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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Vol. 909 No. 1

Other Questions

Garda Data

James Browne


6. Deputy James Browne asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the number of Garda stations and the number of gardaí in each station in County Wexford on 31 March 2011 and 31 March 2016; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9978/16]

In the first instance, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the distribution of personnel among the Garda regions, divisions and districts. It must be kept under continuous review. The Garda Inspectorate has made the point again and again that the allocation of gardaí around the country cannot be based on an historic situation but must be a response to current trends, population changes and so on. Crime trends and policing priorities must be taken into account to ensure the best possible use of resources. The reality is that during the economic crisis recruitment was at a standstill and there was very little investment. Thankfully, with the change in the economic situation, we have been able to invest again in the refurbishment of Garda stations and vehicles and, most importantly, the numbers of gardaí being recruited.

In answer to the Deputy's question, in summary, there were 24 stations on 31 March 2011, with 277 members assigned to the Wexford division. On 31 March 2016 there were 21 stations, with 258 gardaí assigned across the division.

The Deputy has asked for a lot of detailed information which I do not have the time to go over in answering his questions, but I will make the information available to him.

As the Minister will be aware, there was a 10% drop in garda numbers in County Wexford between 2010 and 2015. In the past five years there has been a serious depletion of Garda resources in County Wexford and across the country which has led to an increase in fear in many rural communities. Older people and people living in rural areas, in particular, have been affected. It is now not unknown to see high gates around small houses in rural areas. As part of the Fianna Fáil confidence and supply arrangement, Fine Gael has agreed to increase garda numbers to 15,000 and support investment in CCTV systems. Additionally, the programme for Government pledges an increase of 2,000 in the number of gardaí, which would signify an increase of some 15%. Will the Minister guarantee that County Wexford, which has one of the lowest ratios of gardaí to population in the country, without taking into account the fact that in the summer period 60,000 mid-stay tourists come to the county, will see at least a 15% increase in the number of gardaí?

That is purely an operational decision in which I do not have a role. I do not interfere in any way in operational decisions by An Garda Síochána; it is a decision for Garda management and the Commissioner. However, the best chance of having further gardaí assigned around the country is to deal with the issues Deputy Niall Collins has raised about civilianisation and recruitment because then gardaí could be allocated to the areas most in need.

I am informed by the Garda Commissioner that, recognising the needs of the area, 20 newly attested gardaí have been assigned to Wexford Garda division. Those decisions about where gardaí, who have been going through the college in the past two years, are allocated are based on the needs of different areas.

When one examines the crime trends around the country, one sees different trends in different areas. There are areas where crime and burglaries have decreased considerably. It is worth looking at the statistics regarding some of the areas we hear a lot about. Of course, any crime is one too many and there have been some horrific instances but the decision about where gardaí are located is one for the Garda.

I agree it is important that the resources are allocated in the areas of most needs. North Wexford, in particular the Gorey area, has one of the highest rates of population growth. Only three Garda divisions outside of Dublin have the same rate of burglaries as Wexford. There was a 50% spike towards the end of last year - no doubt coinciding with the opening of the bypass which facilitates the access and egress of criminal gangs - and yet in the past few years, Gorey Garda station was downgraded and subsumed under Enniscorthy Garda station which, in turn, has stretched the resources of both Garda stations. Under the review of reopening of Garda stations, will the downgrading of Garda stations be considered and does the Minister agree that the spike in burglaries, in particular in north Wexford, augments the case to provide increased Garda resources for Wexford?

Deputy Browne makes a case for Wexford. There are many other Deputies who will equally make a case for other parts of the country. The Garda Commissioner has to consider a wide variety of factors when she is making that decision.

