Home > Dail Eireann debate. Priority question 5 – Defence Forces operations. [14653/12]

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Priority question 5 – Defence Forces operations. [14653/12]. (14 Mar 2012)

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5. Deputy John Halligan asked the Minister for Defence his views in relation to possibly making the services of some of the Defence Forces, that is intelligence, available to help combat the illegal drug trade, in order to free up the Gardaí to deal with other aspects of crime prevention

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: I thank Deputy Halligan for his question. The Customs and Excise service of the Revenue Commissioners has primary responsibility for the prevention of drug smuggling into the country. Responsibility for the prevention of crime rests primarily with An Garda Síochána. However, the White Paper on defence from 2000 provides for a security role for the Naval Service and the Air Corps to assist and support the civil authorities in this important work. 

While Defence Forces personnel and resources are not dedicated solely to drug interdiction operations, assistance in the prevention of drug smuggling is nevertheless recognised as an important, core part of their many duties. The Defence Forces directorate of intelligence provides regular assessments, reports and briefings to the Chief of Staff, the Minister for Defence and the Secretary General of the Department, relating to internal or external threats to the security of the State and to national interests. The Secretary General and the Chief of Staff are members of the national security committee, which also comprises the Garda Commissioner, and the committee advises on security and defence matters. The directorate also maintains a close and effective working relationship with its counterparts in An Garda Síochána.
The task force on drug interdiction was established in 1993 as a Government measure to improve law enforcement in respect of drugs and consists of An Garda Síochána, Customs and Excise and the Naval Service. Drug interdiction is carried out by Naval Service vessels on receipt of intelligence. The Naval Service operates eight general purpose patrol ships tasked with coastal and offshore patrolling and surveillance for the State. The Naval Service is committed to having at least three vessels on patrol within the Irish exclusive economic zone at any one time. All vessels are multi-tasked in the sense that they also undertake general surveillance, security and other duties. However, as the need arises, Naval Service vessels are deployed to other duties including drug interdiction operations.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
As part of the joint task force, the Naval Service is also committed to an international initiative, the maritime analysis and operations centre – narcotics, MAOC-N. The centre, established in 2007, has led to a greater focus on intelligence exchange among countries to tackle large drug shipments by sea. MAOC-N was set up by seven European countries and is designed as an international co-ordination force with access to national tasking agencies and requires participation and resources from all active members. An Garda Síochána and Customs and Excise 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.
Air Corps personnel and resources are also involved in efforts to prevent drug trafficking. The Air Corps maritime squadron carries out aerial surveillance of our exclusive economic zone using the two CASA maritime patrol aircraft which are equipped with state-of-the-art surveillance and communication equipment. On occasion, the Air Corps has also carried members of the customs national drugs team in an observational capacity for the purposes of monitoring vessels suspected of smuggling drugs.
Deputy John Halligan: I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Garda cutbacks and the loss of resources are greatly hampering the State’s response to what is taking place in the illegal drug trade. This is the view of the Garda Representative Association. It maintains that the reduction in the number of gardaí and the reduction of armed back-up is recklessly endangering its members. Further, it takes the view that this is an unacceptable gamble with society. I asked the Minister of State’s view on this question because many communities believe they are no longer governed by the democratic institutions. This is obvious given what is taking place especially in Dublin where criminal gangs almost have control of some estates. It would be futile for me to call on the Government to increase Garda resources under the current economic restraints. However, as a Deputy, I am obliged to ask what other resources can be used.
Some time ago, a journalist stated that the greatest threat to the State at present, apart from what is taking place economically, is criminal activity and gangs. We are committed to reducing Garda numbers from 14,500 to 13,000 by the end of 2014 but this is unacceptable to the Garda. I spoke to members of the force before I tabled the question. Can we not use other resources? I accept that we deploy the Air Corps and the Naval Service to deal with the illegal drug trade. However, perhaps we could discuss the use of surveillance that would free up other Garda resources. I am not calling for the Army to go on to the streets of the country, nor would the Garda wish for it. However, it is a relevant question and I am keen to hear the Minister of State’s view on it.
Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: I thank the Deputy for his comments. He is perfectly correct in his comments on the Defence Forces providing intelligence. As I stated earlier, a national body deals with this issue. This involves the Garda, the Army and the intelligence people. There is a great pooling of resources. Notwithstanding what Deputy Halligan stated in respect of the Garda representative body, this is not a question for the Department of Justice and Equality but for the Department of Defence and I can only speak to that.
Deputy John Halligan: I understand that. 
Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: As Deputy Halligan stated, he is not calling for the Army to be on the streets and this is not what the Army wants either. The Army is in place to aid civilian power and this is what it has always done. I agree with the Deputy, as does everyone else, that the drug situation continues to be a major priority for the Defence Forces. They play a full part in this regard.
Priority Questions – Defence Forces Operations
Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Vol. 758 No. 5
Item Type
Dail Debates
Publication Type
Drug Type
All substances
Intervention Type
Crime prevention
14 March 2012

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