Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Ó Snodaigh outlines practical crime fighting measure which Government must take

13 November, 2008 - by Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD


Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD, speaking in the Dáil today on the killing of Shane Geoghegan, outlined a number of practical and effective steps that the Government could take which significantly help to tackle gangland crime. Deputy Ó Snodaigh offered his condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Geoghegan and said the Government should usher in a new phase in the fight against crime with Gardaí properly equipped and resourced to meet the challenges of modern organised crime.

He said, "I want to join with everyone in this House in offering my condolences to the family and friends of Shane Geoghehan. I also want to reiterate my sympathies to the families of Donna Cleary, Anthony Campbell, Brian Fitzgerald, Seán Poland, Darren Coughlan, Eddie Ward and other innocent people who have died brutally or suffered injury at the hands of gangland thugs in recent years. As a society we owe it to these victims not only to deliver justice in their individual cases but also to do everything in our power to prevent further barbaric killings.

"The Government must waste no time in deploying every available resource into catching and prosecuting Shane Geoghegan's killer. The community in Limerick and throughout the State has had enough of these gangs operating with impunity and without fear of being caught. The Government must usher in a new phase in the fight against serious crime, a phase which sees Gardaí properly equipped and resourced to meet the challenge, a phase which takes Gardaí out from behind desks and onto the streets and a phase which goes to the heart of the drugs crisis which is fuelling gangland crime.

"Thankfully in the wake of the latest atrocity the Taoiseach and Garda Commissioner agreed with Sinn Féin that, in the main, sufficient legislation exists. And what is sorely needed is the incriminating information that may be known to family members or associates of those involved in the killing of Shane Geoghegan and/or to members of the wider community.

"However, many good people in Limerick, and elsewhere, understandably fear reporting serious criminals to the Gardaí. One factor contributing to this fear of reporting is the real prospect that your name will be heard by criminals who use radio scanners to listen to Garda communications. The use of scanners in Limerick has become so prevalent that the Garda radio frequency has become known as Radio GaGa. The introduction of Secure Digital Radio for Gardaí in Limerick would solve this problem. Secure digital radio is to be rolled out to the Dublin Metropolitan Region during the spring of 2009. Limerick is not scheduled to receive it until 2010. This is not acceptable. The nation recognises, and last weekends brutal murder demonstrates, that serious crime in Limerick is at least on a par with serious crime in pockets of the Capital. The roll-out of secure digital radio to Limerick must be brought forward. And I would ask the Minister to make a commitment to do this in his closing remarks today.

"Likewise another measure that has been rolled out in Dublin already but which Limerick has been left waiting for is the Dial to Stop Drug Dealing and Threats confidential non-Garda freephone line. In the case of a Dublin district Gardaí confirmed yesterday that of 450 calls received a total of 141 informative reports were generated which led to a significant number of arrests and a major drugs seizure. This inexpensive, hugely beneficial initiative could be rolled out in Limerick almost instantaneously. The phoneline was first successfully piloted in Blanchardstown in 2006. Why is Limerick still left waiting for it?" ENDS

Full text of Deputy Ó Snodaigh speech follows:

Statement on the killing of Shane Geoghegan

13th November 2008

I want to join with everyone in this House in offering my condolences to the family and friends of Shane Geoghehan. I also want to reiterate my sympathies to the families of Donna Cleary, Anthony Campbell, Brian Fitzgerald, Seán Poland, Darren Coughlan, Eddie Ward and other innocent people who have died brutally or suffered injury at the hands of gangland thugs in recent years. As a society we owe it to these victims not only to deliver justice in their individual cases but also to do everything in our power to prevent further barbaric killings.

The Government must waste no time in deploying every available resource into catching and prosecuting Shane Geoghegan's killer. The community in Limerick and throughout the State has had enough of these gangs operating with impunity and without fear of being caught. The Government must usher in a new phase in the fight against serious crime, a phase which sees Gardaí properly equipped and resourced to meet the challenge, a phase which takes Gardaí out from behind desks and onto the streets and a phase which goes to the heart of the drugs crisis which is fuelling gangland crime.

Violent and serious crime must command a real and robust response from Government, from An Garda Síochána and from the community. In my contribution I will outline a range of practical and effective measures which if introduced would significantly help to tackle gangland crime.

For too long governments have gotten away with duping the nation into believing they are responding to crime. The modus operandi of the Fianna Fáil and Friends governments in particular has been to announce, what are often unnecessary, legislative proposals every time the crime situation puts them under public and media pressure. The bulk of this legislation has either simply re-stated what were already offences under common law or introduced provisions that have not been employed because they simply are not workable. It's time to break with tradition, Minister, it's time for practical action.

