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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 2 Oct 2008

Vol. 662 No. 3

Priority Questions.

Crime Levels.

Charles Flanagan


1 Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the action he proposes to take to combat knife crime in view of the 300% increase in the past four years and a recent report by the Garda Síochána in relation to this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32815/08]

It is encouraging to note that the number of murders involving a knife in the first half of this year dropped significantly to just three. By comparison, there were 33 such crimes in 2007. All such incidents are, of course, to be deplored. This country's law on knives, and offensive weapons generally, is extremely robust. The provisions of the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990 prohibit the unlawful carrying of knives or articles which have a blade or are sharply pointed, or any other article made or adapted to cause injury. It creates a number of offences. For example, it is an offence for a person, while committing or appearing to commit an offence or in the course of a fight, to produce in a manner likely to intimidate any article likely to inflict serious injury. It also sets out offences for the possession or use of a knife or blade or other sharp instrument without lawful purpose. Our law also prohibits the manufacture, importation, sale, hire or loan of certain weapons.

Earlier this year, when he was considering whether any further strengthening of the law was necessary, my predecessor asked the Garda Commissioner for his views. The advice of the Office of the Attorney General was sought following the receipt of the views and recommendations of the Commissioner. My Department recently received that advice. I intend to bring forward proposals as soon as possible to further strengthen our legislation in this area. Specifically, I am developing proposals to increase search powers, to outlaw items such as samurai swords and to provide that less serious offences which can only be dealt with summarily at present can also be dealt with on indictment, thus incurring heavier penalties. As I have previously explained to the House, an obvious difficulty arises because many knives are household items and become offensive weapons in particular circumstances only. The Garda Síochána proactively targets groups and individuals involved in anti-social and more serious behaviour, which unfortunately can involve the use of knives and similar weapons. It also identifies and tackles hotspots where such behaviour is taking place.

I put it to the Minister that we have a serious problem with crime, particularly knife crime. The Minister has confirmed that the number of murders involving knives and sharp weapons has increased substantially over recent years. There were 18 such murders in 2006, but that figure increased to 34 last year. The Minister has been less than hasty in dealing with the content of the Garda Commissioner's review of this area. Does he agree that it is insufficient, in the present circumstances, for him to engage in a public relations exercise entitled "it's not cool to carry a knife"? Serious knife crime is occurring on a daily basis in every part of the country. Hospital employees are wearing protective vests, particularly at weekends, to shield themselves from knife-wielding youths. More than a public relations exercise is needed. I acknowledge and welcome the Minister's decision to ban the samurai sword, which is something I adverted to in this House in recent months. The Minister and his predecessor had indicated that such a ban was not necessary. Will the Minister ensure that legislation prohibiting such weapons is introduced and enacted at the earliest possible opportunity?

I do not want to be divisive. The Deputy issued a press release about a public relations campaign that I had supposedly initiated. I am not responsible for the campaign in question. The Garda Síochána, under the stewardship of the Garda Commissioner, devised the public awareness campaign. It has nothing to do with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

It is not sufficient.

No. The Deputy suggested that I was engaging in a public relations exercise. That is not the case.

It is under the Minister's stewardship.

It is a public awareness campaign like those which have been developed by the police in the UK and the PSNI across the Border. The increasing use of knives is a problem on these islands. As I said in my initial reply, I deplore and abhor any violence involving knives. The figures show that there has been a significant reduction in such violence so far this year. There was a spike in knife crime last year by comparison with previous years. The Garda Commissioner decided to instigate a public awareness campaign as part of the Garda plan for 2008. It is his initiative and his initiative alone. I welcome it. The Garda is trying to make the public aware of how lethal knives can be. As I said in my reply, most knife crime is committed in domestic situations. In such circumstances, knives tend to be used because they can be easily accessed in the vicinity of where the row is taking place. The action being taken under the Garda plan is a clear indication of the priority the force is attaching to this problem. The Garda Commissioner has indicated to his officers that it is a priority.

Apart from the hiring of a public relations company, what other action does the Minister intend to pursue? I suggest that a comprehensive review of the availability of knives and offensive weapons is needed. A series of educational seminars should be organised to ensure that young people understand not only the dangers inherent in the use of knives, but also the fact that carrying knives can be unlawful. We need to implement a targeted six-month operation with the aim of decreasing the number of knives in the community. In light of the grave public concern that exists in this respect, it is not enough to engage in stand-alone exercises such as the hiring of a public relations company to put up posters.

