Such a large-scale static deployment of resources is no longer appropriate in the present day where the transport and communications infrastructure have been transformed beyond recognition. The Garda Síochána has a class-leading police computer system, a state-of-the-art digital radio system and a transport fleet which is currently receiving significant investment. The new Garda roster currently being piloted provides a better match between Garda availability and policing demand. All of these developments enable the Garda Síochána to be more mobile and flexible and to deliver a more effective policing service.
We also need to be honest about the level of policing service that was capable of being provided from the stations that were and are to be closed. Of the 100 stations to be closed in 2013, 98% are open part-time, 94% are open for three hours a day or less, 88% are served by one Garda and only 5% are served by three or more Garda personnel. I find it extraordinary that any Member of this House should think that a station open for three hours in the morning is a deterrent to criminal activity. Some critics have complained that the station closures will save only small amounts of money and, of course, in doing so, they completely miss the point. The objective is to maximise the time our well-trained and highly skilled gardaí spend on operational duties. This is about smart policing and the most efficient and effective deployment of Garda resources. It is the Garda Commissioner's view that a country the size of Ireland with a population of 4.5 million does not in the 21st century need 700 Garda stations. It is nothing less than scaremongering to suggest that reducing that network to 564 stations is a cause for fear and anxiety. The Garda Commissioner has concluded that in his professional opinion, a more effective and efficient policing service can be provided by releasing gardaí for front-line service in the communities concerned. By way of comparison, there are 83 police stations in Northern Ireland for its population of 1.4 million, with plans to reduce the number, and 340 stations in Scotland for its population of 5.2 million. In the London metropolitan area, 66 police stations are due to close, leaving 73 police stations open to the public. Are the naysayers seriously suggesting that with the advances we have seen in modern policing, transport and technology, we should act as if time has stood still since 1922?
Commissioner Callinan has stated that the revised structures will continue to support the Garda community philosophy through the clustering of services at policing hubs. This centralisation of services will facilitate the introduction of enhanced patrolling arrangements which, in turn, will provide increased Garda visibility as well as maintaining existing Garda links with communities throughout the country. The objective will be to ensure that the best possible policing service will continue to be provided to our communities.
In addition, the Garda has recently acquired a number of vehicles which are being converted into mobile Garda offices and it is planned that they will be assigned to areas where Garda stations have been closed to ensure members of the public can continue to conduct ordinary business and interact with members of An Garda Síochána. I am entirely confident that following the Garda station network consolidation process which is taking place, An Garda Síochána will continue to provide a professional, efficient and effective policing service to all communities.
Stations are owned by the Office of Public Works, OPW, and the Minister of State with responsibility for public service reform and the OPW has confirmed that if an appropriate community management structure is put in place, the closed stations can be utilised for local community purposes and this can be of considerable benefit to a variety of local voluntary organisations which currently lack appropriate facilities. It is important to reiterate that the planned closure of Garda stations will not diminish community policing which is at the heart of policing in Ireland. This has been consistently emphasised by the Garda Commissioner, and his annual policing plan for 2013 highlights the importance of An Garda Síochána working with communities to tackle behaviour that affects the quality of life of people in our cities and towns.
In addition to the role that all gardaí have to play in community policing, there are more than 1,000 gardaí dedicated to community policing countrywide. Gardaí continue to work closely with all communities to enhance community safety through a wide range of local fora such as community alert and neighbourhood watch. My Department, along with the HSE, has for many years supported the work of the community alert programme, which was set up in 1985 by Muintir na Tíre in association with the Garda authorities. This programme has since developed into a national movement comprising more than 1,300 local groups which work with the Garda to promote crime prevention and improve the security of older and vulnerable persons in the community.
Without doubt, the single biggest transformation project in the Garda Síochána and arguably in the public service has been the development and implementation of a new roster system in the force. Not only does the new roster provide a more effective policing service, it also protects the health and welfare of the members of the Garda Síochána. The new roster system ensures that resources are optimally deployed when and where they are required to every part of the community, both rural and urban. Evidence of the new roster is immediately apparent on our streets as more gardaí are on duty at times of peak demand and fewer during quieter periods. This is essentially what this reform is about - doing things differently but doing them more effectively. I am firmly committed to ensuring resources remain at the highest level possible that will enable the Garda Commissioner, his senior management team and all members of An Garda Síochána to continue to deliver an outstanding policing service to the people.