The point Deputy Browne raises about the mobility of burglary gangs or others intent on criminal activity is an important one regarding the road network. That is why we have placed such a focus on investing in vehicles for the Garda in significant numbers at a cost of tens of millions of euro. There had not been the investment when the economy collapsed but that has now changed, and that will help. We need mobile patrols to deal with the kind of crime that Deputy Browne identifies as well as the response units we now have in place, the use of CCTV and the co-operation between business and local communities. I doubled the funding for organisations, such as Macra na Feirme and Crimestoppers, to help communities work effectively together and there are some good examples of that around the country.

Gangland Crime

Thomas P. Broughan


7. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the measures she is taking to ensure that An Garda Síochána has sufficient resources to stop gang-related murders and crime; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10012/16]

I made comments regarding this in reply to an earlier question.

The Programme for a Partnership Government prioritises a significant programme of investment in An Garda Síochána. I will not repeat all that I stated already but I will highlight again the recruitment and investment in resources, for instance, in ICT, that is now possible. At the end of last year, funding was made available, for example, to improve the PULSE so that it is more effective in terms of the management of criminal investigations, and a number of other initiatives were also taken in that area.

The 2016 budget for An Garda Síochána saw an increase to €1.6 billion. That involved €67 million in additional funding. As I stated earlier, we also moved decisively with increased funding to deal directly with gang-related crime, particularly in the Dublin area, and for the dedicated armed support unit as well. That involves concentrated policing measures in the area. A considerable effort is being made by the Garda to target and do the kind of work necessary to interrupt the cycle of violence that we have seen.

I mentioned the investment in the capital plan.

There is also the airborne surveillance, and money has been made available to ensure we have technical support for the helicopter so it can be used at night. All these initiatives, with the determination of the men and women of the Garda Síochána who are out patrolling the streets, will, I hope, end this dreadful cycle. Although last year the gangland crime and murder figures decreased very considerably, we have had a new cycle with six murders by gangs which are intent on revenge. Every resource that is needed by the Garda Síochána will be made available to deal effectively with this gangland crime.

The Minister and the Garda Commissioner recently met community leaders from the inner city. Tonight there is to be a peace procession in an area of our capital city which is traumatised by the series of assassinations during recent months and by a perceived failure on the part of the Minister's Department to give the Garda Síochána the requisite resources to stamp it out and bring it to a close. On an earlier question, the Minister mentioned the additional gardaí and capital resources. During the Administrations of the Minister and her predecessor, former Deputy Shatter, did units such as the national surveillance unit have adequate resources to keep tabs on the kind of gangland crime and organisation which led to the current desperate spate of murders? The Minister mentioned the armed support unit. Do the specialist units have the resources necessary?

Do we need further legislation? The Criminal Justice Act 2009 tried to target directors of crime and gangland mafia leaders. Does the Minister need to introduce more legislation, particularly regarding the proliferation of guns and gun-related crime?

I reject the Deputy's analysis of resources. If anything, the previous Government has been keenly aware of the need to invest resources, as they became available, in the Garda Síochána. During the period of economic difficulty, investment in the Garda Síochána was stopped for a period and this has had an effect. The figures available on gangland crime suggest the Garda Síochána was effective. There is a feud between criminal gangs intent on retaliation and with the very best policing in the world it can be very difficult to interrupt such a cycle. However, the Garda Síochána interrupted it in Limerick, where 24 out of 25 murders were solved, with major effort by the Garda Síochána and the local community and support from the Government. The same motivation is there in me as Minister, the Government and the local community, as I saw yesterday, to do everything possible to support people who live in those communities and to interrupt the feud and bring people to justice. These people are not outside the law. The law is strong enough. The Criminal Assets Bureau will also continue its work to target the proceeds of crime.

Our rural colleagues have been speaking about the extensive closures of Garda stations. Do some of the Dublin Garda stations need to reopen? The former Lord Mayor of Dublin, Councillor Christy Burke, made the point about Fitzgibbon Street Garda station and asked whether a 24-7 presence was necessary there. Regarding the direction of gangland crime from outside this jurisdiction, what steps has the Minister taken regarding liaising with the Spanish minister for justice and national police force under the European arrest warrant legislation? What kind of actions is she taking to strike at the alleged external directors of savagery on our streets?