The Deputy is answering his own question. The Garda is pursuing an initiative that involves prioritising its efforts to tackle knife crime. Figures published by the Central Statistics Office indicate that the initiative is succeeding. The number of knife-related crimes has decreased significantly, from 1,223 in 2004 to 1,032 in 2007.

There has been no such reduction in the figures for murder and manslaughter.

The Garda's efforts are having an effect. By criticising the public relations campaign, the Deputy is, in effect, criticising a valid effort by the Garda Commissioner, and the force as a whole, to do the very thing he is demanding, which is to increase public awareness of the danger of knives.

I am saying that the campaign is insufficient.

The Deputy should not use the term "public relations exercise" as a political smear.

I am not doing that.

The Garda Síochána is trying to deal with this issue properly.

I am saying it is insufficient.

It is a serious issue.

There is no attempt on my part to try to smear anybody.

That is what the Deputy did in his press release.

The Minister has failed.

You said I was engaging in a public relations exercise. You know it was nothing to do with me.

The Garda Síochána is responsible for the campaign.

I ask the Minister and the Deputy to make their remarks through the Chair.

Garda Complaints Procedures.

Pat Rabbitte


2 Deputy Pat Rabbitte asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of cases being handled by the whistleblower, Mr. Brian McCarthy, appointed to receive complaints from members of the Garda Síochána; the reason he refused to disclose the location of the whistleblower’s office in reply to previous parliamentary questions; if he will confirm that the office is located within his Department; his views on whether this is the most appropriate location; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32827/08]

The confidential reporting system under the Garda Síochána (Confidential Reporting of Corruption or Malpractice) Regulations 2007 commenced operation in June of this year. The Garda Commissioner has issued a confidential reporting charter to all sworn members and civilian staff of the Garda. The charter contains the contact details of the confidential recipients to whom confidential reports may be made. The people in question include the external confidential recipient, Mr. Brian McCarthy, the former Secretary General to the President, who was appointed by my predecessor. The other nine confidential recipients were appointed by the Garda Commissioner from within the Garda organisation.

I have been informed by Mr. McCarthy that, to date, he has been contacted in three cases by people within the Garda about their concerns. Mr. McCarthy's contact details have been supplied to all the people for whom his services are intended, namely sworn members and civilian employees of the Garda. His office is located in a building shared with other bodies operating under the aegis of my Department. It is not a public office and members of the public do not have access to his services. As the Deputy is aware, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission is the body to which members of the public may make reports about Garda behaviour. Its contact details and location are well advertised. The whistleblower regulations provide that the confidential recipient appointed by the Minister may be assisted by members of staff who are civil servants. In view of the likely volume of work anticipated in this area, staff have not been assigned full time to this role.

Staff have been assigned to be available to assist Mr. McCarthy on a part-time basis, as required. They do this in addition to their normal duties. The staff concerned are from my Department but are not from the main areas dealing with Garda matters. They are civil servants, subject to the provisions of the Official Secrets Act, as well as the confidentiality provisions of the whistleblower regulations which require them to protect the identity of a person who makes a confidential report. I am satisfied that these arrangements are entirely appropriate and allow for the provision of the service in a secure, efficient and economic manner. The staff concerned are fully aware of the sensitivity of their role and the confidentiality requirements.

I tabled this question because the Minister gave me an answer previously which said that there is indeed a confidential recipient but that he could not tell me where he is or what he does.

Did the Minister read the Morris reports? Does he think there is anything more serious than what is contained in those reports? Does he accept what Mr. Justice Morris says, namely, that what he uncovered in Donegal is not particular to that county only? Is it good enough in those circumstances to announce, as his predecessor did last March, that Mr. Brian McCarthy was being appointed as a confidential recipient but then nobody could find out where he was functioning from? I rang the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and was told he was there but when I rang back, I was told they did not know where he was. The Minister has confirmed today that he is in some annexe and not in the principal departmental area.

If I were a conscientious, diligent garda, and there are thousands of them out there, some of whom are demoralised by some of the practices going among a minority of their colleagues, does the Minister think I would go to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to make a complaint? What kind of a whistleblower's confidential recipient may not be accessed by, for example, a Member of this House? What does that do to tackle the illness that Mr. Justice Morris exposed in his reports?

