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[Oireachtas] Topical issue debate - Criminal Assets Bureau. (26 Jun 2012)

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Deputy Jonathan O’Brien: I thank the Office of the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this topical issue. I have raised this matter before, as the Minister is aware. The week before last, at the meeting of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, we examined a European model for the Criminal Assets Bureau. The Irish system and model is held up by member states across Europe as the ideal and there are attempts to duplicate CAB across Europe, which is welcome. 

At the meeting of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, I said it was time to examine the procedures for CAB, which are defined in legislation. It is time for a conversation on how to use the funds gathered by CAB. Under section 21 of the Act, a report must be laid before the House. The report breaks down the money confiscated under three headings - the proceeds of crime, money liable to be paid to the Revenue Commissioners and money liable to be paid to the Department of Social Protection. I asked whether we could ring-fence money coming from CAB to put into communities ravaged by drug abuse. The idea has merit and is one we should explore at the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality.
 
When I raised this point in the past, the Minister has told me that ring-fencing money runs contrary to the Estimates procedure. The second reason is the amounts confiscated vary each year, which will not allow for proper funding streams for community projects that need to be planned three or four years in advance. However, there are a number of one-off capital projects and promotional projects that local drugs task forces and community groups could use year after year.
 
There is merit in ring-fencing the portion of money under the proceeds of crime heading. Between 2006 and 2010, that sum amounts to €14 million, whereas the money to be repaid to the Revenue Commissioners amounts to €44 million and money to be repaid to the Department of Social Protection amounts to €1 million. The sum of €14 million out of that pot is a significant amount of money to put into communities dealing with drug abuse at the coalface. It only requires an amendment to the legislation to enable it to happen. I ask the Minister to consider the idea.
 
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): I am aware that the Deputy has raised this matter on several occasions and is keen to have a full debate on the question of diverting moneys collected by the Criminal Assets Bureau into community programmes. I welcome this opportunity to outline the current position in this regard. The bureau has served the State well in tackling serious and organised crime, including drug trafficking in this jurisdiction. Its work is an important part of the overall response to serious crime. I take this opportunity to congratulate the Garda Commissioner, Mr. Callinan, and his force, together with the Revenue’s Customs and Excise service, on the extraordinarily significant seizures of drugs in Dublin and Kildare today. This event demonstrates the determination and resourcefulness of An Garda Síochána and the Customs and Excise service in tackling the activities of the major players in the illicit drugs trade.
 
In accordance with the provisions of the Proceeds of Crime Acts 1996 and 2005, all moneys collected by the Criminal Assets Bureau are returned to the Exchequer. In 2010, the total sum forwarded to the Minister for Finance for the benefit of the Exchequer through the actions of the CAB was approximately €7 million, of which €3.1 million related to actions taken on foot of proceeds of crime legislation, some €4 million related to actions under revenue legislation and €180,000 was raised through social welfare actions. These funds are returned to the Central Fund, from which the Government draws for expenditure on all necessary public services and investment. Suggestions have been made from time to time that moneys collected through the actions of the bureau should be used to fund community programmes. I appreciate that such proposals are made out of concern for the well-being of those communities most exposed to the adverse affects of crime in our communities and which bear the burden of living with its consequences. I also appreciate the significance of such a gesture as potentially a visible and tangible expression of the right of our communities to have returned to them advantages that were taken away by criminals within those communities. It is a suggestion that has been discussed from time to time and on which my Department has previously consulted with the Department of Finance.
 
While it has always been accepted that there may be a symbolic value in the suggestion, it has also been acknowledged that the ring fencing of such moneys gives rise to a number of practical difficulties. We are all aware of the requirement that public moneys be spent only as Voted or approved by Dáil Éireann unless otherwise provided by statute. A policy of ring-fencing moneys obtained by the Exchequer and the reallocation of same for a specific purpose, such as the funding of community programmes, runs contrary to the normal Estimates process. While there is a small number of very specific targeted exceptions, earmarking revenues for a specific expenditure programme would, generally speaking, impose constraints on the Government in the implementation of its overall expenditure policy. It can also be argued that a significant proportion of the moneys secured by the bureau, as evidenced by the statistics I gave for 2010, are already owed to the Exchequer, being related to non-payment of taxes and social welfare fraud.
 
