'Policing Authority was doing its job'
Justice Minister says oversight body was right to criticise Garda boss but vows more resources
Josephine Feehily's maiden statement on Garda management as chair of the Policing Authority caught most people by surprise.
The no-holds barred condemnation of Garda failings exposed by the O'Higgins Commission was a shot across the bow of Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan from the fledgling oversight body.
Tanaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, however, was not in the least bit taken aback by the tone of Ms Feehily's comments.
In her first newspaper interview since taking office, the Tanaiste said: "We set up the Policing Authority for a good reason and what we saw last week was it doing its job."
In fact, Ms Fitzgerald expressed similar concerns about Mr Justice Kevin O'Higgins' findings, albeit not as cutting, when she published the Commission of Investigation's report.
The Justice Minister insisted the under-fire Garda chief has her full support as she struggles to face down controversies surrounding Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe's claims of malpractice in the force and a gangland war which has claimed seven lives.
"It is an extraordinarily challenging time for the Commissioner and the police force and we are asking them to do a number of things at the same time which they have to do," Ms Fitzgerald told the Sunday Independent.
"I think the Commissioner needs to be supported in the job she is doing. I think it was the first meeting of the Policing Authority. I think she is the woman for the job because she was selected by open competition," she added.
She also weighed in behind Taoiseach Enda Kenny who was sharply criticised last week when he suggested there was little he could do about the ruthless gang warfare .
"He clarified very quickly what he meant by that," the minister insisted.
"Clearly Government can give resources, Government can provide the legislative framework, there is a lot we can do and are doing. There is no question of that," she added.
Christy Kinahan and Gerry 'The Monk' Hutch's gangs have been proven to be as fearless as they are callous.
Masked men disguised as gardai stormed a city centre hotel in February with AK47s and murdered a rival gangster.
In retaliation, a spate of broad daylight murders have been carried out across the city and in the commuter belt. Last week, thugs shot dead a relative of The Monk just metres away from an armed garda check point.
The Tanaiste admitted the violence has escalated to such an unprecedented level she is now concerned about the possibility of gardai or ordinary civilians being targeted or caught in the crossfire.
"This is a very dangerous situation and not to be underestimated by anyone. We want to protect our police and we want to protect our communities. It is going to take very intensive policing," she said.
"As members of the Dail we are not the ones putting our lives on the line. The gardai of course are in this situation. That's why we want to make sure they have every resource. The armed response unit is there and will continue to be there," she added.
Ms Fitzgerald promised gardai "whatever resources or overtime" needed to bring an end to the bloody drug war between the Kinahan and Hutch gangs.
"The big issue is about giving the police the resources they need to do whatever it is going to take to interrupt the gangland activity that we are seeing," she said.
"It takes very dedicated resources to manage what is going on at the moment, which is unprecedented. What we have said is that the resources that are needed to confront this issue are being made available.
"It means we will have a much bigger overtime bill by the end of the year but we are going to have to do it," she added.
One of the ways she plans to tackle the gangs is to ramp up the powers held by the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) to allow gardai target low- level drug dealers involved in the feud.
Ms Fitzgerald said she will pass "zero tolerance" legislation in the coming weeks allowing gardai target all assets worth more than €1,000 suspected of being proceeds of crime.
Currently, CAB can only seize property and assets worth more than €13,000 after receiving a court order.
"This is about people flaunting the proceeds of drug dealing in local communities where their lifestyle and possessions are completely out of kilter with everyone else who is getting on with doing their ordinary work and their ordinary lives," Ms Fitzgerald said.
It is hoped the move will assist gardai targeting drug dealers and addicts who are being kept on retainers and offered thousands of euro by criminal gangs to murder their rivals.
The Tanaiste said there will be an urgent review of proceeds of crime legislation to ensure CAB has the power to target low-level criminals terrorising Dublin communities.
"We will review the CAB legislation to make sure it can deal with the sort of flaunting of assets that might be at a lower level among criminals but they are totally undermining communities. This could be in relation to cars, or carrying large amounts of cash," she said.
"There have always been prosecutions where possible of drug dealing at every level but we have to move towards zero tolerance models that work so well elsewhere," she added.
She said dole payments and social housing benefits may also be targeted by gardai.
Ms Fitzgerald said, while the gang war is "primarily a policing matter", she will be speaking to her counterparts in Spain and elsewhere about bringing criminal gangs based abroad to justice.