Further action to tackle knife crime needed after Cabinet approves plans for harsher sentencing

Age limits on blade purchases and State power to ban specific types of knife needed, Minister of State says

Further action to tackle knife crime in Ireland such as age limits on blade purchases is needed, Minister of State James Browne said after Cabinet approved plans to introduce harsher sentencing for knife-related crimes.

Mr Browne, who developed the plans for harsher sentencing, said there were other recommendations in the area he would like to see implemented such as State power to introduce immediate bans on specific types of blade.

Speaking after Cabinet on Tuesday, he said: “We’re one of the very few countries in the Western World that does not have an age limit on the purchase of knives,” he said, adding that one “has to be brought in”.

He said that there was a list of banned types of knives in the planned legislation but that it was “hard and fast” and that he would like to see an amendment brought in giving the Minister for Justice the power to expand the list by statutory instrument.

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He said that so-called “zombie knives” – long-bladed weapons inspired by zombie TV shows or movies – are not a problem in Ireland yet, but were they to feature here as they had done in the UK, he would like to see powers to “move very quickly” to ban them.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee also outlined for Cabinet a number of planned changes to strengthen the use of antisocial behaviour orders (Asbo) that were recommended by the antisocial behaviour forum chaired by Mr Browne, including making it easier to issue an Asbo and better training for gardaí to use Asbos.

Mr Browne said that there are escalation processes in place that seek to put young people into diversion projects. “But where young people persistently refuse the opportunity that has been given to them they will face the courts and they will face, ultimately, prison.”

Ms McEntee said that Ireland had not seen knife crime on the scale encountered in certain cities in the UK such as London or Glasgow, but she said there was a “small and incremental problem here in Ireland and what we have to do is make sure it doesn’t get any worse”.

The Government was told that the current maximum sentence for serious knife-crime offences – possession of a knife with intent to unlawfully cause injury, trespassing with a knife, and producing a knife to unlawfully intimidate another person – do not appear to be proportionate when compared with simple possession of a knife, yet carry the same maximum sentence of five years.

Speaking on RTÉ radio on her way into Cabinet, Ms McEntee said it was necessary for legislation to reflect the seriousness of the crime.

“We currently have a sentence of up to five years for simple possession. What we’re doing now is reflecting the seriousness of a crime where someone takes a knife with them, with an intention to use this where they trespass another person’s property with a knife, and potentially the intention to use this, or where they produce a knife, again with an intention to use it.

“This is an extremely serious crime, and we must ensure that the penalty matches the crime here,” she said.

Ms McEntee rejected a suggestion, issued earlier on Tuesday by Fianna Fáil TD Jim O’Callaghan, that Fine Gael had effectively performed a U-turn on the issue.

Ms McEntee said that the government would be moving forward with plans to introduce camera-based technology at nine locations to detect seat belt and mobile phone use so that people could be fined without a Garda observing an offence being committed.

She said issues in relation to data sharing and data protection law would also be addressed. “The more information we can share ... the easier it is for us to take people who are not obeying the law off our roads, in turn taking away some of the dangers as well.”

Ms McEntee said she hoped to have a bill published before the summer on the use of facial recognition technology and predicted the Green Party, which previously objected to plans to move forward with the technology, would support the legislation.

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