The Republic must be alert to the emergence of growing crime gangs seeking to take the place of the Kinahan cartel as its operations were put under extreme pressure by the Garda and international sanctions, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has said.
She praised the Garda for securing convictions against 79 Kinahan-aligned criminals in the Republic in the last six years. The Minister also said financial sanctions imposed by authorities in the United States and United Arab Emirates would damage the Kinahans.
However, while the Kinahan family – Christopher Kinahan snr and his sons, Daniel and Christopher jnr – could no longer commercially trade in the UAE, where they are based, other Irish underworld figures would seek to take advantage of the extreme pressure the cartel’s leadership was now under.
“There is a concern as senior members of the Kinahan organised crime group are brought under the spotlight and the potential of what means for them . . . there is always scope for somebody else to move into that space. I think that’s, unfortunately, what happens in these types of circumstances.”
However, she believed what was now happening to the cartel, as it was being targeted by a Garda-led transnational law enforcement operation, showed other criminals that “no matter how big you are, no matter where you go, you can be caught”.
Ms McEntee said the “full implications” of the UAE and US sanctions were not yet understood. But freezing assets was “a massive deterrent and precludes the members of that family from continuing with their day to day business which is what we ultimately want”.
She made her remarks at the annual conference in Sligo town of the Prison Officers’ Association where she outlined her plans to put the prison service on a statutory basis. It would become a standalone State body, rather than a division of the Department of Justice, and would have its own accounting officer and oversight board.
The legislation providing for the move would be advanced “before the summer” and a new “penal reform policy” was also being prepared within the department.
This would, said Ms McEntee, seek to reduce reoffending “and the time people spend in prison” as well as creating new sanctions for courts to impose, instead of custodial sentences. The new legislation creating the Irish Prison Service as a statutory body would put “an onus” on it to set out annual, weekly and monthly plans for measures aimed at rehabilitating prisoners and preventing recidivism.
“By putting it on a statutory footing you’re making it clear that this must be part of your day-to-day running of any prison,” said Ms McEntee. “Yes, prison is there as a deterrent for people and it’s there as a form of punishment. But it’s also there to try and reform people. The vast majority of prisoners, close to 75 per cent, have some form of addiction, be it drugs or alcohol. And there are prisoners with mental health problems. It’s not about penalising [staff in the prison service] if exact targets are not met. It makes it clear prison is not just about punishment, it’s also about reform.”