Obviously we all abhor what went on in Donegal and accept the recommendations which flowed from the Morris tribunal reports published to date, as well as those that will come from the further two reports. The Deputy must accept that fairly dramatic changes have been made by the House and the Government at the instigation of the recommendations of the reports and that will continue to be the case when the two final reports are published.

With regard to the location, it is on Harcourt Street, in a secure building. Mr. McCarthy is satisfied with the level of security available to him with regard to his modus operandi from that building. He is very conscious, as are the staff assigned, of the issue of confidentiality. Members of the Garda Síochána are all aware of how to contact Mr. McCarthy to give him any information they wish, in strict confidentiality.

I emphasise that the building in question is not accessible by officials from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, other than the four people who are assigned to work with Mr. McCarthy, and neither is it part of any Garda operation nor near any Garda station. I am satisfied with the arrangements and, as I have said, three cases have already come to the notice of Mr. McCarthy. Complaints have been made and he is independently examining them. The Garda Commissioner has nominated eight chief superintendents as confidential recipients and one civilian.

Civil servants and their Ministers have a habit of calculating how far we will get on oral questions and then giving minimal information in the subsequent written questions or questions that do not come up for oral reply. If I did not personally know Mr. Brian McCarthy, I would have doubted his very existence on the basis of the answer I received previously from the Minister. However, I know he exists and I put it to the Minister that it is not doing anything for Garda morale that the confidentiality he has described surrounds him or that a Garda is required to either present physically or make contact with him within the aegis of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

I must say, although I regret having to do so, that I am sceptical about the nine chief superintendents. Certainly the gardaí who have identified cases to me are not going to approach a chief superintendent. I am sorry it should be that way.

The Minister did not answer my question regarding the Morris reports. I know he is a very busy man and I do not know if he has had the opportunity to read those reports. They are absolutely hair-raising. It is hair-raising that such events should happen in this small country and the fact that a High Court judge believes they did not only happen in Donegal should be a serious cause for concern in this House.

Mr. Brian McCarthy should be independent, stand alone and accessible by people in this House, for example, who have serious cases brought to their attention and who want to deal with them through an independent confidential recipient.

I did take the time to read the Morris reports, particularly since I became Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Indeed, I am in the throes of reading the two current reports, which will be published shortly. They are very large reports and I compliment Mr. Justice Morris on the way in which he has addressed the entire issue. He said in his third report that, subject to safeguards, it should be possible for any serving member of the Garda Síochána to ring Garda headquarters and speak in confidence to a designated officer or group of officers about any real concerns he or she may have about misconduct within the organisation. I am satisfied, as was my predecessor, with the system that has been set up around Mr. Brian McCarthy, and I accept what Deputy Rabbitte has said regarding his bona fides. He can be contacted by the people to whom his job relates directly either by telephone, fax or correspondence addressed to a post office box. All of that is indicated in the whistleblower’s charter. Members of the Garda Síochána know exactly how to contact Mr. McCarthy. There is no mystery about where his premises are located. The building is on Harcourt Street and is not in any way connected to the Garda Síochána. He is in a building shared——

In an earlier reply, the Minister would not tell me the location.

I have no difficulty, as I said to my officials, in indicating publicly where the office is located. It is in a building in Harcourt Street shared by other bodies under the aegis of the Department, but it is safeguarded by security measures to the highest standards.

Departmental Agencies.

Charles Flanagan


3 Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will make a statement of clarification regarding proposals to amalgamate a number of bodies under the aegis of his Department, namely the Equality Tribunal, the Equality Authority, the National Disability Authority, the Data Protection Commission and the Irish Human Rights Commission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32816/08]

As I indicated in reply to Parliamentary Question No. 768 on 24 September last, in the current economic climate it is incumbent on the State to ensure that the citizen is provided with services that give value for money and that are effective and efficient.

It is also essential that there is the optimum level of transparency and accountability in the delivery of such services to the citizen. This is particularly the case with regard to the large number of non-commercial State agencies now in existence, which was adversely commented on in the OECD report on the Irish public service published last April.

