Home > Seanad Eireann debate: Adjournment matters – Garda operations.

[Oireachtas] Seanad Eireann debate: Adjournment matters – Garda operations. (16 May 2012)

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Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: I raise the matter of the national drugs unit in County Donegal which is operated by An Garda Síochána. The Garda national drugs unit was initially an excellent resource for the Garda Síochána and it has been very successful at both a national and local level in the seizing of large volumes of drugs and in obtaining convictions for those involved. I commend the national drugs unit on its work.

The alarming information from the CSO crime figures is that drug abuse and drug use is on the increase and there has been an increase in the number of drug-producing farms. I have noted there has been a significant increase in the number of these drug farms in a number of Border counties. These farms are producing drugs for sale or supply and cannabis is the most common drug being produced. The current legislation has a loophole which allows individuals to purchase equipment and the seeds for the manufacture of these drugs. It is not a crime to purchase or to sell the equipment or the seeds. It only becomes a crime after the seeds have been planted. There may well be a loophole in the law which should be addressed but this is a separate issue.
I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy McGinley shares my concerns on this issue. It has been brought to my attention that the drugs problem is escalating in County Donegal and it may be the same in other counties. This has put more pressure on the Garda resources to deal with the problem. It seems the main reason for this problem in Donegal is that 97% of our land border is with the North of Ireland and there is also the challenge of policing the coastline because drugs are brought ashore.
The drugs unit in County Donegal has been working very effectively up until recent years. However, it is now under so much pressure that it is increasingly difficult to deal with the demands of the work. The drugs unit in Letterkenny in the centre of County Donegal has had a reduction in staff numbers from ten to three. There are two other drugs units in the county. The unit in Buncrana is staffed by three members of An Garda Síochána and the unit in Donegal town is staffed by three members. There are only nine staff members to cover the whole county.
There is a need for additional staff. I appreciate this is a challenging time for the provision of resources. I am reliably informed that a major benefit to the drugs units in the county would be the provision of a sniffer dog to assist the members of An Garda Síochána. Very often when drugs are suspected of being in a location or being transported in a vehicle, it takes a long time to complete inspections because of the lack of a sniffer dog. I ask that a dedicated sniffer dog unit be made available to assist the drugs unit in County Donegal and that additional staff be appointed to the three units. The use and abuse of drugs will cause an additional burden on the health services and this will cost the country more money. Drugs need to be apprehended at the earliest available opportunity and the only way is to have resources such as a sniffer dog unit at the first point of contact. I know the Minister of State will agree with me in this matter. I suggest the dog unit could be established on a pilot basis, given the unique geographical position of County Donegal, in order to combat some of those challenges faced by both the gardaí and the general public. Young people are vulnerable and drugs are being pushed on them. Criminal individuals and gangs are setting up drugs operations and are pushing drugs in order to make a living for themselves. This is not proper and those people must be apprehended and the gardaí need to be provided with the resources to do so.
Deputy Dinny McGinley: Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Seanadóir as an cheist tábhachtach seo, a bhaineann le mo dháilcheantar féin agus le mo chontae féin, a ardú agus deis a thabhairt dom freagra a thabhairt thar ceann an Aire Dlí agus Cirt agus Comhionannais os rud é nach féidir leis bheith anseo.
The House will be aware that the Commissioner and his senior management team are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, throughout the country. This allocation of resources is constantly monitored in the context of crime trends, policing needs and other operational strategies in place on a district, divisional and regional level to ensure optimum use is made of Garda resources and the best possible Garda service is provided to the public.
The personnel strength of Donegal Garda division on 31 March 2012, the latest date for which figures are readily available, was 435. On the same date there was a total of 13 members attached to the Donegal divisional drugs unit. There were also 25 Garda reserve members and 29 civilians attached to the Donegal Garda division. All divisional resources are further augmented by a number of Garda national units, such as the Garda National Drugs Unit, the Garda National Immigration Bureau, GNIB, the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, and other specialised units.
The Government’s approach to tackling the problem of drug misuse is through a co-ordinated and integrated approach under the National Drugs Strategy 2009-16, which is co-ordinated under the remit of my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Róisín Shortall.
The programme for Government affirms the Government’s steadfast commitment to tackling the problem of drug misuse through this pillar as outlined in the strategy and in partnership with all relevant stakeholders.
An Garda Síochána’s policing plan for this year also sets out key actions for tackling organised crime, including drug trafficking. An Garda Síochána remains fully committed to continuing to vigorously tackle the illegal supply of drugs at all levels.
A key feature of this work is the ongoing close co-operation between the Garda National Drugs Unit and local Garda drugs units to ensure that a co-ordinated and effective approach to drug law enforcement is in place. Both these units are supported in their work by officers from other national units such as the Organised Crime Unit, the Criminal Assets Bureau, the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation. An Garda Síochána also has strong and strategic partnerships in place at international level targeting drug trafficking.
An Garda Síochána’s strategies in tackling drug trafficking are continuing to result in significant drug seizures. An Garda Síochána seized drugs with an estimated value of €65.5 million in 2011 and an estimated value of €11.5 million to March this year. The reduction in drug crime, as reflected in the Central Statistics Office’s recorded crime statistics for 2011, shows that there were 17,709 recorded controlled drug offences last year — a decrease of 11.5% on the equivalent figure for 2010. This is a trend that is very welcome and reflects the excellent work of gardaí.
It is apparent from the crime statistics that the Garda authorities are making good and effective use of their resources. An Garda Síochána is determined to maintain a robust response to the evil activities of those who peddle drugs and bring so much misery to our communities. Equally, the Government is determined to do everything it can to support gardaí in their efforts. In this regard, the Minister for Justice and Equality has indicated that he is open to considering any changes in the law which gardaí believe would be helpful in tackling the activities of organised criminals.
Garda management will continue to monitor closely the allocation of resources, taking account of transfers and retirements, crime trends, policing needs and other operational strategies in place on a district, divisional and regional level. The Donegal division will be subject to this same level of monitoring to ensure that optimum use is made of Garda resources and the best possible Garda service is provided to the public. The Garda Commissioner has reiterated the commitment of the Garda Síochána to providing a professional and effective service to the community and he will have the Minister’s full support in this regard.
Adjournment Matters – Garda Operations
Wednesday, 16 May 2012
Vol. 215 No. 8

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