15/01/2019 – 20:40pm – Private Members Motion on Rural Crime
Deputy Declan Breathnach: I compliment the Independent Alliance on moving the motion and commend the support groups, including Community Alert, Muintir na Tíre, and farm and community groups that are making, with An Garda Síochána, the best efforts on behalf of communities. However, the problem remains urban and rural isolation. People are living in terror and fear, including fear of gangs and often of drug-fuelled repeat offenders. Last year gardaí in the Louth Garda division had to deal with five murders, in addition to two ongoing murder investigations. Three of those charged with three of the five murders were on bail and that is not to mention the well known drug feud in Drogheda, of which the Minister is well aware.
I do not want to delay the debate other than to say I support many of the suggestions made. I will not go into the issue of CCTV systems, as I could talk about it for a week. Instead I will provide some thoughts for the Minister’s consideration on the practicalities of dealing with the surge in crime across communities.
I might not be supported in suggesting that we should consider extending the option of voluntary deferment of retirement to gardaí who wish to continue to serve in the force. Perhaps that option could be made available until we have reached the required recruitment levels. Such a measure would allow the Garda to keep the experience that is needed. I also suggest that we should set up a lo-call community alert number on a regional basis, and on a cross-Border basis around the Border, so that people can call a very recognisable number to make contact with monitored answering systems within their regions. That raises the whole issue of regional crime, to which others have referred.
There should be no bail for repeat offenders. There should be electronic tagging, especially of those who are involved in gun crime. There should be zero tolerance of the use of all offensive weapons. I have looked at the statistics for repeat offenders for the years between 2013 and 2017. Sex offences increased by 33% during that time. Robbery, hijacking and extortion increased by 20%. Thefts increased by 75%. Other offences against the State and the Government doubled.
The authorities in County Louth have been looking at the very successful Theft Stop scheme, which has been in operation in the Monaghan region. Individuals and communities should be proactively encouraged to avail of this scheme, which involves the marking of vehicles and equipment. Insurance companies should be supported in offering reduced insurance premiums to people who avail of the scheme, which should be rolled out nationally.
16/01/2019 – 13:00 – Questions on Promised Legislation
Deputy Declan Breathnach: The Public Health (Alcohol) Act was passed by the House last year and most of us welcome its implementation. Minimum unit pricing was raised during the passage of the Bill and I understand the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, is intent on bringing the legislation in that regard into force. I refer to the absence of an assembly in the North of Ireland. It was stated during last year’s debate that there was a need for back-to-back, simultaneous introduction of minimum unit pricing North and South to avoid an impact on retailers. I call on the Government to ensure it consults with the representative organisations of retailers and vintners on the impact this will have, particularly in the Border region. That is not about the day-to-day shopping of individuals but rather the criminal activity that will ensue if a significant price difference is brought about by the introduction of minimum pricing here but not in the North. I want the Taoiseach to be cognisant of the loss of trade and revenue.
The Taoiseach: I will have to speak with the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, or Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, to get an update on the matter. The Deputy’s point is well made. We will achieve nothing if all we are do is encourage people to cross the Border to buy alcohol in Northern Ireland. That does nothing for their health and it damages retailers in counties south of the Border. That does not make common sense. The original intention all along was to do it at the same time as Northern Ireland but that is a problem in the absence of an assembly and Executive there. I will check matters with Deputies Harris and Catherine Byrne but the point the Deputy makes is valid and made well. However, this will not prevent us from implementing many other aspects of that groundbreaking public health legislation.
17/01/2019 16:40 – Statements on Brexit Preparedness
Deputy Declan Breathnach: For men and women of my generation who grew up in communities along the 300 mile stretch of border between North and South, a hard border was a hard reality. In my younger years living along that border it was customs checkpoints dotted along country roads to tackle simple items such as butter, eggs or sugar smuggling. Those were the days of false bottoms on prams, cattle often swimming across lakes or up sheughs and children cramming food into bicycle handlebars. These were ordinary families struggling to make ends meet who would always do whatever they had to in order to buy the essentials for a few pounds less and leave a few extra bob to feed those families. When the Troubles erupted those innocent barriers were replaced by heavily armed roadblocks. A wall of intimidation stretched from Derry to Newry, brick by brick, by violence. That was taken down brick by brick by a belief in a shared future, a shared peace and all-Ireland economy.
Today that shared future, peace and economy stands in jeopardy, whether we like it or not. It is with sheer disbelief and horror that the people who remember those days look on at this week’s Brexit chaos. The idea of sliding over the cliff into a hard Brexit is difficult for any of us to fully comprehend. The impact of the recreation of a hard border on our island would be devastating on many levels, and many have been mentioned here today. We should not cod ourselves. For motorists long delays along the main routes would become the norm. Many farmers would be cut off from their main markets. The flow of goods between North and South and east and west would be blocked by a dam of regulations. We can only scratch the surface of what it would mean for ordinary working families because it is such a leap in the dark.
Donald Rumsfeld once spoke about known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns. I think that a hard Brexit falls in all three categories. We know it would be a disaster, we know we do not know just how bad it will be and we do not know just what other consequences it could have. We do not know what is going to happen. We do not even know what the British want and they do not know. A hard Brexit is an effort to unscramble an egg that was cooked 40 years ago. Members of this House have a special duty in times of national peril to put aside our various differences to work for the national interest. We need unity of purpose to ensure we avoid a hard border on our island. That does not mean abandoning legitimate criticism but it does mean keeping a firm sense of perspective and priority. The Government must ramp up its contingency planning to reduce our vulnerability. We should support an extension to Article 50 if the UK requests it. Buying time is better than building borders.
When the UK voted to leave the EU in June 2016. I believed and hoped that it would never happen. The sheer complexity of withdrawing and the consequences of it would have for our country seemed insurmountable. There is too much at stake, too much time and effort has gone into building something positive to throw it all away. I still hope that this is the case. Let us hold firm on avoiding a hard border, and help the UK to draw back from the cliff edge. The memories of coffins filled up with eggs and butter or mothers trundling prams full of sugar around customs officers looking the other way should stay that way: memories. I fully support the efforts of both sides of this House and all to ensure we do not go over that cliff edge.