In the context of the 2009 Estimates process, all Departments, including my own, are examining options to rationalise their agencies with a view to delivering financial efficiencies as well as the more effective delivery of services to the public.

It is equally important to ensure that agency functions do not overlap, that there is effective and ongoing communication between these bodies and that the opportunities for synergies, including the sharing of corporate services and other back office functions, are availed of to the fullest extent possible. Moreover, the Government is anxious to ensure that in delivering public services, State agencies avoid the risk of confusing customers by any overlap of functions or roles.

All the bodies mentioned by the Deputy are included in this analysis and are the subject of critical evaluation based on these principles. I assure the Deputy that any solution arrived at will in no way dilute the level of services provided to the public in the areas of disability, human rights, equality and data protection.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It seems clear that the Irish Government intends commemorating that anniversary by emasculating the Irish Human Rights Commission and important aspects of our human rights mandate. What sort of cost benefit analysis has the Minister undertaken? It seems to me that the overall cost of maintaining and running the five bodies mentioned in the question is about €17 million. What cost benefit analysis has informed the Minister's decision?

A cost benefit analysis is being carried out on this, but the total financial allocation for the five agencies mentioned is around €18 million for 2000. They employ 170 staff. I deny that the Government is trying to dilute the issue of adherence to human rights. We have a commitment under the Good Friday Agreement to have infrastructure on the protection of human rights, which will continue. However, it makes sense to look at the issue of trying to get value for money. Fine Gael has made its name on these issues to a certain extent. I have been subjected in previous ministries to exhortations from that side of the House, particularly Fine Gael, to set up agencies all over the place. I have to say that I have generally resisted that. It has to be said that we are where we are.

I am looking at all agencies — not just the five mentioned — in the context of the 2009 Estimates, which will be difficult. We are looking to find synergies in order to save taxpayers' money. For example, my Department's payroll is organised centrally by a part of the Department. Other Departments are now using that to save on payroll costs, including the Department of the Taoiseach. That saves money in processing salaries for civil servants in both Departments. That is what we are looking at.

I put it to the Minister that there is much more involved in this sinister move than the saving of money. This proposed merger is an attempt by the Government to intimidate bodies and agencies that have criticised it in the past. The Minister is right about Fine Gael and saving money, as we produced a substantial document on it earlier in the year. However, it did not make any reference to the five agencies, as outlined in the Minister's attack. Last week we saw that FÁS is haemorrhaging money to the tune €1 billion per annum, spending lavish weekends in five star hotels at €20,000 for two nights. That is where the Government can save money and cut costs.

Does the Minister consider it legal to amalgamate or dilute the Irish Human Rights Commission, having regard to the fact that the Good Friday Agreement was voted upon by the people of this country in a referendum? The legal status of the commission is enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement to mirror the sister body in Northern Ireland. Does he consider the proposal to amalgamate the body to be legal?

I do not need any lectures from the Deputy on the principles and the objectives of the Good Friday Agreement.

I would not attempt to lecture the Minister on them.

I would not stand over any removal of the section of the agreement which states that a human rights body would have to be established with a mandate and remit equivalent to that in Northern Ireland. That does not mean that the body cannot share in things like corporate services and other synergies. The Deputy refers to the issue of——

Is that all this is about?

——cost effectiveness. Yes, that it what this is all about. There is an onus on each organisation, just as there is an onus on Departments with fewer Exchequer resources, to get value for money and to ensure that synergies can be put in place if they exist. Ultimately, the level of savings would not be significant if we got rid of all these bodies. We are just endeavouring to get value for taxpayers' money.

A carefully targeted attack.

The Minister is only going to co-ordinate the payroll.

I call on the Minister to answer the next question.

Deputy Rabbitte is intervening.

The last question was Deputy Flanagan's priority question.

I have a list here of all the so-called quangos that Fine Gael wanted me and others to set up. The Deputy speaks out of both sides of his mouth.

I ask the Minister to obey the Chair, please.

Refugee Status.

