I thank Senator Ó Riordáin for having raised this matter, which is of real importance to me as Minister.
First I want to be clear on a fundamental point. Public safety is at the heart of my role as Minister for Justice and Equality. My mandate – and that of my Department – is to work for a safe, fair and inclusive Ireland.
Senators will appreciate the breadth of that mandate – and also its promise. We want to establish and support the conditions in which citizens and residents of Ireland, in all our communities nationwide, can live, work and thrive, in safety.
This takes action at all levels and there is a busy programme of work in my Department to deliver on our mandate.
Broader context of drug-related crime
Senators have specifically raised the issue of violent crime in the Coolock area and more generally in Dublin. This is a most serious issue and I will address the concrete steps being taken in that locality in a few minutes.
But if we are to tackle and prevent violent crime, we also need to look in a more in-depth way at its roots and the conditions in which it emerges.
With that in mind I want to say clearly that I share the Senator's concern about the destructive impact which drugs and drug-related crime can have on communities. This is beyond doubt.
But when we speak of drug-related crime, I suspect that the mental images produced for most are of organised crime gangs and the kind of extreme violence that Senators have raised today. In fact, this is not a problem isolated to any one geographic location - the unspoken reality is that this violent crime is in many cases driven by the market for and increased consumption of illegal drugs in our society.
This means recreational drug use by people who are living otherwise law-abiding lives contributes directly to the most serious forms of criminality. The purchase and use of illegal drugs wherever in Ireland it occurs, whether that be in cities, towns or villages, is contributing to an environment in which organised crime groups see a profit to be made and are given an opening to extend their reach and entrap others in their destructive cycle of debt and violence.
And so I call on all Senators to join me in urging those who engage in recreational use of illegal drugs to exercise their personal responsibility and consider the wider consequences of their actions. Those violent consequences may not be visible in their own localities – but they are real.
Overall approach – the National Drugs Strategy
As Senators will be aware, Government policy in relation to drug and alcohol misuse is set out in Ireland’s National Drug Strategy 2017-2025, ‘Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery’. This represents a whole-of-Government response to the problem and adopts a balanced health-led approach – aiming to reduce demand for, as well as access to, illegal drugs.
The Senator will be aware of the Government's initiative aimed at reducing the number of people criminalised for the possession of drugs for personal use. However I want to be clear that tackling the sale and supply of drugs is a key priority for the Government and An Garda Síochána and there will continue to be a relentless pursuit of drug dealers and members of organised crime gangs.
Action to tackle drug related and organised crime
The Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau leads in tackling all forms of drug trafficking and the supply of illicit drugs in Ireland. Since its establishment in March 2015, the Bureau has had significant successes including:
- the seizure of controlled substances with an estimated street value of approximately €167 million;
- the seizure of cash, believed to be the proceeds of crime, to a value of €10 million;
- the seizure of 108 firearms and over 3,000 rounds of ammunition.
This year alone, the Garda Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau has been responsible for seizure of controlled substances to the value of €20 million; cash believed to be the proceeds of crime to the value of €2.4 million; and 17 firearms.
And a large number of seizures and arrests continue to be made.
An Garda Síochána is actively engaged at an international level in relation to these matters, including through Interpol and Europol.
There is also significant activity at the local level, supporting communities through various preventative and detection initiatives. This includes engagement with Local and Regional Drug and Alcohol Task Forces; the Garda Youth Diversion Programme and Projects; the Garda Schools Programme; the Joint Policing Committees and Community Policing Fora.
Debt and debt intimidation is also getting focused attention: the Drug Related Intimidation Reporting Programme, developed by Gardaí and the National Family Support Network, has been in place since 2013 to respond to the needs of drug users and family members experiencing drug related intimidation. In fact Ireland’s National Drugs Strategy is unique among national drugs strategies across EU Member States in recognising the need to address drug-related debt intimidation at a community level. It has been agreed that the effectiveness of this Programme will be further enhanced through training, knowledge sharing and awareness raising.
