It is hard to follow such a fluent and articulate speaker such as Mary Fitzpatrick but I will of course do my damdest.
Crime in Dublin particularly Drug Related Crime and by that I mean both legal and illegal drugs is at an all time high. All crime is connected -it is very easy to see the connection between say for example the sale and promotion of illegally imported tobacco products and illegal drugs. These activities are connected and we should always be mindful not to compartmentalise crime into segments and treat one as less heinous than the other. We should never say that sale of illegal tobacco is something we should turn a blind eye to and turn all of our intention to the sale of illegal drugs. These activities are linked and they are operated and controlled by the same evil gangs who see the clear synergies’ between their covert operations in both activities. They are of course impacting immediately on the exchequer returns as the appropriate duties have not been paid. This of course in a period of austerity such as we are experiencing at the moment perhaps forces a Government to say that the likes of child benefit as they have so adaptedly put out to gauge public opinion prior to Cabinet agreeing on the Budget, affect just such an area. Equally the sale of tobacco has further knock on effects.
Our Health Services are not properly funded to cater for the adverse health affects of tobacco consumption which no doubt increases with a cheaper product being available on the market. Equally important for us in Dublin City is that this has a major impact on the retail sector undermining their profit margins and thereby the income tax that they pay and of course their ability to discharge the annual rates to the council. This in turn has an obvious impact on the city in its ability to provide frontline services in a context where development levies and contributions are down already due to the recession and the Local Government fund is no doubt going to be further squeezed in the coming National Budget.
This course must be tackled head on. As stated earlier illegal tobacco selling does not take place in isolation -it is part of a web of drug dealing, smuggling , money laundering, gangland slayings and feuding. Fianna Fail when in government passed legislation to say that gangland criminals could be convicted on the word of a Chief Superintendent and jailed on the basis of their gang membership. Labour and Fine Gael say they support the implementation of this legislation. In particular the Labour party in its General Election manifesto criticised our party for not having had any cases before the Courts after eighteen months of the passing of the Act. It seems to me that whilst eighteen months may seem a protracted period, the legislation needs to be bedded down and for training to be given to the Gardai , the Court Service staff and to the judiciary. However the Coalition Government were in office for almost eight months on top of that eighteen month period and we have not seen any of the cases coming before the Court even to this date. The concern here is that we as a party need to be clambering more loudly for this legislation to be utilised and enforced to the fullest possible extent. This needs to be done however in tandem with a fully funded and statutory based Witness Protection Programme. There is no point in fighting a war on drug lords on the one front only. We as a society need to be able to say to our citizen’s yes come and give evidence against these evil drug dealers but also that if you do we will be there to protect not only you but members of your family also.
The putting of the Thornton Hall project on ice by the Minister for Justice for at least 12 months recently to my mind beggars belief. We not only need our construction industry to be given some kind of a boost to allow apprentices to finish their training and to stimulate the economy it seems farcical in the extreme that the talk tough on the one hand and criticise the delay in achieving convictions but when it comes to providing the extra prison places they put a product such as this on ice. The hypocrisy speaks for itself.
Much over the years has been spoken about zero tolerance we need in Dublin City in particular to adopt a zero tolerance approach to what in my mind is wrongfully referred to as antisocial behaviour. Antisocial behaviour for me is a thing that contravenes the public order legislation and is in fact crime. They may not be particularly high level crimes but antisocial behaviour in our green open spaces around the city are also places where low level drug dealing, alcohol and substance abuse takes place as well as other crimes such as sexual assaults and rape. Neighbouring residents’ lives are made a misery and this to me is the beach mark of the utter unacceptability of this behaviour. In one green area in my own area there are football pitches which cannot be used because of the omni presence of broken glass, needles and other deleterious materials. A huge amount of time and resources are expended on this and despite over 100 arrests on average per year in this particular open space the problem cannot be resolved without additional resources being given. These issues have been raised time out of number at Policing Committee and Friends of the Park initiatives but yet no permanent solutions are found. When asked to do anything the Parks Department even in the good times has one stock answer which of course is very short and consists of two letters. This is an issue that needs to be addressed at national level with the Department of Justice, Environment and Local Authorities. These problems I have no doubt are experienced right around the city and probably beyond.
When we as a country or as a city fail to take what is termed as low level crime seriously by calling it other than what it really is we fail our society. The reality here in my view is that low level crime is the first rung of the drug lord’s empire. This is where substance and alcohol abuse starts and for many misguided people who are already vulnerable and who taken advantage of by these evil drug dealers.
As stated earlier we cannot see these items in isolation. The threatened closure of Garda Stations whether full time or part time will be completely counterproductive to all of what is necessary to make our city safe.
For our part as a group in Dublin City council we will be highlighting the necessity to take on the fight against crime in the Council Chamber at the joint Police Committees and in the various safety fora around the city.
As the Parties Representative and Appointee by the Lord Mayor on the Lord Mayor’s Commission on antisocial behaviour I will be raising these issues in a very robust and vociferous way and would obviously welcome any suggestions that might be forthcoming from our own membership.
The fight against crime is vital for our communities and society as a whole. For us to sit back and say that we are only 6 out of 52 councillors is clearly not good enough and I know that each one of us are completely 100% committed to highlighting these issues and to fight on your behalf in this regard.
And finally before I finish up I just want to make one comment in relation to the high profile Bankers who have contributed significantly to the country’s economic downfall. Despite all of the noises that have been made by the opposition parties coming up to the last General Election when they have now taken the reins of power no prosecutions have been brought in relation to those and we as a group certainly believe that action must be taken on these issues at the earliest possible date so that the general public’s belief in our system of justice can be restored and more importantly to ensure that the mistakes of the past are learned from and consequently not repeated.