136. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if consideration has been given to proscribing membership of criminal gangs with a view to curtailing their activity in a resolute manner and making the streets safer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4655/19]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): I can assure the Deputy that tackling organised crime activity is a key ongoing priority for the Government and An Garda Síochána.
The Government, for its part, is committed to providing An Garda Síochána with the necessary resources to tackle this, and all, forms of criminality in our State.
Given the fluid nature of criminal groupings, it is extremely difficult to quantify the number of criminal gangs operating at any particular time. Splinter groups and new gangs can form overnight. Organised Crime is constantly evolving and new innovations in crime are continuously emerging.
From time to time, the question has arisen 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.
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 a similar permanency of organisation and structure that might pertain to a typical subversive organisation or other more fixed group. Similarly, relationships in criminal gangs tend to be more fluid, with shifting memberships and alliances, and a given individual's affiliation with a criminal network might itself be entirely contingent, contextual and ephemeral.
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.
In recent years a number of other legislative measures have been introduced to tackle gang-related and associated crime. For example, the Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Act 2016 provides additional powers for Gardaí; in particular, powers to allow for the immediate seizure of assets suspected of being the proceeds of crime to order to prevent them being disposed of, and I am pleased that the provisions of this Act are being used by An Garda Síochána today.
The Deputy will appreciate that a comprehensive body of legislation exists to provide for the prosecution for offences relating to organised crime and targeting the proceeds of crime. I believe that An Garda Síochána, with the support of the significant additional resources provided to it by this Government, will prevail in facing down the threat of gangland violence in our communities. An Garda Síochána have faced down this type of threat in the past and will do so again.