Denis Naughten


4 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the circumstances which lead to a Somalian mother, who was granted refugee status here in August 2004, having to take High Court action to reunite her family; the steps which have been taken to ensure that such an incident is not repeated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32817/08]

The Somalian woman referred to by the Deputy was granted refugee status in August 2004, and applied for family reunification in November 2004 in respect of her immediate and extended family members. Her application was processed in accordance with the provisions of the Refugee Act 1996, and a decision was made in the family reunification unit in August 2005 to grant family reunification to the immediate family members. At the same time, a separate decision was made refusing family reunification to the extended family members. Letters were prepared containing details of the decisions, but due to an unfortunate oversight, these letters were not issued at the time to the applicant. The file was inadvertently filed away and the relevant decision letters did not come to notice until February 2008, when a request under the Freedom of Information Act was received from the legal representatives of the woman concerned.

When the family reunification unit realised that the letters had not been issued, arrangements were made immediately to issue the letters to the applicant. Arrangements were also put in place to issue visas to the immediate family members through the Irish Embassy in Addis Ababa, in order to facilitate their entry into Ireland. However, some difficulties were encountered regarding the issue of the visas. Due to the passage of time since the original application for family reunification was made, further checks had to be carried out both in the Irish naturalisation and immigration service and at the Irish Embassy in Addis Ababa to verify the identities of the individuals involved, which included three young children. Such checks are very necessary in all applications for family reunification as great care has to be taken to ensure that the correct people are entering the State. The checks took about two weeks to complete, during which period the legal representatives of the person concerned pressed ahead with judicial review proceedings in the High Court. When the matter came before the High Court on 21 July 2008, it was explained that the visas were ready for collection at which point the judge adjourned the matter until 25 July. At the resumed hearing the matter was adjourned to the October term.

At that stage I ordered an internal review of all practices and procedures in the family reunification unit. The review was undertaken by staff at senior level and has since been completed. The review examined all files containing family reunification applications to ensure that there were no other similar cases left unattended. Following the review, new procedures are currently in the process of being developed and implemented and some additional resources have been allocated to the unit.

Additional information not provided on the floor of the House.

Having examined the matter, I am satisfied that this case was an unfortunate isolated incident caused by human error and I would like to assure the Deputy that the necessary remedial action has been taken to ensure that, in so far as possible, a similar situation will not occur again. I trust that the Deputy will also appreciate that as this particular case is currently the subject of High Court proceedings, I am constrained in the amount of information I can provide in response to his question.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Between 2005 and the FOI request this year, there was a series of correspondence submitted to the Department and no substantive or reasonable response was given to those issues over that three year period. How is it that nobody thought to look at the file and respond to it over three years? Does this not highlight the fact that our current asylum system is a mess and that there is nobody in charge? What is being proposed in the current immigration Bill will not improve it.

I do not accept the Deputy's allegation that nobody is in charge of it. He is being very unfair to the civil servants and gardaí who are working night and day on this issue, often in difficult circumstances. This was a case which slipped through due to human error. I believe that it was an isolated incident. Once it was brought to my attention, I asked for a review to be carried out. The review included the granting of additional resources, because the pressure of work in other areas, especially dealing with the great number of judicial reviews, took away some of the attention from the area of family reunification.

Additional resources have been assigned. There were four staff involved, but now there are eight. As part of the review, a new database has been installed to allow a better examination of ongoing issues. Regular case conferences on difficult cases are being held since July——

I will allow a brief further supplementary question from Deputy Naughten if the Minister will yield.

An early warning system and a feedback system are in place to confirm the visa has been granted.

I accept what the Minister says about human error and I have no doubt there was human error involved in the original decision. However, I am unable to understand that for three years, correspondence and communication went into that section of the Department and no one realised that the decision had already been made. This defies logic and it is not the result of human error.

If staff numbers have been doubled, does that mean that four staff members have been removed from another section within the asylum system? Can the Minister offer a categorical assurance that someone else is not rotting in a refugee camp in some part of the world who has been granted status in this country while this information has not been communicated to them?

I do not wish to speak about the circumstances of the family involved in this case. It was an unfortunate incident. I am unable to confirm there will not be other cases because I must accept there will be human error and this is the nature of life——

I am not talking about human error, it is subsequent to human error.

The House is passing significant legislation which will allow for a single procedure in this system so that the very complex and piecemeal way in which the legislation has been dealt with in the past will be replaced with the new legislation and there will be a single procedure for application and decision. One of the significant problems is the multiplicity of judicial review applications and these take up a lot of time. I agree we had to divert staff from other areas to look after this area. This case highlighted the deficiencies in the staffing levels and in the modus operandi.

