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Question

3. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the action being taken following the recent paramilitary activity; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40594/16]

Answer

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: I thank the Deputy for his question which arises in the context of a recent shooting in Cork city in which a man lost his life. I have no doubt that everybody in this House will join me in condemning such brutal and unjustified violence which can have no place in our society. I am aware there has been speculation that there may have been paramilitary involvement in the killing. The Deputy will appreciate that in circumstances where there is an ongoing Garda investigation, it would not be appropriate or helpful for me to comment in detail.
What I will say, and the Deputy is right to raise this issue, is that there is a real and persistent threat here and in Northern Ireland and Britain from the so-called dissident republican paramilitary groups whose aim is a return to the misery and bloodshed of past decades. They have no support in the wider community. They are inextricably linked in their activities to organised criminal gangs. Indeed, they are deeply involved in serious crime in order to fund their activities and their lifestyles. Their actions are simply an affront to the peaceful wishes of the vast majority of law-abiding people on this island.
I have strengthened Garda resources and secured Government approval for the additional money needed to tackle gangland, subversive and associated crime. This funding provides for continued measures to counter this terrorism, including investment in ICT so that we have the best possible databases from which we can share information, North, South, east and west and across Europe, and concentrated policing targeting organised and gang-related crime. We have very particular operations with Operation Thor and Operation Hybrid.
We have announced and given support for the armed support unit in Dublin which is about protecting the citizens of Dublin. That was launched this week. The Government has funded the development of that unit. The Garda Commissioner said at the launch that she has further plans to co-ordinate the work of the response units, including the regional support units around the country and the armed support unit in Dublin.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
In June of this year, the House approved my proposal to renew the provisions of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998. As the Deputy will appreciate, this is key legislation providing the Garda with essential powers to tackle terrorism. I received approval from the Government for my proposal to update the law with regard to the lawful interception of communications and covert electronic surveillance to enhance the powers available to the authorities to combat serous crime and threats to the State's security. Work on these proposals is ongoing in my Department.
I also put in place the necessary measures earlier this year to bring the second Special Criminal Court into operation - it commenced hearing cases in May. The need for a second Special Criminal Court arose given the numbers awaiting trial for subversive offences resulting in long delays, over two years, for the hearing of trials. That has now reduced to under 18 months and will continue to reduce further.
I assure the Deputy that countering terrorism has always been a priority for the Government and An Garda Síochána and nothing has changed in that regard. It is in this context that I brought the second Special Criminal Court into operation earlier this year in order to address the backlog of cases awaiting trial and to ensure that those facing trail for serious crimes affecting the security of the State are brought to justice quickly. I also secured additional funding of €55 million for the Garda for this year that included dedicated additional funds for countering terrorism and combating organised crime.
The Garda authorities continue to work actively to disrupt and counter these paramilitary groups and to tackle the crime gangs with which they are linked and that work will continue. The Garda also co-operate very closely with its police and security counterparts in Northern Ireland in bearing down on these groups. That close, operational relationship is central to maintaining security on this island.
I am strongly committed to ensuring that the Garda continues to have the resources it needs to bear down on these groups not just in terms of personnel and equipment, but also in terms of the legislative provisions available. The House can rest assured that the Garda will take all appropriate measures, within the rule of law, to defeat these groups.