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Home > Dail Eireann debate. Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2020 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2020 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed). (03 Feb 2021)

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Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú: I am very glad to have an opportunity to speak in the debate on the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2020. I acknowledge that it is a very technical Bill. As with a number of other Bills we have dealt with, it is concerned with updating our infrastructure to deal with international crime and make sure we are following EU directives. That is all absolutely necessary and is to be supported. I agree with the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, when she spoke earlier, that there are jurisdictional questions that need to be dealt with. I would like to see some detail in that regard and in terms of the outworkings. In the generality, however, all of us would be in support of ensuring that we have the infrastructure and the ability to deal with European-wide and international crime, particularly fraud offences and cyber-related crime.


In recent times, particularly during the Covid pandemic, we have all been inundated with text messages, WhatsApp messages and Messenger messages promising us this, that and the other. Most us know - if we do not, it is brought to our attention very quickly by Joe Duffy and others - that such messages are generally come-ons by fraud enterprises. We all must be on the ball all the time in that regard. As much as one sometimes sees these things and laughs at them, one finds that there are people who fall for them. The people who operate the frauds do so on the basis that it is worth their while. Sometimes they put people who are already in fairly precarious scenarios into even worse monetary situations. That level of organised crime needs to be dealt with. Whatever level of infrastructure we require to do it needs to be provided. In that sense, I completely support the legislation.


On the wider issues, I have spoken previously about the need to ensure we have all the tools we need to deal with the times in which we find ourselves in terms of cybersecurity. There are difficulties and questions to be answered as to whether there will be one overall body to deal with this and what the relationship will be between it and the Garda and the Defence Forces. We are talking about an issue that crosses many planes. We have spoken about straightforward crime and the fact that we have a tax on our communications infrastructure. We know that some of these crimes impact on business, whether they are literally fraud or denial of service attacks, which put a business out of operation for a period of time and have an impact monetarily and in terms of how the world perceives that business. These issues are incredibly important. As I said, we need to ensure we have the required specialist capacity and ability, specialist training and specialist personnel. There are questions to be answered as to whether such personnel will have to be seconded to the cybersecurity body or whether there will be a crossover between the Defence Forces and the Garda, especially when we are dealing with issues to do with cybercrime as it relates to national security. I do not always enjoy using the term "national security" but we need to get some level of information in that regard.


In regard to communications infrastructure and the broadband network, people say to me quite often, as I assume is the case with other Deputies, that the lack of broadband provision in certain areas amounts to a crime. In fairness, I welcome the indication by the Tánaiste that he, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and others are engaging with National Broadband Ireland, Eir and other bodies with a view not only to speeding up the roll-out of the national broadband plan but also to improving Internet connectivity in general. I commend the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, in this regard. An issue was brought to me by a company in Deputy Gould's constituency regarding antennas that were useful in being able to provide broadband provision using mobile telephone services. Their use was found technically to be in breach of legislation but through engagement with the communications committee and my interaction with ComReg, the latter has come up with a solution to the matter. That may be beneficial to many people and is to be welcomed. It would be remiss of me not to mention this issue when we are talking about the realities of cybersecurity and ensuring our infrastructure is sound. We all know the difficulties in this regard and that there are wider issues to address. There is talk that a new electoral commission will have to look at particular questions relating to the impact of social media on the outcome of elections. There are the microanalytics and all the various toolsets that we are now aware of and the impact they may already have had on particular referendums and elections. There is a wide body of work to be done in regard to our communications infrastructure, cybercrime and the regulations we need for the new world we have in terms of social media.


As we are talking about crime, I could not let the moment pass without dealing with some of the traditional elements of crime that are still with us. I have talked before about the drugs pandemic. It is one that will be with us when we are beyond this particular and tragic Covid-19 situation. In fairness to the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, I have welcomed a number of speeches they have made and their commentary on the need to deal with these issues in a holistic sense. A whole-of-government response is required. It must be a cross-departmental effort, involving the Departments of Justice, Health, Education, and Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. Everybody accepts that. The Minister, Deputy McEntee, facilitated me in having a conversation with Vivian Guerin in regard to the scoping exercise he is carrying out into crime in Drogheda. I also spoke to Mr. Guerin about the need to look at the situation in the entire county of Louth. We know about the interaction of criminal gangs across the board, particularly in Dublin, and the particular scenarios that have arisen in that regard. There is an acceptance that the set of rules, tools or skills that are needed to deal with the drugs pandemic should be capable of operating across the board. We will not be able to separate out particular areas and we need to, for want of a better term, attack everywhere at the same time.


I welcome the plan for a Citizens' Assembly on crime.


We need to set a date, accepting the difficulties with regard to the pandemic at this point. It is vital that we take the conversation outside of politics, this place and Leinster House and put it out to the people. We should look at best practice throughout the world. We need to deal with what we need from a health-led response, combined with the absolute necessity of a police or Garda response to criminal gangs and criminal elements.


I have spoken many times, as have others, about the fact that, across the board, but especially in working class areas, people have to deal consistently and constantly with drug debt intimidation. It has become day-to-day business for certain people and a day-to-day nightmare for a significant number of people. People often come to us or to other people who work in the community about this. They use a drug dealer's first name and say they are going around to a person's place. I do not want to use an actual name because, in fairness, if I were to use one or two names people would know exactly who I am talking about. These people are better known than I am. The person will say to me he is going around to do a deal with X to ensure X does not attack his house or the houses of his son, daughter, grandson or granddaughter. This is what we are dealing with across the board and we need to deal with this in a full-scale way.


I have said this to the Minister previously. I have no difficulty with the person who becomes absolute lead in this. At this point, in my head and on the basis of the conversations I have had with the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, it is her responsibility. Obviously, there is an element that involves the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, who is responsible as regards drugs. This issue needs to be consistently and constantly brought to Cabinet. Someone has to take the lead in dealing with this issue, even in the middle of the pandemic.


Luckily, we have seen incredible work by An Garda Síochána at local and State level. We have seen significant moves made against criminal gangs, and that is all positive. We know that sometimes it is a drop in the ocean. We all look at court appearances and we are aware of the situation. Senior gardaí say this as well. There is a roundabout scenario where there are addicts who are on the hook for drug debts. They end up going out and possibly burning down someone's house or inflicting or threatening violence for the main drug dealer. The main dealer is not especially concerned since he has a disposable fool to do it, for the want of a better term. That person will end up getting arrested and put back in the system. That is absolutely necessary. In some cases, this occurs for lesser crimes. The problem is that person may want to get services, may need services or may need rehabilitation. The gardaí will tell anyone those services are not in place. I know the chief superintendent in County Louth, Christy Mangan, has said many times that we are going to lose a generation to cocaine. He has been quoted in here and in many newspapers.


We need to give the drugs issue importance and put it front and centre. It needs to be at Cabinet level. As I have said, I welcome what I am hearing in the narrative and in the conversation pieces from the Minister in respect of this. We need to see action and a plan. At this point, we also need a timeline in respect of the citizens' assembly and dealing with the drugs crisis.


There are many other issues, for example, the housing crisis. We also know of many communities where the problem of minor crime can have more of an impact on the lives of people. This arises especially where we are dealing with dysfunctional families and people who need supports because, as a state, we have failed to put in place the supports and have allowed situations to fester. Two things happen. We fail a generation and this impacts on the people who live with these circumstances as well. I am calling for a review in respect of the powers and supports that can be brought into play. The local authority has a part to play but we need to resource services such as the HSE, Tusla and youth justice services that are fit for purpose. In fairness, the Minister has mentioned many times that we need to deal with the grooming of young people into criminal gangs.

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