Crime happening despite strong communities.

17th December, 2008

Senator Paschal Donohoe again raised the issue of safety and policing with the Minister for Justice. He spoke on the murder of Mr Aidan O’Kane in the East Wall Community. In his contribution he made a number of points.

Firstly, the community of East Wall is strong, active and united. It has a strong residents association and other voluntary bodies,a strong church and has many fine schools. In this district people look after their neighbours, are interested in what is happening locally and welcome other people and visitors. Paschal spoke about how he experienced this first hand when canvassing and attending meetings in the area.

Secondly, this murder is so worrying not because of the lack of a community spirit but because it happened in an area where community spirit and pride is so strong. This is what is really disturbing. It means that the solutions are even harder. Commentators who talk about social breakdown in this neighbourhood just don’t know what is happening and are insulting local residents.

Thirdly, we must focus on the very small number of families who are completely abdicating their responsibility for their children. The community knows who they are. This is the only way we will prevent the ‘conveyor belt’ towards careers in crime. This means a far more active role for the National Education Welfare Board and other agencies. The issue is not just about creating stronger policing, it is also about stronger families and their creation.

Finally, policing is just vital. We must ensure that the superb work of individual garda is multiplied by making sure that local stations like Fitzgibbon Street and Store Street have what they need to do their job as well as possible.

Please find below the response that Paschal received from Minister Barry Andrews.

I thank the Senator for raising the matter on the Adjournment. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is unable to be present this evening due to other business but I assure the Senator and the House that the Minster and I share his concerns.

The death of Mr. O’Kane is deplored by all right-thinking people and our sympathy is with his family and friends as well as the community in East Wall. A person has been charged in connection with this killing and Senator Donohoe will appreciate that, consequently, I am greatly constrained in what I can say about the specific incident.

The Minister attaches the highest priority to tackling organised and gun crime and bringing those involved in such activities to justice. One of the main priorities he has set for the Garda Síochána in 2009 is to target gun crime, organised crime and drug related crime through a range of measures, including the use of the Garda specialist units and targeted operations such as Operation Anvil.

Operation Anvil commenced in the Dublin metropolitan region in 2005 to deal with this type of serious crime and was extended nationwide in 2006. The primary focus of the operation is the targeting of active criminals and their associates involved in serious crime by preventing and disrupting their criminal activity through extensive additional overt patrolling and static checkpoints by uniform, mobile and foot patrols, supported by armed plain clothes patrols. Under Operation Anvil, up to the end of November, 1,200 firearms have been recovered in Dublin and 1,000 in the rest of the country. There have also been over 7,000 arrests for serious crimes, such as murder, robbery and burglary, and 67,000 searches for weapons, drugs and stolen goods. In this way, the gardaí will continue to address the issue of illegal guns relentlessly.

At a time when the public finances are under pressure, the Minister will ensure that top priority will continue to be given to frontline policing. Funding for Operation Anvil will increase in 2009 from €20 million to €21 million. Other key operations will be maintained through 2009, and any savings that have to be made will not be allowed to diminish frontline policing. While the allocation for overtime will be reduced, the increase in the numbers of gardaí which has taken place will more than compensate for that.

Since his appointment, the Minister has been concerned at the number of handguns that have been licensed in recent years, following a series of judicial decisions. While the vast majority of licensed firearms holders pursue their interests legitimately, the reality is that the overall number of weapons in circulation and the type of those weapons can contribute to the development of a gun culture. The Minister has therefore brought forward proposals which include, with limited exceptions in regard to Olympic sports, no new licences being issued for handguns and existing licences being renewed only if they fully meet the requirements of a much more stringent regime.

The Minister attaches great importance to tackling crime by juveniles in a focused and comprehensive way. The Children Act 2001 is now fully in force
and provides a modern framework for responding to the needs of young people who come in contact with the criminal justice system. The Irish youth justice service has been established to develop an integrated response to youth offending. This response is set out in the National Youth Justice Strategy 2008-2010, launched last March.

Significant progress has already been made in implementation of the strategy. Additional funding has been provided for projects developed by young persons probation, a dedicated unit of the probation service, to allow for the expansion of the use of community sanctions. The Judiciary has been briefed on the non-custodial sanctions available under the Children Act 2001 and dedicated court officers have been appointed to courts in Dublin, Cork and Limerick. Furthermore, the Government has approved the recommendation of an expert group on detention to develop new integrated national children detention facilities on the existing State-owned Oberstown campus to cater for all children up to 18 years old who are ordered to be detained by the courts. This will also facilitate the transfer of 16 and 17 year old boys from St. Patrick?s Institution into the children detention school model.

The net effect of this effort is to create a more co-ordinated strategic approach, which makes better use of existing resources, creates positive working relationships among stakeholders and delivers better outcomes for children in trouble with the law and for the community in general. The Minister and I are convinced this is making a difference.

The Garda juvenile diversion programme is operated by Garda juvenile liaison officers. It has proved to be highly successful in diverting young persons away from crime by offering guidance and support to juveniles and their families. It also enables referral to the Garda youth diversion projects which are community based, multi-agency crime prevention initiatives operating separately from the diversion programme. There are 100 of these projects operating in various locations throughout the country, including four operating in the East Wall area.

The Minister believes there is a great responsibility on parents for the behaviour of their children. The Children Act 2001 provides a number of measures relating to parental responsibility in respect of children involved in anti-social behaviour and children found guilty of offences.

The House will be aware that public disorder offences make up a significant proportion of crime committed by juveniles and are an issue where co-operation between the gardaí and the local community is vital.

That is why the Minister is proceeding with the roll-out of the joint policing committees, following their successful pilot phase. As part of this pilot phase, a committee was established in the Dublin City Council area and further sub-committees in each of the city?s five areas. These committees enable local authority representatives and officials and the gardaí, with the participation of Oireachtas Members and community interests, to get together in a structured way to discuss matters affecting the policing of the area. The Minister believes that this approach has great potential.

I assure the House that the Minister attaches the highest importance to tackling the serious threat posed by firearms. The gardaí will pursue relentlessly those who use firearms in the commission of crime and the Minister will provide both the resources necessary to do this and legislation required to prevent the availability of such weapons. He is also committed to the implementation of the integrated response to youth offending set out in the national youth justice strategy.