Home > Dail Eireann debate. Written answer 51 - Defence forces deployment [15848/10].

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Written answer 51 - Defence forces deployment [15848/10]. (21 Apr 2010)

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51. Deputy Jimmy Deenihan asked the Minister for Defence if he will reverse the decision to reduce by 200 the number of days that the Naval Service patrol in view of the drugs and other smuggling threat and its impact on the public and on the Exchequer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. 

Deputy Tony Killeen: As part of the Estimates process for 2010, the Department sought to implement measures which would bring about the savings, or the equivalent thereof, as identified in the report of the special group on public service numbers and expenditure programmes. As part of this process and to achieve a reduction in current expenditure, the Minister for Defence proposed a cut to the Naval Service patrol days in 2010. The planned number of patrol days for 2010 is 1,480.
The Naval Service has a concurrent multifunctional role as the State’s primary sea going agency. On any given patrol day, the Naval Service can carry out a number of tasks on behalf of other State agencies, such as the Sea Fisheries Protection Agency , the Garda Síochána and the Customs Service of the Revenue Commissioners. Naval Service patrols at sea undoubtedly act as a deterrent in the fight against drug trafficking. However, this role is increasingly governed by intelligence-led operations and greater co-operation between both national and international agencies.
Government measures to improve law enforcement on drugs, including the establishment in 1993 of a joint task force involving the Garda Síochána, the Customs Service and the Naval Service, have helped to maximise the effective use of Naval Service resources in combating drug trafficking. There is close co-operation between the civil authorities and the Naval Service in discharging this important mission.
Internationally, the establishment in 2007 of the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre — Narcotics has led to a greater focus on intelligence exchange among countries to tackle large drug shipments by sea. The MAOC-N was set up by seven European countries, namely, Ireland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Portugal and Italy. Europol, the European Commission and the US joint interagency drugs task force are observers at the centre. The centre is designed as an international co-ordination force with access to national tasking agencies and requires participation and resources from all active members. The Garda Síochána and the Customs Service have full-time officers based at the centre in Lisbon. Irish Naval Service personnel travel to the centre when requested by the joint task force.
I am therefore satisfied that with these initiatives in place, the Naval Service can continue to battle successfully against the threat of drug smuggling within its revised patrol pattern for 2010.
Deputy Jimmy Deenihan: The country is overcome with drugs at the moment and all communities, be they urban or rural, are affected in some way by drugs. In view of the fact that most of these drugs are coming in by sea, surely the Minister would agree that cutting back the number of naval patrol days was a retrograde step. The savings that will be made by cutting back by 200 days will be lost when we examine the health implications, the money spent on prison places and the cost of crime that often leads to drug-related murders. If we consider all the negative factors, we must conclude that this was a very foolish decision.
The Naval Service has proven that given the resources, it can be very effective. I would like to draw the Minister’s attention to Operation Seabight, which intercepted €200 million worth of high quality Colombian cocaine, according to the naval authorities, although some media estimates put the figure at €600 million. We can only imagine the damage that would have done to this country. Due to the work of our Naval Service, in co-operation with other local and international agencies, the shipment did not come into this country. That is proof of the effectiveness of our Naval Service.
Various commitments were given in this House by the Minister’s predecessor that the three Naval Service vessels aged over 30 years would be replaced, namely, the LE Emer, the LE Aoife and the LE Aisling. On 24 February, the former Minister for Defence gave a commitment that two off-shore patrol vessels and an extended patrol vessel would be introduced. Has a Government decision been made on the provision of those three vessels? Finally, is it possible to reverse the decision on naval patrol days?
Deputy Tony Killeen: We all share Deputy Deenihan’s concern about the impact of drugs in our society. A substantial proportion is imported by sea and unfortunately, the people involved in this business have found all sorts of ways to get the narcotics into the country.
Patrolling per se is not a hugely important part of the system for detecting the arrival or the possible importation of drugs. As electronic surveillance and automatic identification systems of one kind or another have become more sophisticated, especially at the centre in Lisbon, the Naval Service is generally called on to intercept a vessel that is already under way. Naval Service vessels happen by chance to come across ships importing illegal drugs on a far less frequent basis. There are, therefore, three important parallel developments: internal co-operation between agencies here; international co-operation, which I announced in the answer; and highly sophisticated surveillance systems, which are now available. All of these play an important role. At that point, in most instances, the role of the Naval Service comes into play and it is called on to deal with the issue. It has proved itself to be extraordinarily adept and highly professional in dealing with that matter. The Naval Service is to be commended for the manner in which it does so.
Deputy Deenihan also asked about vessel replacement and we will shortly reach a parliamentary question on that specific issue. I will provide a formal answer then, so perhaps we can deal with it at that stage.
Deputy Jimmy Deenihan: I do not think we will reach it.
Deputy Tony Killeen: If we do not, I will find a way to include a bit of it in the preceding reply.
An Ceann Comhairle: I call on Deputy Deenihan to put a brief supplementary question.
Deputy Jimmy Deenihan: I disagree with the Minister to some extent. If there is a presence at sea it certainly operates as a deterrent. The lack of naval vessels along our shoreline means that drugs are coming into the country aboard cruisers and smaller vessels. The coastline of Kerry alone is 300 miles long, so it is impossible to intercept everything unless there is a continuous naval presence. If he has the information to hand, can the Minister quantify the number of interceptions that were made last year by the Naval Service? If the Minister can provide them, I would like to know the most recent statistics available concerning drug seizures and their total value.
Deputy Tony Killeen: I think we will reach the question, as there are only four more before it. As regards the Naval Service’s joint operations annually, in 2006 there were three operations where the Naval Service was called in. In 2007, the figure was five, in 2008 it was also five and in 2009 it was two. I do not have an approximate value for the drugs found on those occasions, but I will try to get it for the Deputy.
Deputy Jimmy Deenihan: Can the Minister confirm that the Naval Service cannot intercept a ship that may be carrying drugs unless it is told to do so? Does the Naval Service have to get directions to board a ship suspected of carrying illegal drugs?
Deputy Tony Killeen: To revert to the Deputy’s original point, I agree with him that there is a deterrent value in having ships on the ocean waves and that is recognised. In practice, however, because of the nature of electronic surveillance, as well as Garda and customs service information, it is more common that it is the genesis of a report. Naval patrols are, of course, conscious of suspicious movements of vessels of all sizes and they do have a role in that regard. The primary law enforcement role, however, lies with the Garda Síochána and Customs and Excise officials. That is where the joint operations, which have been under way for some time, are of such value.
Vol. 707 No. 1 
Priority Questions - Defence Forces Deployment
Wednesday, 21 April 2010

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