Anti-Social Behaviour.

Michael D'Arcy


5 Deputy Michael D’Arcy asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his Department has allocated specific funding to bolster the resources of local authorities in dealing with anti-social behaviour orders in view of the fact that they are dealing with private estates as well as local authority estates where such behaviour is a problem; and the measures he will implement, outside of the joint policing committees, to curb growing anti-social behaviour. [33026/08]

The Deputy will appreciate that allocation of funding to local authorities falls primarily within the remit of my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

On 24 September, with my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, I launched the roll-out of the joint policing committees established by the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to local authority areas in the State beyond the 29 already established under a pilot phase. I believe that these committees are a very significant development which will make policing more responsive to local needs. The issue of anti-social behaviour will, of course, be a priority for each committee.

The Garda Síochána operates a number of crime prevention initiatives aimed at curbing anti-social behaviour, including Garda youth diversion projects, the juvenile diversion programme and the Garda school programme.

The use of CCTV can play an important role in supporting the work of the Garda Síochána in deterring criminal and anti-social behaviour. The community-based CCTV scheme operated by my Department is designed to provide financial assistance to qualifying local organisations towards meeting the capital costs associated with the establishment of such systems.

Strong legal provisions are already in place to combat anti-social behaviour. For example, the recently enacted Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 places restrictions on the availability and visibility of alcohol and provides for more effective enforcement to deal with the consequences of alcohol abuse.

My Department is in ongoing contact with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, at the highest level on a range of issues, including tackling anti-social behaviour.

I thank the Minister but he has not answered the question. My question was whether he had allocated specific funding to bolster the resources of local authorities in dealing with anti-social behaviour. The belief is that if we continue in the way we are going, there will be no difference. As he will have seen from the performance of Members on this side of the House in the past days, the Minister will know that if moneys are well spent, he will have our full support unlike with regard to the amalgamation of agencies as detailed in Priority Question No. 3.

We want the Minister to spend money well because this will provide the opportunity to nip in the bud the activities of some of these children, who are going off the rails at an early age. Does the Minister intend to allocate additional funding to local authorities to deal with anti-social behaviour?

There is a very small budget for the operation of the joint policing committees, which is the main subject of the Deputy's question. Significant resources of approximately €12 million are allocated to the Garda youth diversion projects. This funding is allocated to specific projects rather than to the local authorities. The local authorities have significant powers under various Acts on the issue of public order offences and anti-social behaviour. To the best of my memory, an Act passed in 2003 allows local authorities to pass a resolution advising a District Court judge on the issue of special exemption orders and whether local public representatives wish to have special exemption orders curtailed to 1 a.m. or 1.30 a.m. This power is available but it has not been used by local authorities. It is therefore not just a matter of resources but also of implementing some of the existing legislation and local authorities have a role in that respect. I am a great supporter of joint policing committees because for the first time they bring together local authorities and the Garda Síochána in an open forum and the Garda Síochána must account for issues arising in the locality. This brings the issues down to local level and the local representatives who are sometimes critical of the Garda Síochána can understand the Garda viewpoint and equally the Garda Síochána can encourage the local public representatives to take various initiatives.

I itemised in my question the role of the joint policing committees because I did not want to discuss it. A cohesive campaign between local authority officials and the Garda Síochána, in conjunction with the joint policing committees, would be money very well spent.

To put it in context, the population of my district has doubled in a decade. The population of my county has increased by 60% in 15 years and we have much the same number of gardaí. Local authority staff payroll has been cut by 3% and this will mean there will not be an impact. The population of the Minister's county has also increased. When the people are not available on the ground to deal with these matters early, it will not be money well spent. This is also my concern about the joint policing committees. If the resources are not put in place, there will be no real impact.

There are plenty of resources available but it is not just a matter of resources; in the case of the joint policing committees it is a matter of using those resources in a co-ordinated way. I would welcome any decision by the Garda Síochána to involve local authorities in the running of youth diversion projects or in the work of juvenile liaison officers. It is not just a matter of extra resources.

Opposition Deputies tabled questions today about Garda numbers and the reply to every question details a significant increase in Garda numbers.

That concludes priority questions.

I would be surprised if there was still the same number of gardaí in the Deputy's area as a couple of years ago.