Confusion over the responsibility for recent raids has cast doubts over the competence of the Garda Síochána. But the Morris Tribunal Report, published nine months ago and ignored by the Dáil, contained startling observations on Garda ineffectualness. By Vincent Browne
The Brinks €2.7m robbery is even more curious than originally reported and suggests a degree of planning and organisation not previously suspected.
The Brinks Allied Van was not due to be carrying any money in the early morning of 20 March, at least not until it had linked up with a Garda/Army security escort at College Green. However, because of a last-minute change of plan, the money was collected the previous evening and taken, apparently unescorted, to the Brinks Allied depot at Clonshaugh.
This change of plan, according to Garda sources that have spoken to security correspondents, was not notified to the Garda and was made for the convenience either of bank employees or Brinks Allied staff.
It is common practice with security firms not to give prior notification to their staff of their duties or routes for a particular day until the last moment, so the Brinks Allied employees in the van that was held up had no prior knowledge either of where they were going that day or that the van was carrying money prior to reaching College Green and linking up with the security escort. This makes the subsequent hold-up all the more curious as, for instance, none of the security staff on the van could have given a tip-off to any associate that the van was carrying a large amount of money and was unescorted.
The intention had been to drive to the site of the intended money pick-up at College Green, link up with the security escort and then take the money to a location down the country.
According to a security source, the Garda have little idea who was responsible for the robbery and the list of suspects is lengthy. The likelihood of anyone being charged and convicted with the incident is remote, or so it seems at this stage.
It is reckoned that there may be as many as 70 men in the age group of 24 to 40 in the Dublin area who are available for participation in such robberies and to have the requisite experience and skills. The Garda have had some success in arresting and charging some of these – there are 16 before the courts at present – but it is felt generally that the Garda have as little hold on what is known as "organised crime" as it ever has had.
Michael McDowell's threat to security firms at his meeting on Thursday 31 March seems also curious. He promised them with dire consequences if there wasn't a swift agreement on standards to be operated in the security business.
But a new organisation, Private Security Authority, has been established recently. Its chief executive, Geraldine Larkin, has stated that mandatory regulations setting out standards for the security industry will be introduced soon. Furthermore, any firm that operates a security business without a licence issued by the Authority will be committing a criminal offence and any bank or financial institution that uses an unlicensed security firm will also be guilty of a criminal offence.
At present, under the auspices of the Private Security Authority, a voluntary code is being drawn up by the security firms, the banks and the Garda on standards to operate for cash in transit. Ms Larkin has said this code could become the genesis of the new regulations to be issued by the authority.
The Small Firms Association has been complaining for some time about the level of criminality affecting its members and the cost of security. Pat Delaney, the Secretary General of the Small Firms Association, points out that the level of convictions for all criminality in Ireland (or reported criminality), is now 4%. This compares with a rate of 19% in the UK and that level is regarded as unacceptably low by the UK authorities. Delaney points out that in 2004, there were 4,738 assaults but only 362 convictions; 1,440 arson attacks with only 14 convictions; 57,870 thefts with 2,653 convictions; 25,733 burglaries with just 580 convictions; and 2,794 robberies with just 101 convictions.
He says the total cost of security is now running at €1 billion a year. He is critical of the Garda and the justice system as a whole.
The level of reported crime has hovered around the 100,000 mark since the mid 1980s, sometimes dropping to below 90,000 and sometimes going over 105,000. However, these figures however understate the level of crime. Although most crimes against property are reported because of that being a requirement for insurance claims, some of the less serious crimes against the person, such as assault, are not reported. Also, there is a huge under-reporting of sexual crimes and the Garda statistics do not include any crimes under the tax Acts or companies Acts. There is a perception that the level of expertise within the Garda Síochána is not adequate to meet the demands of sophisticated criminality. Also, the high-profile failures of the Garda to solve major crimes, such as the murder of Veronica Guerin, has raised doubts about the competence of the force.
The Artane robbery on 30 March is just the latest (at the time of writing) of a series of robberies so far in 2005. On 11 January a Securicor Security guard was shot in the leg during a robbery at Clane, Co Kildare as he was making the delivery to the local Ulster Bank Branch.
On 11 March, three armed men raided a Securicor van in Arklow, Co Wicklow and got away with €100,000.
On 14 March four armed masked men took €2.1 million from a Securicor van in Strawberry Beds, Dublin. This was after the gang had taken the van driver's family hostage and held them overnight.
The apparent confusion within the Garda Síochána over responsibility for most of the recent raids is in contrast to the apparent confidence of the Garda about responsibility for the Northern Bank Robbery in Belfast on 20 December last. The Garda have stated authoritatively that the Provisional IRA was responsible for that robbery but have not offered any substantiation for that view.
The Garda also expressed confidence in their assertion of IRA involvement in alleged money laundering in the Cork area in February but there have been no recent developments on this and the only person charged in connection with that is, allegedly, a member not of the Provisional IRA but a member of the real IRA, although that is disputed in some circles in Belfast.
The report in The Irish Times on Tuesday 29 March that the Provisional IRA was laundering some of the proceeds of the Northern Bank Robbery by purchasing property in Britain also fails to provide any substantiation. A report in The Sunday Times that the IRA had laundered millions of pounds at the recent Cheltenham races is also unsubstantiated.
As reported elsewhere in this issue of Village, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform does not appear to have taken cognisance of the findings and recommendations of the Morris Tribunal report published last July. Neither has the Dail even noticed the report in the nine months since publication even though the report contains most startling observations on Garda corruption, incompetence and negligence.