I have now had an opportunity to consider the recommendations of the Lord Mayor's Commission on Crime and Policing. The Lord Mayor and the city council are to be complimented on a very useful report, which makes a wide range of recommendations, a number of which fall within the city council's area of responsibility. I have already made a comprehensive response to the Lord Mayor.
The Garda Síochána Bill, which I have introduced and which is currently being considered by the Dáil, addresses many of the commission's recommendations on policing. The Bill proposes arrangements which will have general application in all local authority areas throughout the State but at the same time have the capacity to adapt to the particular needs and circumstances prevailing in the areas concerned. Furthermore, changes already made to the Bill in the other House go some considerable way towards meeting the commission's proposals. These include changes to how the joint policing committees will be structured, their membership and how they will be chaired, the application of qualified privilege, the attendance of bodies and persons before the committee and the circumstances in which meetings of the committee may be held other than in public. For the most part the committees will now comprise public representatives and senior members of the Garda Síochána.
These changes address the commission's desire to enhance the democratic mandate for policing by ensuring that policing matters are driven by elected representatives. The commission's proposals in relation to local policing structures are not significantly different from the provisions contained in the Bill and, in terms of the outputs to be achieved, I believe the provisions in the Bill will deliver on the commission's recommendations.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is accountable to Dáil Éireann and through it to the electorate and therefore would exercise democratically the powers which the Bill proposes be conferred on him or her. I am therefore not convinced that a national Garda board, which the commission proposes, would enhance democratic policing more than the arrangements proposed in the Bill.
The joint policing committees, their sub-committees and the local policing fora provided for will be involved in everything that the commission proposes for the community, safety and policing teams, the area committees and the community safety fora, although there are some differences between the Bill's provisions and the commission's proposals in so far as demarcation of responsibilities is concerned. Provision is made in the Bill for drawing up guidelines relating to the establishment of the joint policing committees and subcommittees. The commission's proposals are helpful and will be further considered in the context of the preparation of these regulations when the Bill is enacted.
A number of issues which the commission raises, such as the lack of a policing presence, problems of police numbers, responsive policing, embedding policing within the community and supplementing the gardaí are the sort of issues which I would see the joint policing committees dealing with. Addressing these issues will require a partnership approach. I believe in maximising the input of local authorities in matters which impact on crime and anti-social behaviour, such as by-laws, design of housing, public spaces, public lighting, estate management and getting the balance right in mixing social and affordable housing and avoiding ghettoisation in communities.
I am in favour of the commission's recommendation that in areas with distinctive policing needs, community safety fora are set up, with as wide a membership as necessary, to develop and implement local crime reduction strategies. I have provided in the Garda Síochána Bill for the establishment by a joint policing committee within specific neighbourhoods of local policing fora to discuss and make recommendations to the committee as they affect those neighbourhoods.
Some of the commission's recommendations, such as the development of community policing fora, the extension of the pilot drug court and the integration of the Government's policy on drugs and alcohol, are being examined in the context of the mid-term review of the Government's national drugs strategy 2001-2008.
With regard to the commission's recommendation that community safety personnel with powers appropriate for dealing with low-level disorder be established, provision is made in the Garda Bill for the recruitment of volunteer reserve Garda members who will have the same powers, immunities, privileges and duties as members of the rank of Garda. Furthermore, on foot of the commitment in An Agreed Programme for Government to examine the potential of the community warden service to enforce new and existing functions so as to release gardaí to operational duties, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government established wardens in five pilot areas. The pilot will be in place until the beginning of next year, so as to allow for negotiations on how to integrate the service into the outdoor activities of local authorities and for best practice in the pilot areas to be shared among all local authorities.
The issue of community policing is central to the development of co-operation between the Garda Síochána, local authorities and local communities. With regard to the commission's recommendations regarding community policing, the Deputy will be aware that the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights recently invited written submissions on community policing from interested parties and held hearings, and I look forward to its report with interest.
The commission recommends that a problem-solving court in the Dublin District Courts to deal with low-level crime be piloted. The concept of community courts, to which this recommendation is similar, is receiving ongoing consideration in my Department. Officials have met the director of the New York based Centre for Court Innovation, the body responsible for the development of the Midtown Community Court referred to in the report. As the report recognises, the concept has some similarities with the pilot drug court programme which was launched in the Dublin District Court in 2001. Dublin's north inner city was chosen as the location from which to operate the pilot drug court. The project has been evaluated by consultants, who recommended that the pilot project be extended and the catchment area be widened. I welcomed the recommendations of the consultancy report and support the extension of the drug court to the catchment area proposed. Further evaluation of the operation of the court in the extended area will be carried out by the Courts Service shortly, after which a decision can be taken in relation to its further expansion.
The commission recommends the extension of the use of the temporary closure order against premises found guilty of offences under the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2000. That Act and the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003 provide for a compulsory temporary closure order in the case of convictions for the supply of intoxicating liquor to under-age persons and for a range of behaviour, including permitting drunkenness and disorderly conduct. I am not at present convinced that an extension of these strong provisions is necessary to combat public disorder, but if it does become necessary I will do so.
The commission makes a number of recommendations on the control of liquor licenses. Matters regarding the availability of liquor licences and procedures for obtaining them will be dealt with in the liquor licensing codification Bill which I will present later this year. The Bill will make a number of proposals as regards planning and consequently the role of the local authorities. I would urge local authorities to support and implement these proposals.
As regards the current role of local authorities, I would point out that section 11 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003 already gives local authorities a new role in relation to the duration of special exemption orders. It allows them to adopt a resolution, following consultation with relevant interests, regarding the duration of such orders in their areas and the District Court is then required to have regard to any such resolution in relation to applications for special exemption orders in the area concerned. However, despite the frequently expressed concerns of local authorities regarding public disorder and other issues, it appears that no local authority has actually availed of this provision to date.
The commission recommends a public information campaign directed against anti-social behaviour. I share the concern about incidences of anti-social behaviour in society. I therefore have in mind to provide for anti-social behaviour orders in the current Criminal Justice Bill. The gardaí could be able to apply to the courts by way of civil procedure for an anti-social behaviour order which would prohibit any person from the age of ten years upwards from behaving in the offending way. Such an order could last for up to two years, but it could be altered or discharged on application to the court. Although the order would be a civil order, breach of the order would be a criminal offence punishable by a fine or imprisonment or both. There would be provision for an appeal against the making of an order.