minister has mentioned many times that we need to deal with the grooming of young people into criminal gangs.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly Deputy O'Connor is next. I will be interrupting the Deputy at 6 p.m. to move the adjournment.

Deputy James O'Connor: Information on James O'Connor Zoom on James O'Connor Deputy Cahill is unable to attend, but he was down to share time with me.

I have to respond to some of the extraordinary words that were uttered not by the previous Sinn Féin speaker but the one before. The Deputy came in and lectured Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael on their roles in the economic crisis, bank guarantee and bank bailout. There were all sorts of anti-European utterances about our role in the European Union. I wish to outline to the Deputy that when I was a child in primary school, Sinn Féin Deputies were in the Dáil praising the bank guarantee. Multiple Sinn Féin Deputies were in the Dáil Chamber, including Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Arthur Morgan - as well as Deputy Pearse Doherty, while he was in the Seanad - giving support to the credit guarantee when it was being outlined and to the early stages of the bail out. The misinformation that was outlined by Deputy Gould when he was in the Chamber some moments ago is extraordinary. I believe he owes the House a more honest account of the role of Sinn Féin.

I will move on now to speak not about constituency issues or anything else but about the matter at hand in the Dáil, which is the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2020. The Government is working on significant legislation in terms of our role to protect ourselves from fraud at European level. We should acknowledge the fact that fraud is estimated to cost €500 million worth of European money. Obviously, that is a staggering amount of money and we should do more on a multilateral basis to deal with that. It requires high levels of co-operation from our Government and across all European levels to police this matter. It is an extraordinarily large amount of money that could be put to exceptionally good use in other areas. It could be used to prevent crime, for example, or to help us to upgrade and invest in cybersecurity, as outlined by the previous speaker. That is an exceptionally important point. I believe our ability to protect ourselves from cybercrime is an area where we are exceptionally vulnerable in Ireland.

We are a prominent nation in terms of international finance and banking. We need to look no further than outside the door today in terms of the companies and multinationals that surround us at the Convention Centre. From my engagement with people in these sectors as a member of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications Networks it is clear that strong views are being put forward by many people in that sector. They are concerned about the ability of the Government to defend the sectors from cyberattacks. Unfortunately, this can be serious in the impact it can have on the public finances and potential theft. We should strengthen our ability to police against that. This has been outlined by multiple Deputies in the House today.

I wish to put this point across to the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, today while he is with us, because I know this matter falls within his Department. It relates to how we police fraud and theft in Ireland. Fraud and theft are obviously issues we have had down through the years. This has been experienced through multiple Governments and we have to do more. I would like to see Ireland rise in the index in terms of our transparency, which is obviously important.

As a new person getting involved in politics, I often sense among the public a great mistrust of public representatives, of what they stand for or of what they are trying to achieve by going into politics. This applies whether it is delivering for constituencies or working on policy issues that affect everyone in the State. This is an area where members of the public want to see us leading from the front. They want to see a more honest and transparent political system. Our ever-growing role within the European Union is obviously becoming more important. It is growing each year in terms of the integration between nations across the European Union. This is timely legislation. It is time we put our shoulders to the wheel and enacted it.

Debate adjourned.

  The Dáil adjourned at 6 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Thursday, 4 February 2021.

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