Government may ring-fence proceeds of crime for youth programmes

Practice of rejecting fund allocation to specific proposals may change, says McGrath

Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath acknowledged that ‘it has always been the case that the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform resist any efforts to ring-fence proceeds for any particular purpose’. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath acknowledged that ‘it has always been the case that the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform resist any efforts to ring-fence proceeds for any particular purpose’. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The Government may ring-fence the proceeds of crime for youth diversion programmes in a departure from established financial practice after a “bonanza” year of €16 million in cash seized by gardaí.

Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath acknowledged that “it has always been the case that the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform resist any efforts to ring-fence proceeds for any particular purpose”.

But “that doesn’t mean it necessarily has to apply indefinitely into the future”, he said.

Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond appealed for the confiscated funds to be designated for youth diversion and other related programmes in a bid to cut crime rates after bumper Garda cash seizures in 2020.

Mr Richmond said the €16 million confiscated was more than the previous two years put together with just over €7 million in each of 2018 and 2019. It was he said, “an additional €9 million in cash”.

He pointed to work by Cllr and Olympic boxing medallist Kenneth Egan, coach at Neilstown Boxing Club in Dublin and an addiction counsellor, who works with youngsters in a socially deprived community.

“Every year he’s losing a percentage of those kids to crime and he has parents coming to him worried about their kids leaving school early and getting in with the wrong crowd.”

Rather than just ploughing the seized cash back into the Exchequer “to have it scattered around departments” he said the could be effectively used to “tackle the sources of crime” and introduce youth diversion programmes, new education and work experience projects, and pay for addiction counsellors and social workers.

French example

Mr Richmond pointed to France which he said had followed Ireland’s model and established its own form of Criminal Assets Bureau (Cab) with seized funds and goods going to crime prevention and New Zealand has been doing the same.

He said on the Garda Twitter account nearly every day there are stories of “€10,000 being seized here and €1 million seized there” or 10 motorbikes or 17 Rolex watches. “Let’s invest in the communities that are absolutely devastated by the criminals and gangsters.”

The Minister acknowledged that Cab investigations had resulted in more than €194 million being returned to the exchequer between 1996 and 2019, an average of just over €8 million a year. Last year €4 million went back to the exchequer and €5.6 million in 2018.

Mr McGrath said the re-allocation of such funds for a specific purpose was contrary to normal practice on the basis that it would “tend to constrain the Government in the implementation of its overall expenditure policy”.

But he said the idea “is a good one in principle” and the question was “how it can be made to work in practice”. He gave a commitment to examine the issue and said he would contact the Minister for Justice about the matter.

Mr Richmond, who raised the issue in the Dáil, said on Friday said a meeting was being arranged with the two Ministers to progress the matter, which he hopes will take place within the next fortnight with Cllr Egan also present.