Home > Dáil Éireann debate. Proceeds of Crime (Investment in Disadvantaged Communities) (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members].

[Oireachtas] Dáil Éireann debate. Proceeds of Crime (Investment in Disadvantaged Communities) (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]. (08 Jul 2021)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/dail/2...

Deputy Mark Ward: I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time." 

I will share time with Deputy Ó Murchú. The vast majority of the money seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, has been ripped from communities in which the criminals have been most active. It must, therefore, be returned to these communities. I represent Dublin Mid-West and I grew up in north Clondalkin. Parts of my constituency have been ripped apart by drug use and criminality over the years. It is no coincidence that some of our most disadvantaged communities are those most affected by crime. 

Years of cuts and stagnation in funding for community-based services by successive governments have eroded community resilience. Sinn Féin has always advocated that any money seized by CAB should be put back into the communities to rebuild resilience and enhance existing community services. My comrade, Deputy Ó Snodaigh, raised this issue more than ten years ago. 

A response to a parliamentary question I tabled recently confirmed that CAB seized almost €65 million in cash and assets in 2019. This is a huge increase on previous years and it is very welcome news. If passed, this Bill would require the Minister for Finance to carry out a review of the financial supports required for disadvantaged communities affected by crime and to reinvest the money generated through the seizures of assets by CAB in those communities with a view to alleviating the impact of crime and enhancing crime prevention measures. 

It is vitally important that additional money invested in our communities needs to be on top of allocated resources and not seen as a replacement to the normal funding channels. It does not happen by accident that most of the money seized by CAB originates in areas that are highly disadvantaged, like my own. In my community, the best deterrent to crime is early intervention, which leads to prevention. Pockets of areas in my constituency have been the victims of very visible criminal activities. These activities range from what is seen as low level antisocial behaviour to intimidation to open drug dealing. The people involved in this activity seem to be operating with relative impunity. This has given a sense of lawlessness to the people living there, many whom have been living there for 40 or 50 years or more. They have to put up with this behaviour every day. It is not good enough. There is a real sense of fear and abandonment in our communities. Residents report a lack of police presence in our areas, particularly at night-time. The dogs in the street know the hotspots in my area. In fairness to the Garda, its members react and call out to these areas. As soon as their backs are turned, however, these people go back to the criminal activities they were doing before the gardaí came out. 

If the money seized by CAB was reinvested into community groups that could provide early invention to these young people, this could have a positive impact on all our communities. It could literally save these young people from a life of crime, addiction, prison and debt. Family resource centres, youth organisations, unemployment services, sports clubs, drug task forces and others - I could go on - that work in these disadvantage areas should benefit from this fund. We have all seen the documentaries about the glamorous lives these criminal gangs live, with fast cars, big houses and flash lifestyles. There are young people in my area throughout the State who are attracted by this lifestyle. They want the money in their pockets. They want the status and the brand new jackets and runners. If we could reinvest the money seized by these unscrupulous criminals, who are at the top of the pyramid, back into the communities in which these young people live, it could broaden their horizons and give them better options to escape poverty. They could move from being burdens on society to being productive members of our society. 

Most things in life have a way of filtering down but dirty money also filters up. The money a mother borrowed from the credit union to pay the drug debts of her child flows right up to these criminal gangs. I have met parents who have been forced to pay drug-related debts their children had accumulated. These debts their children apparently owe to these unscrupulous dealers are frequently exaggerated and these parents end up paying exorbitant amounts back to these dealers for fear of reprisals. To me, there is a certain karma in knowing the money that came from the poor mother's purse would be returned back to the communities instead of funding the lavish lifestyle of these criminal gangs. 

I have raised this issue before in the House and have had promising sounds come from the Government and across the Chamber. I would like to see cross-party support for the Bill. 

Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú: I add my voice to what Deputy Ward has put very eloquently. What he said is from the heart. He is talking about the community he comes from, which has been absolutely ravaged by the organised criminal gangs that prey on really good people. 

This is all about natural justice. We do not for a second believe that this one small item of legislation or one very small solution is going to deal with the wider pandemic of drugs we are all constantly and consistently dealing with. However, this is about natural justice in the sense that we all welcome the work done by the CAB, we welcome seeing its officers on streets and the people who live in the areas in which the raids happen all welcome that too. It is about the fact that criminals who have been seen to operate with impunity are taken apart and what the criminals love, that is to say the money and the lifestyle, is taken from them. Obviously, there is a need to follow up with coherent and strategic policing operations in order to basically put their lights out, from an operational point of view. I welcome much of the work that has been done by the Garda, including in my constituency. That said, we still have an issue with resourcing and with resourcing the courts and we still have a huge number of serious criminals who continue to walk the streets on the basis that they have not been processed through the courts. 

We must look at this situation in the context of the drugs pandemic. I have even heard a positive narrative from the Government regarding the need for a multi-agency response - a whole-of-Government response. I say this while knowing about the current situation of the Family Addiction Support Network in Dundalk that deals with counties Louth, Meath, Cavan and Monaghan. It has a really strong relationship with the Garda and plays a part not only in providing supports to the families of those suffering from addiction but also has a major role in the reporting of drug debt intimidation. That is absolutely necessary work and, unfortunately, it is something that I and many others deal with on a daily basis. I have spoken to the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, about this. It is a matter in respect of which action is really needed. We are talking about many organisations. We all know of the lack of funding for the likes of the North Eastern Regional Drugs Task Force. We know that there are many organisations, such as Turas and the Red Door Project, which do a huge amount of work but are utterly under-resourced. The Family Addiction Support Network is operating on the basis of volunteerism and this must be addressed… 

[For the full debate, click this link to the Oireachtas website]

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