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Sunday 26 February 2017

Families live in fear while minister puts spin over substance

Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

'Ms Fitzgerald's performance on radio did teach us one thing, though: That she has become completely overwhelmed as a result of the recent spate of gangland murders' Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
'Ms Fitzgerald's performance on radio did teach us one thing, though: That she has become completely overwhelmed as a result of the recent spate of gangland murders' Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Last week, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald held a private meeting with members of the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB), the body set up in response to the murders of Veronica Guerin and Jerry McCabe.

Ms Fitzgerald was keen to discuss with CAB investigators her plans to give the body additional powers to target the proceeds of crime and to follow the wealth generated by the country's most prolific gangland figures.

The issue of resources was not discussed, according to sources, despite the strongly held view of senior gardaí that the agency is currently starved of money.

Just days after the meeting, Ms Fitzgerald unveiled her latest plan to address the gangland crisis, which has cast a dark shadow on a community that is no different to any other.

Unsurprisingly, CAB was the centrepiece of Ms Fitzgerald's set of proposals.

The Justice Minister revealed plans to reduce the threshold for seizing assets linked to criminal activity from €6,500 to €1,000.

More work and responsibility for a highly effective agency that has done the State tremendous service is, of course, a good thing - as long as it is matched by the necessary resources.

It is a no-brainer, surely, that an agency as important as CAB cannot take on additional powers unless its funding is increased.

And yet, on several occasions yesterday, Ms Fitzgerald was unable to say how much money will be ring-fenced for her new plan to tackle the gangland crisis.

During a faltering performance on RTÉ radio, Ms Fitzgerald told broadcaster Seán O'Rourke that tens of millions of euro will be set aside to fund her pledge for the likes of additional overtime.

But will the overall State funding for the force be increased? Will a request be made to raise the ceiling of the Department of Justice's budget? Or are figures just being plucked out of thin air?

Ms Fitzgerald's performance on radio did teach us one thing, though: That she has become completely overwhelmed as a result of the recent spate of gangland murders.

The minister has had ample time to provide an adequate response to the crisis - yet we have seen far more spin than substance to date.

It begs the question whether Ms Fitzgerald is taking the core concerns of gardaí on board at all.

There is, of course, a clear distinction between being heard, and being listened to.

Ms Fitzgerald's predecessor, Alan Shatter, may have had his faults, but at least he would give straight answers to very simple questions.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny was equally unimpressive during Leaders' Questions.

Under robust questioning from Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, Mr Kenny told the Dáil that the community in the north inner city is made up of "good people".

What a deeply unfortunate and patronising remark to describe a community battered, bruised and living in fear.

Irish Independent

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