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Seized gang cash should be spent to help victims

LAST Wednesday night, a 26-year-old man was shot in the back outside his home in Ballyfermot.

Last week, a man was shot as he sat in his car in a church car park in Clondalkin.

Next week, there will probably be another shooting incident, and the victim may not be as fortunate as these two men, both of whom survived.

Shootings, gun crimes and attempted murders are sadly a feature of life for many Dublin communities.

These attacks are carried out by criminal gangs who spread fear in the areas where they operate and for whom life is cheap.

DESPAIR

Criminal activity runs deep, and the actions of a few damage the lives of communities for generations. When I hear first-hand testimonies from teachers that children are being prevented from attending school because of intimidation and gang conflict, I despair.

What future is there for these children and the next generation?

Communities often feel powerless against these criminal gangs. And who can blame them? They inflict loss of life. They leave permanent physical and mental scars on those who survive. They ruin the lives of countless families.

The Garda can contain and convict individual criminals, but the damage they cause is impossible to repair in full.

Having lived in the north inner city of Dublin for more than 30 years, I know that the communities that suffer at the hands of criminals need more support.

In the 1996, in response to the Veronica Guerin murder, the Government decided to fight back and hit the criminals where it hurts most – in their pockets.

The Criminal Assets Bureau was established, and since then it has seized tens of millions of euro from some of Ireland's most notorious criminals.

This money is initially frozen for a seven-year period. But I am proposing that as this money becomes unfrozen it should not be allowed to disappear into the Department of Finance.

Rather, it should be spent in the communities that suffer most from criminal activity. Community employment schemes, children's playgrounds, after-schools services and drug rehabilitation projects would all benefit enormously from funding.

In the European Parliament, I worked with the Committee on Organised Crime, Corruption and Money Laundering on this issue.

The experience in other European countries – most notably Italy – shows that the social re-use of confiscated assets can help empower local communities and create employment in areas worst-affected by organised crime.

RESILIENT

Under a 1996 Italian law, for example, properties confiscated from organised criminals remain in the hands of public authorities, but can be assigned to community projects including programmes for the victims of crimes, drug addicts and people who have been trafficked.

I have written to Justice Minister Alan Shatter requesting him to adopt similar proposals.

Ultimately, we need to be more resilient as a society against the power and force that is asserted by the criminal underworld. Putting the proceeds from the sale of their assets back into the communities where they cause such havoc is a good start.

EMER COSTELLO IS LABOUR PARTY MEP FOR DUBLIN


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