This type of crime has an international dimension.

There is very detailed exchange of information with police colleagues in various countries, including Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium. A number of high-profile criminal trials have taken place in those countries. Prison sentences have been served by Irish criminals who have been charged in those jurisdictions. I assure the Deputy that this intensive level of co-operation is ongoing. There is no question about that. We need gardaí working at an intelligence level on investigations, patrolling the streets and providing as much safety as they possibly can in the face of the huge challenges that these gangs are presenting to ordinary law-abiding citizens. We saw gangs acting with impunity in the Regency Hotel. Every effort will be made in the weeks and months ahead on the prevention, investigation and prosecution levels.

Question No. 8 replied to with Written Answers.

Garda Station Closures

Jackie Cahill


9. Deputy Jackie Cahill asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality to ask the Policing Authority to review the dispersal of Garda Síochána stations and to assess the impact of all station closures in County Tipperary since 2011; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10009/16]

The first point I would make in response to Deputy Cahill's question is that the programme for Government contains a commitment to community policing. I recognise the importance of seeing community policing as the embodiment of the work of An Garda Síochána. At its best, community policing recognises the different challenges in urban and rural areas and the responses that are needed. The programme for Government contains a commitment to visible, effective and responsive policing in every community. Of course that depends on resources. We want to arrive at a point where we have the minimal response times possible. As I said in response to the questions about the O'Higgins commission, we need to have a very good response to the victims of crime, who need to be kept informed about what is happening.

The Policing Authority will undertake a review of the boundaries of Garda districts and the dispersal of Garda stations in rural areas and developing urban and suburban areas, with a view to ensuring we have the best geographical distribution of Garda stations. This is something about which I have already spoken. I have outlined the details of the pilot scheme. I remind the House that a former Garda Commissioner recommended the closure of Garda stations. The Garda authorities would say that the new arrangements have allowed front-line gardaí to be managed with greater flexibility and mobility and in a more focused fashion, particularly with regard to various targeted police operations. It is very clear from current crime trends that targeted policing operations like Operation Thor are needed to deal effectively with different types of crime. As I have said, we will be in touch with the Policing Authority shortly to implement the commitment in the programme for Government to which I have referred.

I welcome the Minister's commitment to community policing. The reality in County Tipperary is that people in rural areas are living in fear. It is a sad fact that when one calls to a house now, a window rather than a door is opened. We have been given statistics suggesting that crime levels have decreased, but the reality is that people have absolutely no security in their homes. It is essential for us to increase the Garda presence in rural Ireland. There are no Garda stations along a 60 km stretch from Nenagh to Tipperary town. This huge expanse of countryside is without a Garda presence following the closure of four Garda stations. The motorway infrastructure in County Tipperary - two of this country's main motorways pass through the county - provide the criminal gangs that are operating with excellent opportunities for access and getaways. It is essential for us to increase the Garda presence in County Tipperary.

I remind the Deputy of the success of Operation Thor. This targeted police operation dealt with burglary issues that had arisen in urban and rural areas.

Having regard to its success, that is the direction in which we need to continue with a targeted operation with mobile patrols and liaison locally working with communities. We saw a very significant reduction in burglaries in the last quarter of last year. It was approximately 24% and there was a reduction in the number of burglaries in the year overall. While any one incident of the type the Deputy described is one too many, in terms of effective policing, having the targeted approach we put in place with Operation Thor, which is continuing, is clearly the way to go.

I appreciate the Tánaiste's answers. Hopefully, the increased Garda numbers projected under the programme for Government will impact on the ground and remove the fear with which people are living in rural areas. I look forward to monitoring the situation.

The operation that was put in place is the way to deal with these issues. Operation Thor is continuing. Increasing Garda resources with respect to recruitment and investment in Garda vehicles is essential. That is the way to deal with these issues. The very large budget which was in place was further increased by €67 million and I would hope that this would continue.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.