117. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if she has considered proscribing membership of criminal gangs; if such gangs have been proscribed in other jurisdictions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8914/16]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): The question of providing for an offence of membership of a criminal gang, in a manner similar to the approach taken in the Offences Against the State Acts with regard to membership of a proscribed organisation, has arisen from time to time.
In this regard, it is important to understand the issues which arise in seeking to simply outlaw membership of a criminal gang in such a manner. Most significant is the fact that a criminal gang is not likely to have the permanency of organisation and structure that a subversive organisation or other more fixed group would have. Relationships in criminal gangs tend to be more fluid with shifting memberships, alliances and a membership which may depend on circumstance.
I therefore understand the Deputy's question to relate to organised criminal groups.
In this regard, criminal legislation has been updated in recent years, with a view to ensuring that it provides a comprehensive range of provisions for the prosecution and punishment of crime, in particular the activities of those involved in organised crime.
Part 7 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 (as amended by the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009) establishes a number of offences targeting the activities of those involved in organised crime. These offences include participation in a criminal organisation and directing a criminal organisation. The latter offence specifically targets those in criminal organisations who give the orders without requiring their direct participation in the commission of criminal offences. On conviction, this offence carries a penalty of up to life imprisonment.
The Criminal Justice Act 2006 also makes it an offence to conspire with one or more persons to do an act that constitutes a serious offence, irrespective of whether such act actually takes place or not.
Evidential provisions as to the existence of a criminal organisation were introduced aiding prosecution for the offences under the Act. Provision was also introduced so that where a serious offence is committed as part of or in furtherance of a criminal organisation, it shall be treated as an aggravating factor for the purpose of determining sentence.
With regard to the situation internationally, the question of how best to deal with participation in and/or directing a criminal organisation through the criminal law has been the subject of debate in the development of common international standards. Relevant international instruments to which Ireland is a party are the European Union Council Framework Decision 2008/841/JHA on the fight against organised crime and the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime. State Parties to these instruments are required to give effect to the measures set out therein. Ireland has done so through domestic criminal law including the legislation outlined above.