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Question

81. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if consideration will be given to making membership of organised criminal gangs illegal with a view to putting such members off the streets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5695/18]

93. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will invoke special powers to curtail the activities of organised criminal gangs, thereby making membership of such gangs a criminal offence with a liability for a mandatory sentence in view of the continued apparent ease with which gangland wars continue with consequent loss of life and danger to the community at large; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5696/18]

Answer

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): I propose to take Questions Nos. 81 and 93 together.
I can assure the Deputy that tackling organised crime activity is a key ongoing priority for both the Government and An Garda Síochána.
 An Garda Síochána's Policing Plan sets out the priorities of An Garda Síochána in tackling organised crime activity including its continued commitment to pro-actively target groups and individuals engaged in criminal activity, including organised criminal activities. 
 In tackling such activity, An Garda Síochána continues to develop and implement operations and strategies aimed at targeting, dismantling and disrupting criminal networks, utilising advanced analytical and intelligence methodologies. Multi-disciplinary approaches are also utilised to ensure the activities of individuals and groups involved in criminal enterprise are effectively targeted, including through the use of the proceeds of crimes legislation, money-laundering legislation, the provisions of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 relating to organised crime and the powers of the Criminal Assets Bureau.
While we should not underestimate the difficulties which the Garda authorities face in tackling organised crime activity, we continue to see the significant results of their efforts in the arrests made and persons being brought before the Courts, as well as the ongoing drugs and firearms seizures made. 
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. 
However, 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.