Editorial: 'Protection inquiry must establish facts'
The details which have emerged in the High Court, and are further reported on in this newspaper today, of a protection racket related to the provision of much-needed social housing in Dublin are deeply disquieting.
The Housing Minister, Eoghan Murphy, has announced an independent inquiry into the disturbing revelations. This is an appropriate, if belated measure into what is an intolerable state of affairs - belated, in that there is some evidence that these events were reported to official authorities years ago and indeed publicly by this media organisation.
The independent investigation must get to the bottom of, and establish the extent of what has occurred and whether the practice is more widespread, and this must be done as quickly as possible.
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It should not be lost on anybody that almost 40pc of social housing built in Ireland today is constructed by what are called non-governmental organisations. Such organisations are, in large part, dependent on public support. Public confidence must be maintained in this housing provision model if the model itself is to be continued. The gardai are also further investigating this astonishing turn of events.
Today we report that, while no formal complaints about protection payments have been made, a deputy commissioner is to write to all chief superintendents in all garda divisions seeking details of any protection rackets within their knowledge. No stone should be left unturned to eradicate what is the provision of protection through violence or the threat of violence outside the sanction of the law.
The protection racket was exposed by the Garda Criminal Assets Bureau in the High Court last week. What emerged was an insidious practice that continued over two years, generating €553,000 for two hardened criminals.
Dublin City Council says it did not pay these criminals and did not condone protection payments - but has not clarified whether it reimbursed the payments. That must now be established by the independent investigation promised by the Housing Minister.
Dublin City Council is but one local authority working under extraordinary pressure at a most difficult time related to what is referred to as a housing crisis. However, such pressures should not require the cutting of corners at any level related to the provision of State services, or the turning of a blind eye to meet the demands of an unforgiving public.
Local authorities must be supported in their endeavours by other arms of the State, be that at Government level or by the Garda Siochana when involved. At a minimum, it is to be hoped that warnings to the authorities in relation to what was occurring in this case were not lost in an administrative error.
Nor should passing the buck be tolerated. There seems to be some evidence that these events were known of at an official level. There is such a thing as collective responsibility.
Meanwhile, local authorities across the country must get on with the provision of social housing according to means provided by Government, and further means and expertise must be provided that does not expose those in the frontline to the insidious nature of criminals and their despicable protection rackets.