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Home > Dail Eireann debate. Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill 2014): Second Stage [Private Members].

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill 2014): Second Stage [Private Members]. (08 May 2015)

External website: http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/Debates%20A...


Deputy Eamonn Maloney: I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The purpose of the Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill 2014 is to strengthen the existing 1996 Act, titled the Proceeds of Crime Act. This amending Bill proposes to reduce from seven to two years the waiting period before the Criminal Assets Bureau can apply to the High Court for the disposal and forfeiture of assets frozen under section 3 of the Act.

 

Deputies and the public at large will remember June 1996. It is embedded in the public mind because it was the month Veronica Guerin was assassinated. At the time she worked for the Sunday Independent newspaper and was a distinguished campaigning journalist. Ms Guerin's untimely death and the subsequent public and political outcry led to the enactment of the Proceeds of Crime Act in October 1996 and, subsequently, to the establishment of the Criminal Assets Bureau.

It is widely acknowledged that this change in the law in 1996 allows the authorities to freeze the assets of those who obtain certain assets from criminal activity. It operates on the basis that those who obtain assets by criminal activity should not benefit from them.

 

I will set out the current scheme of the Act. Normally, the process starts with the Criminal Assets Bureau applying to the High Court under section 2 of the Act for an interim order to freeze assets without notice to the defendant. The trial of the action then takes place and if the Criminal Assets Bureau is successful an order under section 3 is made. This has the effect of freezing the assets until further order.

 

However, currently the assets cannot be disposed of or transferred into the Exchequer. This cannot be applied for unless an interlocutory order is in force for at least seven years. There can be no transfer of assets frozen under court order into the Exchequer. There remains a question mark over the ownership of the assets by the criminal involved in whatever activity. The Bill aims to reduce this waiting period from seven to two years. It could bring about a once-off injection of cash into the Exchequer…

 

The Bill aims to reduce the waiting period to two years. The Bill will assist the Criminal Assets Bureau in its important work of seizing the profits of crime, in particular in respect of those involved in the illegal drug business. I believe the period of seven years is too long. While I understand the legitimate reasons for that period in the original Act there is an opposing view on the matter now. I am one of those who believe that this process should be shortened from seven to two years and that is the cardinal point of this proposed legislation.

 

The new Bill would also make more timely the seizing of profits from the assets of crime. I have no wish to be prescriptive about it because we all have different views, but it is not a simple matter of the CAB seizing the assets, freezing them and then simply bringing them into the Exchequer.

 

If the legislation should proceed in that direction, one important aspect for many Deputies is the question of how that money would be spent. We all have different views about it, but I would be surprised if there was a lack of consensus in the House around the idea that this money should be used, for example, to fund policing against those who are involved in major crime. If there was a shortfall in resources then this could represent welcome funding for that area of policing.

 

I am pleased that the Minister of State who has taken on responsibility for the drugs strategy is present. This is an important matter for those of us who have within our constituencies, unfortunately, a serious illegal drug problem. There are many people involved in these issues in our communities. In particular, I have in mind the drugs task forces. It is important that, as Members of this House, we assist in or promote the idea that this money should also be used locally by those who are on the front line of the campaign in drugs treatment.

 

This particular amending legislation has been around for some time. It precedes the life of this Dáil. I commend Deputy Rabbitte - I am unsure whether he is present - who drafted the concept of the original amending legislation. Deputy Rabbitte was the first Deputy with a portfolio in the area of drugs misuse and drugs strategy, back in the 1990s.

 

It is very seldom that we get an opportunity to compliment or praise the work of the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB. I have never had the opportunity in the period I have been here. I compliment the 70-plus staff, including members of the Revenue Commissioners, members of An Garda Síochána and officials from the Department of Social Protection. They do a very difficult job very well and I have no hesitation in paying tribute to them in this debate. They have seized much revenue from those who have illegitimately accumulated large financial reserves and assets such as houses, cars and boats. That is the sort of work that the CAB does, and all parliamentarians should recognise that. If this Bill becomes law it will be of benefit to the CAB. I also wish to mention Mr. Barry Galvin, whom I have never met, and to take the opportunity of praising him for the work he did at the very beginning of the CAB. I think he resigned in 2013. He did sterling work, and all law-abiding citizens in this State should compliment him in that regard.

 

Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin): On behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, I welcome the opportunity to respond to the Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill 2014, introduced by my colleague, Deputy Eamonn Maloney, and commend him on the work he has put into this measure. Unfortunately, the Minster for Justice and Equality cannot be here today to address the House due to a prior engagement elsewhere. As Deputy Maloney has said, I am delighted to make a contribution because of my recent appointment as Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy, which has a great connection with this area……….

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