Beginning with Limerick and then expanding to the crime situation nationwide I will now outline a serious of practical proposals that would significantly boost the ability of the Gardaí and the DPP to successfully investigate, prosecute and convict the perpetrators of serious gangland crime and reduce violent crime. Thankfully in the wake of the latest atrocity the Taoiseach and Garda Commissioner agreed with Sinn Féin that, in the main, sufficient legislation exists. And what is sorely needed is the incriminating information that may be known to family members or associates of those involved in the killing of Shane Geoghegan and/or to members of the wider community.

However, many good people in Limerick, and elsewhere, understandably fear reporting serious criminals to the Gardaí. One factor contributing to this fear of reporting is the real prospect that your name will be heard by criminals who use radio scanners to listen to Garda communications. The use of scanners in Limerick has become so prevalent that the Garda radio frequency has become known as Radio GaGa. The introduction of Secure Digital Radio for Gardaí in Limerick would solve this problem. Secure digital radio is to be rolled out to the Dublin Metropolitan Region during the spring of 2009. Limerick is not scheduled to receive it until 2010. This is not acceptable. The nation recognises, and last weekends brutal murder demonstrates, that serious crime in Limerick is at least on a par with serious crime in pockets of the Capital. The roll-out of secure digital radio to Limerick must be brought forward. And I would ask the Minister to make a commitment to do this in his closing remarks today.

Likewise another measure that has been rolled out in Dublin already but which Limerick has been left waiting for is the Dial to Stop Drug Dealing and Threats confidential non-Garda freephone line. In the case of a Dublin district Gardaí confirmed yesterday that of 450 calls received a total of 141 informative reports were generated which led to a significant number of arrests and a major drugs seizure. This inexpensive, hugely beneficial initiative could be rolled out in Limerick almost instantaneously. The phoneline was first successfully piloted in Blanchardstown in 2006. Why is Limerick still left waiting for it?

The focus of many politicians and commentators this week has been on the Witness Protection Programme. While this programme is important its scope is limited. The programme focuses on criminals turned informants. But what protections are there for the good people of Limerick whose testimony may likewise be needed to secure convictions? What practical steps are being undertaken to assure the safety and assuage the fears of these good people? What is being done at a practical level to address intimidation or the equally damaging prospect of it? What progress has been made to protect witnesses in the context of identity parades? Where are the one-way mirrors? What has been done to ensure that witnesses no longer find themselves using the same transport to court as accused persons? I welcome the impending completion of the new Criminal Courts Complex in Dublin but what is being done in Circuit Courts elsewhere? Are there separate entrances, rest-rooms and waiting areas for witnesses and accused persons' families and supporters? What protections are there during the pre-trial and post-trial period? Practical supports and effective protections must be introduced if good people are to engage confidently with the justice system as we so desperately need them to do.

To reiterate, I believe at this time the solution to gangland crime must be resource-based more so than legislation-based. And despite the fact that we are in the grips of a recession I believe that measure can be taken to deploy Gardaí more effectively and efficiently within current funding provisions. The submission made by my party to the Garda Policing Plan 2009 highlights the potential of a reprioritisation of policing missions accompanied by the redirection of resources to match those priorities. In a 2007 report the Garda Inspectorate deemed civilianisation "the quickest and most effective means of putting extra trained Gardaí on the streets". State-wide civilian support staff make up approximately 17.5 per cent of an Garda Síochána. I do not know the percentage in Limerick specifically but I would imagine that it is in keeping with the national figure. By contrast civilian staff levels in England, Wales, Scotland, the United States and Sweden have risen to between 30 and 40 per cent. The government should expedite a further extended process of civilianisation of administrative tasks and of much of the Garda traffic corps' duties thereby freeing up fully trained Gardaí to be redeployed into much needed patrolling duties and ultimately to fight crime.

The Garda Inspectorate is currently undertaking a study on the allocation of Garda resources. I hope that this study will have far reaching implications for policing in Ireland from 2009 onwards and its findings must be afforded the appropriate urgency by government and by the Commissioner.

As I have said so many times before gangland, guns and drugs all go hand in hand. From a longer term perspective the only sustainable solution to gangland crime will be one that properly and holistically responds to the national drugs crisis. This must entail well resourced preventative measures, treatment and rehabilitation opportunities informed by and funded through a complete network of local drug task forces. My own local drug task force has been operating now for ten years. Limerick doesn't even have one at all. From a law enforcement perspective supply and demand reduction must also be a priority of Gardaí. Resources and manpower for the Garda Drugs Units should be at least doubled and the frequent diversion of drug unit members into other areas of policing must end.

More sniffer dog teams must be made available to Gardaí. At the end of 2007 An Garda Síochána had just six dogs skilled in drugs and firearms residue detection. Gardaí must often rely on assistance from Customs' detector dogs. However, the primary responsibility of those dogs is to detect drugs as they enter the states i.e. ports and airports. The Garda dogs do great work in terms of intelligence-led seizures but they're scarcity means that it is rarely possible to deploy them on foot of more general objectives. For example, in other jurisdictions sniffer dogs accompany police officers on patrols of entertainment zones to assist in the detection of drugs on persons and to act as a deterrent to drug use. The number of sniffer dog and handler teams skilled in the detection of drugs and firearms should be increased in order that they be available to every Garda Division to undertake valuable demand and supply reduction work including but not limited to intelligence led operations.

