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June 16, 2004

Dail Debates. Garda Síochána Report: Motion (Resumed) : Dail Debates

Mr. O’Donovan: I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this motion. It is important to note the Government’s commitment to the Garda in terms of numbers, financial resources, training and the provision of equipment in recent years. Since 1997 there has been a 75% increase on the then €600 million available to the Minister in that budget to over €1 billion. It would be remiss of me not to mention the significant progress made by the Garda in combating organised crime, particularly drug barons, the importation of drugs and dealing in drugs. During the past 24 to 48 hours the Garda was successful in making a number of arrests and seizing almost €3 million worth of illegal drugs which affected people from the Cork and Dublin networks in the procurement of drugs. I laud in the highest possible terms the Garda on its tremendous success in this area.

Last week, in my constituency, significant interceptions of illicit drugs, whether E tablets cocaine, marijuana or other prohibited substances have been made. We always hear about the cases where this or that failed, but the Garda, through its training and discipline, has made inroads into the area of drugs and drug trafficking during the past decade. This is attributed to Government policy, continued financial support, training and international co-operation between the Garda forces and so on.

Ten or 15 years ago, the island of Ireland was the gateway for some of the major drug trafficking from Colombia and north Africa. Bales of drugs dropped off at sea came into inlets in west Cork and the west of Ireland. Most of these drugs were not for use in the Irish market but in Great Britain or continental Europe. The efforts of the Government and the Garda Síochána in this area have been tremendous. This type of policing is never-ending. Unfortunately today, not only in Ireland but throughout Europe and the developed world, drugs is one of the blights on society. Even though the Garda has done tremendous work in this area, particularly during the past five or six years, its efforts must continue.

I laud the Minister on the increasing number of Garda on our streets and in towns throughout the country and his commitment to providing a force of 14,000. I compliment him on the advances made in Garda technology and in providing state-of-the-art Garda stations and equipment throughout the country. I acknowledge all the criminal legislation initiated not only by the Minister but by the previous Government.

Having commenced my contribution with a reference to the whole area of drugs, I am concerned that legislation introduced by the previous Government specified clearly and unequivocally that anybody dealing in drugs and the supply of drugs to a value of €10,000 or more should get a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years. I was a Member of the other House when that legislation was going through. I regret that measure has not been implemented across the board. Without breaking the separation of powers, I suggest the Judiciary revisit that issue. If a mandatory sentence is imposed, whether for drink driving, where one is put off the road for two years, or having no insurance, and one gets months, I cannot understand why the other arm of the State has constantly ignored it with regard to drug trafficking and drug dealing. It is a shameful exercise given that one of the greatest problems in society is drugs. That point should be noted.

Another problem in all our towns and villages is street disorder and drunkenness. We must acknowledge we live in an affluent society. A study of Greek history, pre-Roman, the Stoics and the sophists will show that the Stoics was a wealthy society which said, “Eat well, be rich and be merry and enjoy life”. We have something similar today. Young people have money and there is much disorder in society. The Minister cannot be blamed if some people, not necessarily young people, have too many drinks in a pub or disco and a brawl develops. Street disorder is a problem, and I am pleased to note the Minister has committed greater resources to deal with that difficulty.

I acknowledge the tremendous work being done by the Garda Síochána and particularly its courage in the past 24 hours in the chase, and constant surveillance in recent weeks, of people involved in drugs importation and distribution. I wish the three gardaí who were injured in this escapade a speedy recovery. The bravery and courage of the gardaí n the course of duty must be acknowledged unanimously by every Member.

One would like to envisage a society with no crime and no problems, as envisaged by some of the architects of the Russian socialist regime which had the thesis, synthesis and antithesis, meaning that there would be no crime in society, there would be no need for laws or police officers and we would all be happy, but unfortunately that regime broke down. Some Members would have us believe the process envisaged by Lenin, Trotsky and others during the Russian revolution could be achieved here, but it will never be achieved.

The previous Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform had a view of zero tolerance, but we must realise there will always be crime, vandalism and theft, as human nature will never change. One must on an ongoing basis review procedures, resources and so on. In spite of all the criticisms, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has a clear commitment to improving the powers of the Garda Síochána through legislation, providing additional financial resources and a better working environmentand improving their training and providing them with state-of-the-art facilities. It would be more effective to establish an agency to monitor and process traffic control measures, such as speed cameras and so on. It is wrong to have the Garda Síochána doing secretarial work, because the gardaí should be on the streets.

I support the amendment. As agreed, I will hand over to my good friend from Tallaght, Deputy O’Connor, with whom I am sharing time.

This debate continues on the Oireactas website.

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