Sunday 25 September 2016

Minister Frances Fitzgerald: Peace strides welcome but PIRA legacy must be faced

We don't have to be grateful because they have stopped their terror campaign, says Minister Frances Fitzgerald

Minister Frances Fitzgerald

Published 25/10/2015 | 02:30

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald
Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald

We have made great progress towards achieving peace on this island and that has to be welcome.

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But that does not mean we have to be grateful to the Provisional IRA for the fact that they have stopped their campaign of terror and slaughter. The incontrovertible truth is that if what they were fighting was a war, their leadership would be standing in the dock for war crimes. Women taken from their homes and shot on lonely roads, people travelling to work on buses and shot on the basis of their religion, the lives of children brutally ended. It was an organisation that didn't hesitate to recruit psychopaths to maintain discipline in its ranks.

There should be no surprise then that two deeply disturbing reports published this week set out the appalling legacy of PIRA.

The Garda Commissioner in a letter to me stressed two aspects of that legacy. While so-called dissident republican organisations are at odds with PIRA, they have their origins in it. And many who have been associated with PIRA are involved in organised crime. They live off a reputation of being 'provos'. So, understandably, no-one will convince Paul Quinn's family that responsibility for his murder should not be laid at the door of PIRA.

The vast majority of people living in border areas are decent, law-abiding people and we should be very careful of painting a picture of an area where lawlessness prevails. That is both unfair to those people, and to members of An Garda Siochana and other law enforcement agencies who have been relentless in their pursuit of lawbreakers.

But we have to recognise that the legacy of PIRA has created particular conditions in border areas which require a very strong response.

The Garda Commissioner's report points out that, since the Criminal Assets Bureau was established, over €28m has been seized from persons who had connections with PIRA. The report also shows that, while the 70 people charged with terrorist related offences in the Special Criminal Court since 2010 have links now with dissident groups, over 33 of these have been associated with PIRA in the past.

The Special Criminal Court continues to exist to deal with the situation where the ordinary courts cannot secure the effective administration of justice. The court is designed to deal with a situation where justice might otherwise be prevented because of intimidation.

In the light of Garda successes there are now unacceptable delays in persons who have been charged being tried at that court. That is why this week I secured agreement in principle from my colleagues in Government to establish a second Special Criminal Court. Of course, in an ideal world we would not have to do this. But I make no apologies for doing what is necessary and right to face down the threat which people involved in either terrorist activities or organised crime are posing. The Special Criminal Court is not confined to dealing with members of active terrorist organisations; it can be used in any case where it is considered the effective administration of justice requires it.

Many of the types of criminal activities specific to border areas require a multi-agency response. And it would be unfair not to acknowledge the very considerable successes which Revenue, often supported by An Garda Siochana, have had. I have seen figures which show that, over the past four years or so, over 134 filling stations have been closed for breaches of licensing conditions, over 3 million litres of fuel have been seized and 31 oil laundries were shut down.

But the very nature of a border means that there must be cooperation between all the agencies involved. Thankfully, as a recent report by the British Irish Parliamentary Association acknowledged, cross-border cooperation between these agencies is excellent. Indeed, the North's Justice Minister, David Ford, and myself recently hosted an Organised Crime Conference in Sligo with representatives of all the relevant law enforcement agencies. Task Forces already operate in relation to a number of types of organised crime. I have discussed this with An Taoiseach and we are very open to bringing these under an overarching cross-border group with an enhanced remit. I expect that the precise form which this new body will take will emerge over the coming weeks. It is an unacceptable irony that the activities of those who engage in a multi-million euro smuggling business are acting to deprive the State of the resources it could use in relation to law enforcement - and, indeed, many other areas. Smuggling is not some victimless crime. And its main victims are hard-working people who have to pay more taxes because of the revenue which is lost.

It is, of course, a delusion to think that the great dedication of those involved in law enforcement, and an admirable spirit of cooperation between the two jurisdictions, will suffice if we don't provide the resources which are necessary.

I don't have to go over again the details of the economic ruin which this Government inherited when it came into office. We did all that we could to protect expenditure on An Garda Siochana but it could not be fully immune.

In contrast to those who committed abominable acts, under a distortion of patriotism, the real sacrifices which people of this country were called on to make represented real patriotism and they are now paying off.

So, with a greatly improved economy, we are giving priority to making sure that the hard working men and women of An Garda Siochana can do the job we ask of them and which they perform courageously day in day out.

We reopened the Garda College in Templemore last year. We have recruited 550 new gardai since September last year. We plan to devote over €200m to ensuring that the gardai have the most up to date technology to fight crime. The Capital Framework also allows for €46m to be spent on Garda vehicles. Even in straitened times, we ensured that €34m was invested in new Garda vehicles. A sum of €700,000 was recently allocated for the purchase of specialist vehicles to tackle highly mobile gangs. And €1.75m was recently allocated for the upgrade of Garda air surveillance.

I seek no credit for how we as a Government are spending what is your money, but I believe that there is a general acceptance that this is an area we must prioritise and that is exactly what we are doing. We will do more, as we can do more.

Sunday Independent

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