The use of detection Dogs is another area that has had a positive impact in tackling drug crime. As Senators may know, the Garda Dog Unit based in Kilmainham Garda Station in the DMR South Central Region has a national remit, with additional Dog Units established in Limerick and Cork. The Commissioner has recently indicated to me that he intends for An Garda Síochána to invest in purchasing and training additional dogs for drug detention purposes next year.
Coming back to Coolock specifically, I have condemned the shooting referred to by the Senator. I cannot comment on any individual criminal investigation but I again call on everyone to pass on any information they may have to An Garda Síochána.
I have heard directly from community groups in area, during a visit earlier this year. I met with representatives of various community initiatives in the Coolock, Darndale and Clongriffin areas, local school principals, Gardaí and local residents. I understand and appreciate the concerns and the suggestions they put forward.
I would reassure the community that the issue of violent crime in their area is being taken seriously at the highest levels.
Earlier this week, the Taoiseach and I had a meeting with the Garda Commissioner and members of his senior management team in relation to recent incidents in the area. We discussed the ongoing response by An Garda Síochána to incidents in the area and we were reassured about the coordinated response which is being mounted by Gardaí encompassing action in relation to community safety, intelligence and drugs and organised crime.
I had also previously had the opportunity to meet with senior members from An Garda Síochána in Coolock and I have been briefed on progress made in the various investigations.
And significant resources are being put into this effort. As Senators know, Coolock is located in the DMR Northern Division. The Garda workforce of Garda members and staff has been increased significantly in that Division in recent years as well as in Coolock itself, with the benefit of the record Government funding.
Garda numbers in the DMR Northern Division have increased from a total of 668 Gardaí and 44 staff at the end of 2015; to a total of 741 Gardaí and 61 staff at the end of October 2019. This represents more than a 10% increase in Garda numbers as well as a 38% increase in Garda staff over the period, which frees up experienced Gardaí who can be redeployed to operational policing duties. Taken together, this represents a real increase in operational policing hours within the DMR North Division.
In Coolock station too the workforce has increased – numbers are up from 103 Gardaí and 11 staff in December 2015; to a total of 117 Gardaí and 16 Staff at the end of October 2019. And these numbers are still increasing - the Commissioner allocated 13 additional Gardaí to the DMR North Division from last week’s attestation, of which 6 have been assigned to Coolock.
I am also pleased to say that the Commissioner has informed me that competitions are being held for key appointments to both the Coolock Community Policing Unit and the Coolock District Drug Unit. It is envisaged that these competitions will be complete before year end.
And as is the case for all stations and Divisions, the work of local Gardaí in Coolock and DMR North as a whole is supported where necessary by the Garda national units such as the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Armed Support Units, the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau.
This sustained increase in resources in the area demonstrates the commitment of Garda management. And it is important to remind that by law, the use of Garda resources including deployment of personnel, is for the Garda Commissioner and not for me as Minister. This is entirely appropriate, as decisions on operational matters must be left to policing experts.
As is clear from these comments, the Government fully supports An Garda Síochána in its work to tackle organised and drug-related crime in Coolock and nationwide.
The Garda budget for 2019 was €1.76 billion and this is increasing to €1.88 billion in 2020. Capital investment this year was €92m this year – that was a 50% increase on 2018’s total – and is increasing further to €116.5million in 2020.
There are currently approximately 14,300 Gardaí nationwide supported by over 2,600 Garda staff and these numbers continue to grow towards the Government’s target of an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 by 2021, including 15,000 Garda members.
I know that a visible policing presence reassures communities and proactive policing and a visible Garda presence across the country can be expected to increase further as the new Garda Operating Model is rolled out.
The full force of the law will be brought to bear on those behind this violence and related criminal activities. I hope this is of reassurance not only to the people of Coolock and Dublin, but nationwide.