270. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to strengthen the law relating to membership and direction of criminal gangs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7081/18]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): 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 proceeds of crime 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 here 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 also introduced aiding prosecution of the offences provided for under the Act. The Act also provides 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.
I am advised that An Garda Síochána continue to utilise all available legislation, including the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 referred to above, in their ongoing efforts to tackle organised crime activity.