The profits to be made from organised crime must be eliminated and visibly so. The work of the Criminal Assets Bureau is essential in this regard. And it is vital that the activities of CAB are squarely focused on the proceeds of organised crime. The political exploitation of CAB must stop and cases that would be more appropriately dealt with by the Revenue Commission alone must be left to that agency. Steps must be taken to speed up the impact of CAB. A case involving an order for €3.3 million was concluded in the Supreme Court this week. The case commenced in 1997. That's eleven years. Delays must be reduced. We need to get to the point where criminals, and the community also, are made to see that crime doesn't pay because the state will promptly confiscate the proceeds. And there must be a real and visible return to communities. Monies confiscated by CAB should be ring-fenced as additional funds for the communities worst affected by the drugs crises.

There is justifiable public anger at the volume of crimes being committed while on bail. Lengthy delays in the justice system are a central problem here. Resourcing the justice system including the courts, the DPP and free legal aid so that justice can be administered promptly would put the judiciary in a better position to make the most appropriate decision on bail applications. In addition by decreasing the length of time spent on bail the number of offences committed would be reduced. Judicial guidelines governing decision-making on bail applications should be produced and the judiciary should undergo awareness training on drug-related crime including its social impact on communities.

Unfortunately resource-wise this government are moving in the wrong direction. James Hamilton, the Director of Public Prosecutions, has publicly confirmed that the 3 per cent cut to its Budget will mean that the number of prosecutions they can undertake will be reduced. And I would contend that it is likely delays will also be exacerbated.

Prison must become a more effectively deployed part of a sustainable response to gangland crime. The problem of minor offenders entering the prison system and emerging at the other end as hardened criminals in league with gangs or factions must be addressed. In addition prison sentences must be used as an opportunity to remove serious criminals from their associates and potential associates. To this end the placement of such prisoners must be intelligence-led. And in the making of orders to apply post release Judges should reinforce these efforts and aim towards maintaining the disassociation of serious criminals on the outside.

The Superprison planned for the Thornton Hall site is a retrograde step. Just like the US model gangs will flourish there. The prison estate must be refurbished for humanitarian reasons but substantially expanding it on one site is not the way to go.

The issues raised last month by the first report of the new Inspector of Prisons Judge Michael Reilly must be addressed. He identified serious shortcomings in our prisons' educational facilities. For younger offenders in particular the focus of time spent in prison and related investment must be on effectively preventing re-offending.

In terms of legislative deficits. There is an urgent need for the introduction of ECHR-compliant legislation governing covert surveillance. The legislation must take heed of the criticisms made to date by Justice Morris and others and of ECHR jurisprudence. It must protect against unwarranted invasions of privacy and harassment. It must put in place a sound framework and thresholds through which Gardaí or the DPP can argue a case and seek judicial approval for the use of covert investigatory techniques in particular serious cases. This evidence once gathered properly and in accordance with the ECHR-compliant law would be admissible in court. We need movement on this from government.

Now, I want to urge caution in relation to some of the proposals that have been floated by ill-informed, all be it well-intentioned, political representatives. At this painful and fearful time in the aftermath of yet another callous murder there is a temptation to dismantle the safeguards and protections that all good citizens currently enjoy. There is a temptation to demand ultra-regressive and ultimately ineffective measures such as internment, non-jury trials and mandatory sentencing. This temptation is understandable but it must be resisted.

The fact that criminal trials are undertaken in front of a jury is not the reason gangland criminals operate with impunity. Juries have proven themselves more than willing to convict when a properly evidenced prosecution case is made before them. Also in the absence of a jury the risk of miscarriage, and by extension of the real perpetrators getting away with their crimes, is substantially increased. And mandatory sentences are proven NOT to reduce crime in other jurisdictions where they operate. Many of the proposals being aired are dangerous, short-sighted and will ultimately fail victims because they simply will not deliver justice or reduce serious crime.

To conclude, in the long term a reactive justice approach operating in isolation will do little to bring an end to gangland crime. The young ages of those involved in gun crime highlights the urgent need for measures to be introduced to prevent children and young people from becoming involved in criminal activities. Many impressionable young people are looking up to the criminals and drug dealers in their areas with their vast amounts of money, their flash cars and in some cases their seeming immunity from prosecution. We need a multi-departmental response in partnership with communities that prioritises early intervention for children and young people who grow up in an environment of violence and abuse and who are identifiably at risk of becoming serious offenders themselves. This is the real challenge to which we must agree to rise together.

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