Deputy Declan Breathnach: In recent days the decent people of Drogheda have had their town described as gangland-gripped. That is evident from the seriousness of the need to cancel Garda leave in the Louth division. The escalation of thuggery and crime in Drogheda was foreseen and flagged by me to An Garda Síochána and acknowledged as far back as last June. My concern was based on meeting people who were caught up in incredible fear and intimidation. They were sucked in, some relatively innocently, into the crossfire of these vicious criminals. Many of these young people have never come to the attention of An Garda Síochána before and many more continue to be sucked into the criminal underworld. Some subsequently have had to seek anonymity and emigrate while their families continue to be intimidated by these gangs seeking retribution for the debts which they have cleverly and deliberately made sure to accrue to secure the false loyalty of these young people and the expansion of their criminal activities.
The Minister should be under no illusion that what is happening in Drogheda is not confined to there but is being experienced in all the smaller towns and villages in County Louth and beyond into which these thugs’ tentacles have expanded. These will continue to cause grief and expand unless steps are taken.
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): I am aware of the impact that the type of criminal activity that took place in Drogheda last weekend can have on a community. I understand the concerns being expressed by the people of Drogheda and other areas of Louth which have been articulated to me on their behalf by Deputy O’Dowd on several occasions over the past few weeks.
This type of criminal behaviour will not be tolerated. The Garda Commissioner is responsible for the distribution of Garda resources, including personnel among the various Garda divisions. I, as Minister, have no direct role in the matter. However, I am advised that Garda management keeps this distribution of resources under continual review in the context of crime trends and policing priorities to ensure the optimum use is made of these resources in Drogheda, as well as in other parts of Louth and beyond.
On the specific incidents referred to by the Deputies, I am advised that An Garda Síochána is conducting full and detailed investigations into each case. As such it would be inappropriate for me to comment while these investigations are ongoing. However, I have been informed by An Garda Síochána that gardaí have put in place a policing operation to prevent, detect and mitigate against any further escalation of violence. In addition to cancelling all Garda leave in the Louth division for the next two weeks, the operation will entail high-visibility patrols supplemented by personnel from the regional armed support unit, community policing units, district detective and drug units and divisional roads policing unit.
An Garda Síochána has further advised it will continue to make every effort to disrupt the activities of any groups who may be involved in these incidents, to arrest and prosecute offenders and deny access to the road networks for those involved.
On drug-related crime, An Garda Síochána remains resolute in its determination to act against those in society who pose a significant threat to the welfare and well-being of our citizens and the communities they serve. A core focus of the work carried out by An Garda Síochána is aimed at tackling drugs and organised crime. The continued disruption of the supply of all illicit drugs remains a priority for An Garda Síochána and the other State agencies tasked with responsibilities in this regard. Liaison is also ongoing between An Garda Síochána and other relevant stakeholders, including the local authorities, Tusla, the HSE and others.
If anyone has any information about these incidents in Drogheda, they should contact their local or nearest Garda station or through the Garda confidential line, 1800 666111, as soon as possible. Any information, no matter how small, could be of great assistance to the ongoing Garda inquiries and investigations in Drogheda.
Deputy Declan Breathnach: I acknowledge the Minister’s contribution and the importance and efforts of An Garda Síochána, the joint policing committees, local authorities and other agencies in doing their best with the resources they have to tackle any forms of anti-social behaviour and organised crime. Often their hands are tied due to lack of resources.
I acknowledge Garda numbers have improved in the general district with nine new recruits joining recently. It is evident from my research that what is needed is more experience in the district, however. Manpower is one matter but there is a need for an enhanced Garda fleet and proper community policing. These services are currently depleted and in some cases are non-existent. This gives the opportunity of a free rein for these drug barons. All research has shown that high-visibility community policing engagement is the best deterrent. More uniformed Garda inspectors are needed who would be responsible for the supervision and direction of uniformed gardaí and sergeants to ensure management plans and strategies are properly implemented. However, uniformed inspectors have gone from a strength of six to zero in the past five years in the region. We need more front-line gardaí or, in other words, more boots on the ground.
If this does not change, I have a real concern that there is a generation coming up who already have some involvement in this criminal underworld through their siblings. This is a vicious circle and if the resources are not increased to deal with the insidious criminal drug culture which has grown exponentially in the region, there will be more loss of life. We have 20 year olds who want blood and have no conscience about maiming or killing. At times like Hallowe’en, gardaí only had to deal with bangers and stones. Now they are dealing with firearms.