Home > Select Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality debate Vote 24 - Justice and Equality (supplementary) (continued).

[Oireachtas] Select Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality debate Vote 24 - Justice and Equality (supplementary) (continued). (20 Nov 2013)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/select...

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Sinn Féin has consistently called on the Government to maintain, if not increase, the number of gardaí on the beat. The sight of gardaí instils public confidence in the force, which is vital.

Many recent media reports have focused on the level of funding and resources available to the Garda Síochána. Such a high level of media coverage has naturally resulted in a perception, which may not be based on reality, permeating into the public domain that the Garda is not sufficiently resourced to perform its duties on behalf of the public. One area that received considerable attention in Cork, my home city, was the provision of funding for drug units. While I accept that the allocation of funding is an operational matter for the Garda Síochána, many operational decisions are based on budgetary provisions.

Perhaps the Minister will comment on a series of reports published in the Irish Examiner on the increase in drugs, especially heroin, in Cork and its environs. As someone who represents the city, I assure the Minister that the drug problem is growing and is fast becoming an epidemic. Unfortunately, an increasing number of young people are becoming hooked on heroin, a vile drug, and many have lost their lives. Since 2008, when an increase in the availability of heroin was first noted in the city, the Garda has always been vigilant and proactive in working with other State agencies to try to stem the rise in heroin abuse. However, we are reaching a tipping point, particularly as funding for drug task forces and community groups that deal with the scourge of heroin is being reduced. I am not sure whether the Minister will comment on that aspect of Garda budgets and resources given that it is an operational issue for the Garda.

I welcome the additional allocation of €5 million for the Magdalen laundries redress process.

On Cork Prison, the Minister stated some payments anticipated this year will carry over into next year. While I understand he is not permitted to comment in this setting, perhaps he could provide a quick update on the capital project at Cork Prison in the context of the budgetary process.

Deputy Alan Shatter:   I thank Deputy O'Brien for the various comments he has made and for raising issues. I am pleased to note that substantial moneys were saved on the security side during the Presidency. I pay tribute to the fantastic work done by the Garda in this regard. Ministers from 27 member states attended meetings, with more in the case of certain meetings where Ministers from other states had observer status. There were no difficulties of any description and security issues were dealt with seamlessly and successfully. The Garda managed to do this at substantially less cost than during the previous Irish Presidency in 2004.


A great deal of planning was involved in this process. This included ensuring that meetings took place substantially in the same venues and only a discrete number of hotels were used, all of which had been security vetted in advance. Focusing and centring meetings on the Dublin Castle complex effected substantial cost savings compared to previous Presidencies when meetings tended to take place in whatever happened to be the constituency of the individual Minister who was presiding over them. We moved away entirely from that approach because it created enormous additional security costs and was of no benefit to anybody, although it had a perceived benefit for the relevant Ministers who used to believe they would get a slap on the back in their local newspaper for bringing a large number of European Union Ministers and officials into the constituency. This approach saved substantial sums. Having made an allocation that was substantially lower than that provided for security in 2004, the outcome was even better than anticipated. The Garda did a very good job. It also did a very important job on the G8 summit. I pay tribute to the Garda and PSNI for working together to ensure the necessary security for what was a major and important event on this island.


On capital budgets and prisons, it is worth pointing out that there are enormous changes taking place in the prison system. By the end of this year, there will not be a single prisoner in a cell in Mountjoy Prison which does not have in-cell sanitation. Work will continue into next year on a section of the prison that is to be vacated by prisoners.


On Cork Prison, invitations to tender issued to a number of pre-qualified bidders on 16 July. It was originally hoped these would be returned by 25 September but it was necessary, for a number or reasons, to extend the tender date to 14 October. The bids have been received and are under evaluation. Construction will commence in 2014. As such, we have made considerable advances in the process of having a new prison built in Cork.


A new wing is being added to Limerick Prison and major changes are under way. With all of this happening and some of the construction that has been taking place in the prisons, we were able to identify approximately €5 million which would not be spent by the end of the year. I engaged with my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, and it was agreed that this sum could be used for the purchase of additional Garda cars before the end of the year. This was a cost-effective way of dealing with the issue and I was anxious to ensure we purchased additional cars. We wanted to identify the financial source for doing so without having to seek an additional sum of money. I am advised that the cars have been substantially purchased at this stage, although it takes a little while for them to be put into operation because of what happens once they are purchased. The process has gone very well.


Between the €5 million sum to which I referred and the additional €4 million available for next year, the Garda will have a substantially modernised fleet in a number of areas. This is a continuing issue. I do not want Deputy Collins to think I am shooting at him but part of the problem with the Garda fleet is that a significant number of cars are becoming obsolete at the same time, in mileage terms, on account of the low funding that was made available for Garda cars between 2009 and 2011. Adequate funding was provided prior to 2009 and it is understandable that funding reduced in circumstances of financial difficulty. It is, however, a practical reality, one which means that a number of cars are being taken out of service within a short period. The injection of €9 million was required for this reason and I hope this will work out.


On the drugs issue, it is of great importance that we maintain pressure on those who are engaged in the drugs trade. Cannabis, which a Member of this House wants to legalise, is often a gateway to people dealing in and using other drugs such as heroin. The Garda has maintained a substantial focus on this area. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien is correct that, as an operational matter for the Garda Commissioner, it is ultimately for him to make specific decisions. The last thing anyone needs is a Minister for Justice and Equality who interferes in day-to-day policing. I leave such matters to the experts. Nevertheless, a substantial number of things have been taking place in this regard. Drugs valued in excess of €50 million have already been seized this year. If I put it this way, they have been financially assessed and there is some other stuff on which we do not yet have a financial identity.


I will provide a little more information on Operation Nitrogen to which I referred. The operation continues to be very successful in identifying cannabis cultivation across the country. Believe it or not, the Garda advises that 55,000 cannabis plants with an approximate street value of €44 million were seized in 2012.


A further substantial amount of cannabis has been seized during the course of this year, but we do not have the end of year figures. The value of what has been seized so far this year exceeds €16 million. We will have better visibility of the end of year figures for this year towards the end of the first quarter of next year. Operation Kingfisher, the response to the head shop phenomena, basically led to the closure of unregulated shops selling psychoactive drugs. I mentioned Operation Stilts earlier. It focused on those selling drugs in the city centre, particularly in the Dublin north central division. Operation Pangea is a long-term Interpol-led operation aimed at policing the online availability of unlicensed and counterfeit medicines. Heroin is not the only problem. In Dublin and some other areas, the problem is the selling of medicines illegally, medicines that can be used for proper purposes, but which are being substantially abused. This is a particular issue of concern. The figure for drug seizures overall is interesting. Drug seizures for the period 2011 to end of September 2013 come to a value of €221 million. This gives some insight into the extent of Garda activity in this area.....

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