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Home > Dail Eireann debate. Topical issue debate - crime prevention.

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Topical issue debate - crime prevention. (24 Nov 2020)


Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Michael McGrath): I thank Deputy Richmond for raising this Topical Issue tonight and for the sustained interest he has shown on this issue on which I know he has submitted several parliamentary questions in the past. The response I have focuses on the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, in particular. I know Deputy Richmond is, as he has acknowledged, familiar with the responses he has been receiving to date on the ring-fencing of proceeds of this nature. I will put some of the key points on the record for the benefit of the House. I will then perhaps engage further with Deputy Richmond on how to we can try to move this issue forward.


I acknowledge that Deputy Richmond's question is broader than the question of the CAB. As Deputy Richmond has outlined, it encompasses the cash collected by An Garda Síochána separate to the operations undertaken by CAB.


CAB is a multiagency statutory body established under the Act of 1996. It is charged with targeting a person's assets, wherever situated, which derive or are suspected to derive directly or indirectly from criminal conduct. The bureau works closely with law enforcement bodies at national and international levels. It continues to relentlessly pursue the illicit proceeds of organised crime. I note today the bureau had an operation in County Louth that was reported on as well. It is good to see that the bureau continues to be active. The actions of the bureau send a strong message to criminals and local communities to the effect that crime does not pay and that the State will not allow criminals to profit from their crimes.


In accordance with the Proceeds of Crime Acts 1996-2016, all funds collected by the bureau are forwarded to the Central Exchequer Fund. The investigations conducted by CAB and the consequential proceedings and actions have resulted in more than €194 million being returned to the Exchequer as a whole for the years 1996 to 2019. This is an average of a little over €8 million per year. In 2019 almost €4 million was forwarded to the Central Fund, compared to €5.6 million in 2018.


In accordance with the provisions of Article 11 of the Constitution, there must be statutory authority for any State revenues not to be paid into the Central Fund. Examples of such exceptions include appropriations-in-aid, which are departmental receipts retained in accordance with the Public Accounts and Charges Act 1981, and PRSI contributions, which are paid into the Social Insurance Fund in accordance with the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005. The Government draws expenditure from this Central Fund for all public services and investment, including early intervention programmes to tackle crime and the illegal drugs trade. The Constitution requires, and Government accounting principles provide, that public moneys may be spent only as voted or approved by Dáil Éireann, unless otherwise provided by statute.


While there have been calls from time to time for moneys confiscated by the bureau to be ring-fenced, a policy of ring-fencing moneys obtained by the Exchequer and the reallocation of same for a specific purpose runs contrary to the normal Estimates process. It is a general principle of public financial management that earmarking revenues for a specific expenditure programme would tend to constrain the Government in the implementation of its overall expenditure policy. I will allow the rest of the reply to be noted and I will respond on the second occasion to the Deputy.


Deputy Neale Richmond: I appreciate the response of the Minister of State, including the written response and all the detail and acknowledge that the Minister's response focused on the Criminal Assets Bureau and its work.


I have talked the point to death at this stage in respect of using cash seized by An Garda Síochána and the extra cash seized this year. I will leave that with the Minister for tonight but I will be coming back to him on this matter.


I want to talk in particular about CAB and some of the obstacles raised and pointed out so eloquently, not only in the Minister's response this evening but also in parliamentary questions. Unfortunately, we need to start thinking differently. It is not that hard. This policy is one that many of our neighbours have introduced. We can and must learn from the examples. France's agency for recovery and management of seized and confiscated assets was set up in 2010. It was set up directly modelled on the Criminal Assets Bureau. Those responsible saw Ireland and the great work that CAB had been doing since the mid-1990s. They said they needed that for France. More important, that agency sets aside a percentage of revenue from seized assets every year to fund policy operations and drug diversion programmes. In New Zealand, the asset recovery unit seized the proceeds of crime. The organisation is similar to our CAB. Proceeds contained in the criminal proceeds fund policy, health and customs. Agencies can apply to make use of these funds for initiatives such as alcohol and drug treatment services, initiatives to buy organised crime and to address mental health issues and to generally improve community well-being.


I have already mentioned the youth diversion programmes and education programmes. This is something Ireland should be looking into emulating. I work on a daily basis with Councillor Kenneth Egan of my party. He is a county councillor on the ground in Clondlakin and Neilstown. Councillor Egan is also an addiction councillor and a youth boxing coach. He is one of the people who is in touch with exactly what is going on. Let us imagine we could turn around to him and state that CAB would guarantee a fund. I will go back to my original points. What about the bonus cash amounting to €9 million? That does not compare to the previous two years. We could ring fence it directly. That would send a brilliant message to the most deprived communities and the people in our society who too often we leave behind.

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