In response to allegations about increased crime levels in the country, the crime statistics for the 12 months ending on 30 September 2012, which the Deputies opposite choose to ignore, show reductions in 12 of the 14 crime groups. Crimes against the person are down, including homicide offences, which are down by 17.9%, sexual offences, which are down by 0.7%, and assault and related offences, which are down by 9.5%. Public order and damage to property offences are also down by 12% and 9.3%, respectively, as are drug offences, which are down by 7.1%, and weapons and explosives offences, which are down by 17.4%. It is worth saying in the context of drugs that the success of the Garda has resulted in the seizure of drugs in 2012 to a value of €100 million. Burglaries, however, increased by 10.3% during the period. They increased during that period in the context of the 100 Garda stations that are to be closed still being open, thereby proving without any doubt that the existence of those stations acted as no deterrent of any kind in respect of the upsurge in burglaries that occurred.
I am acutely aware of the concerns which exist about the incidence of burglaries and also the corrosive effect which the fear of crime can have on community morale. In particular, I am concerned about the impact on elderly and more vulnerable people. In response to the increase in the number of burglaries, Operation Fiacla was set up by the Garda Commissioner and is particularly focused on identifying and targeting mobile gangs involved in burglaries throughout the country. Operation Fiacla has been and continues to be extremely effective. In the period from April 2012 to the end of December 2012, it resulted in 3,538 persons being arrested and 1,924 persons being charged.
In addition, the latest quarterly figures for burglary suggest that Operation Fiacla is having an impact, when compared with the quarterly figures prior to its introduction. These figures, taken together with the robust response of the Garda in tackling gangland crime and the activities of paramilitary organisations, are clear evidence that while the Garda cannot avoid the economic realities, it has been more than able to continue to respond effectively to crime. With regard to aggravated burglaries, I assure the House that the Garda is taking all available measures to respond to this type of crime, especially the shocking incidents which we have seen recently and which have resulted in arrests. While statistical improvements are clearly no consolation to those who have endured dreadful experiences at the hands of burglars, it is nonetheless important to mention that the most recent crime figures show the number of aggravated burglaries is down when compared with the previous 12 months.
I share the widespread outrage at gang related criminal activity and fully appreciate the concerns of communities on whose streets this violence takes place. The brutal nature of these crimes is a stark reminder to us of the mentality of those involved in organised criminality and the danger which they pose to our society. I am in ongoing contact with the Garda Commissioner about all aspects of serious crime and the Garda will continue to bear down heavily on the activities of those involved in gangland crime. The only effective way to combat organised crime is by disrupting and prosecuting those involved in its operations and especially the drugs trade, which is at the heart of much of its profits. We should not underestimate the difficulties the Garda faces in trying to prevent gangland killings and related crimes and in bringing the perpetrators to justice. These crimes are carefully planned and carried out by people who are familiar with criminal and forensic investigation techniques. Despite the clear risk to themselves, members of gangs will not generally co-operate with Garda investigations. Despite these difficulties the Garda has been able to bring a number of individuals before the courts, particularly in a number of high profile killings in the past couple of years, although it will be some time before those cases are disposed of.
I want to be categorical in stating this is not a budgetary matter. In this context, the Commissioner has made it clear that where resources are needed to combat serious and organised crime, they will be made available. The number of gangland murders was, in fact, higher when Garda numbers were higher than they are today. It is also unrealistic to expect that the Commissioner would devote his entire resources to protecting individuals who are routinely trying to avoid the Garda in order to continue to engage in criminal activity. Such an approach could only come at the expense of ordinary Garda activity to protect the community generally.
I will now briefly discuss the issue of criminal terrorism. Despite the many positive developments in recent years in Northern Ireland, the Garda never let up in its efforts to counteract those criminal terrorist groups whose only objective is to drag our island back to a dark past. The force has a proud record of standing in defence of the State. The Garda will continue to be fully supported and resourced in its efforts to counter the activities of these subversive criminals. The fight against terrorism has been an absolute priority for the Garda authorities. That will not change. I assure the House that gardaí continue to co-operate seamlessly with their police and security counterparts in Northern Ireland in bearing down on these groups to stop their activities. The shared objective of the Government and the authorities in Northern Ireland is to enhance community safety on the whole of this island. We will continue, in co-operation with the authorities in Northern Ireland, to spare no effort to ensure that those criminal terrorists who seek to subvert the democratic will of the people will face the full rigours of the law.
Members of the Garda Síochána are more than members of a police service. They are called into an enormous variety of situations on a daily basis which, as we saw last Friday, can result in enormous tragedy. These calls bring with them attendant risks which they must assess and deal with regularly. We must fully appreciate the work they are doing on our behalf for they are, in the words of Robert Peel, members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence. In this respect, a safe society is the responsibility of every member of that society and not just the Garda. The interconnection between gardaí and the community is a vital one in the successful delivery of a policing service in Ireland. Neither I as Minister nor this Government will shirk in our responsibility to do everything we can to ensure the connection is not broken and that the best possible resources are made available to An Garda Síochána. On a day when we should all stand united in our support for An Garda Síochána, it is regrettable that Fianna Fáil insisted in debating this divisive, disingenuous and dishonest motion.