In regard to the suggestion that particular projects be funded from proceeds of crime activities, given the variable and uncertain nature of the value of the assets seized by the bureau in any given year and taking into account the delays that may arise through possible legal challenges to court disposal orders, the provision of ongoing funds to community projects would be problematic. The uncertainty surrounding the level of revenue available on a yearly basis would not facilitate the proper planning of such programmes by organisations involved in the delivery of community development services. It is also the case that additional costs would accrue in the administration of any scheme to divert funds to local programmes. There would certainly be an additional administrative burden in the management of any such programme, whether through the engagement of service providers to administer an application process or otherwise. These additional administrative costs would arise without any additional revenues being generated.
 
The reality, given the present economic climate, is that the Exchequer could not sustain a loss of revenue without making compensatory adjustments. If the CAB money were to be diverted to community programmes, there would inevitably be implications for any other moneys those programmes received from the Exchequer. Alternatively, other public expenditure programmes would have to sustain the loss. While there are superficial attractions in the type of proposal the Deputy is putting forward, I ask him to reflect that, given the difficulties facing the Exchequer, his proposal would not have the positive effects he wishes to see.
 
Deputy Jonathan O’Brien: I thank the Minister for his reply. As he acknowledged, I have been seeking a more wide-ranging debate on this matter for some time. I accept his point completely in regard to moneys owing to Revenue or to the Department of Social Protection. As I said, the figures from 2006 to 2010 show some €44 million going back to Revenue and approximately €1 million to the Department. I am not suggesting for one moment that these two pots of money should be ring-fenced for community funding purposes. I acknowledge that these are moneys that should have been gone to the State in any case. I have no issue with that. I am asking the Minister to review the other transferred money, namely, the €14 million from the proceeds of crime. He observed that such a scheme would be difficult to administer. Why could it not be done by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs or even the Health Service Executive, to give just two examples?
 
I do not accept the Minister’s argument that such a scheme would have only superficial benefits. We are talking about communities under enormous pressure because of the economic circumstances in which we find ourselves. Most if not all community groups have been subjected to cuts in funding in recent years and are expecting more of the same in the future. I am arguing that there is an opportunity to ring-fence this particular allocation for the benefit of communities. I do not accept that this would run contrary to normal Estimates procedures. We only have to look to the introduction of the household charge to see how money can be ring-fenced if the political will exists to do so. What I have proposed could be introduced by way of a simple amendment to legislation. I understand the Minister is considering the introduction of legislation to provide enhanced powers to the CAB. That undertaking provides an opportunity at least to explore some of the proposals I have put forward. It would be a good day’s work.
 
Deputy Alan Shatter: I acknowledge the Deputy’s sincerity in raising this issue and admit that his proposal does have certain attractions. However, I am obliged to be conscious not only of what is in the current legislation but whether, on a policy basis, the introduction of such a scheme would be a good idea. The work done by CAB is paid for out of public funds, as is the work done by the Garda Síochána to bring to justice those engaged in serious criminal activities. In circumstances in which the financial position of the State is substantially constrained on a general policy basis, I cannot support an amendment to legislation the effect of which would be to ring-fence any portion of the moneys obtained by the CAB in the manner the Deputy is suggesting. It is not how we should proceed at this time because it is not defendable in the context of the fiscal difficulties confronting the country. It is important to bear in mind that some of the moneys retrieved by CAB go into the general pool of funding, out of which pool the Department of Justice and Equality receives the allocation it requires to fund a range of programmes designed to support and assist the communities to which the Deputy referred.
 
Topical Issue Debate - Criminal Assets Bureau
Dáil Éireann Debate Vol. 770 No. 1
Tuesday, 26 June 2012
Item Type:Dail Debates
Source:Oireachtas
Date:26 June 2012
EndNote:View
Subjects:MM-MO Crime and law > Crime and violence
VA Geographic area > Europe > Ireland
MM-MO Crime and law > Crime > Substance related crime
MP-MR Policy, planning, economics, work and social services > Economic policy
MM-MO Crime and law > Organised crime
MP-MR Policy, planning, economics, work and social services > Economic aspects of substance use (cost / pricing)

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