Other Questions

Garda Reserve

Eugene Murphy


16. Deputy Eugene Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the number of Garda reservists in the Roscommon-Longford Garda division. [27414/16]

Has the Leas-Cheann Comhairle skipped Question No. 15?

We are on Question No. 16.

The programme for a partnership Government includes a commitment to double the Garda Reserve to act in a supportive role, undertaking local patrols and crime reduction measures. The Reserve members have undergone training in many of the skills required to be effective full-time members of An Garda Síochána. Indeed, many have now applied to be members of the Garda. Quite a number were successful in the last recruitment so we want to build on the very real commitment which they have made. The Garda Síochána has set up a Garda Reserve management office with a superintendent in charge of it, and it is currently undertaking an audit of all the experience and skills of reserves which, when completed, will assist Garda management in considering the future role to be played by the reserve. It has started work on the new recruitment plan and there will be 300 extra reserves recruited next year, and I am pleased to announce that in the House this evening. We will continue that annually to bring the Reserve up from its current strength of 789 members to 2,000.

To get to the reply to the Deputy's question, regarding the Roscommon-Longford Garda division I am informed by the Commissioner that as of 31 August 2016, there were 11 reserves assigned to that division. It is the Garda Commissioner who is responsible for the distribution of resources, and I as Minister have no direct role in that.

I thank the Minister for her reply. It is good to hear the announcement of that figure going up to 300. We on this side of the House might have had a little say in that. It is significant. However, I want to go back to the main point here. As I said to the Minister, 11 reservists in the Roscommon-Longford district is the second lowest in the country and that is down seven from 18 in 2014. I acknowledge what the Minister has said to us but there has been very little done with the Garda Reserve. I am looking here at the Garda Inspectorate report Changing Policing in Ireland, which was published before last Christmas.

It pointed out that despite receiving considerable training, reserves are not consistently or strategically utilised for operational purposes. Furthermore, the inspectorate pointed out there was no identified champion for the reserve programme within the Garda.

Given the huge drop in the number of reservists over the past two years, it is important to have somebody within the Garda to take on that role and deal with it. The reservists have an important role to play. We often see members of the Garda Síochána trying to help out communities at different events - a major festival, a funeral or whatever. The role of the reservists in helping out members of the Garda Síochána, who have much more important things to do, is very important.

I thank the Deputy.

The Garda Modernisation and Renewal Programme 2016-2021 published last month pledges to continue-----

The Deputy has spoken for a minute and a half.

The Minister knows where I am coming from.

The Deputy will have another opportunity.

I welcome the announcement here,-----

I call the Tánaiste.

-----but we need to do more and be serious about the reserve.

The Deputy will have another opportunity, but I will have to cut half a minute from his time.

Following the inspectorate reports we have seen this new approach by An Garda Síochána to extend the powers of the reserve. A superintendent has been appointed and I have met him to discuss the audit that is being carried out. I agree with the Deputy that it is extremely important to double the numbers of the reserves, as we intend to do. We have more reserves now than we had, for example, in 2008, but there has been a reduction from the peak. Some 160 serving reserves successfully applied to become trainee gardaí. We will now have a particular stream for reservists in the new Garda recruitment drive, which closes tomorrow. We see a future role. There will be that recruitment and the doubling in numbers, as agreed in the programme for Government.

I am sure the Tánaiste agrees we need a dynamic approach to the issue. As she and I have said, the reserves will become extremely important in assisting An Garda Síochána in the years ahead. It is a good system. I welcome what the Tánaiste has said this evening. I ask her to ensure this project gets full attention.

The audit is expected to be completed early in the new year. It is expected that the recruitment of the 300 extra reserves will begin in the middle of the year and that will be accelerated in the following years to ensure we double the number. It is an important role. Some people want to do it as a role in itself but others see it as a route into An Garda Síochána. Now that we have a particular stream, people will be encouraged to join. I hope all Deputies will ensure that their constituents are aware of this recruitment. Tomorrow is the final date for the new recruitment to An Garda Síochána.

UK Referendum on EU Membership

Fiona O'Loughlin


17. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she will report on her recent meeting with the UK Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27388/16]

My question relates to the Tánaiste's recent meeting with the UK Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. For all of us the preservation of the common travel area between Ireland and the UK, which has existed since the foundation of the State, is vital given the benefits that accrue from it. That there are 300 formal Border crossing points and many more informal ones indicates the scale and complexity of the issue. Was this raised during her meeting and will she make a statement on the matter?

This is a critical in the new scenario we face where the UK voted to leave the EU. Of course enormous issues arise from that, not least the consequences for the common travel area. I spent a good part of today in Enniskillen at a North-South conference on organised crime. I met the Northern Ireland, Minister for Justice, Ms Sugden, MLA, and we discussed in detail the implications of the Brexit vote for North-South relations, for east-west relations and for the common travel area. Both of us are involved in carrying out audits within our Departments of the areas that will be impacted. For example, in Northern Ireland, 18 pieces of legislation on civil and family matters will be impacted by Brexit where the domestic and the international legislation will have to be examined and the need for change identified in detail.

We had a detailed discussion in the meeting with the Secretary of State, Mr. David Davis, MP, on his recent visit here. We looked at the common travel area, police and judicial co-operation, North-South security co-operation, and data sharing and judicial co-operation on civil matters. Given that the relations at a political and policing level have never been as good, North and South, this is a very good basis. Thanks to the work of people from Deputy O'Loughlin's party and my party on the peace process over the years, the relationships are very good. It is a very good foundation for us to deal with these complex issues.

Everybody has made it clear that we want to see the common travel area maintained. We have yet to discuss in detail precisely how that will be done. Of course, we will now be the border for the EU. We will have North-South and east-west discussions as well as, of course, discussions with Ministers from other EU member states. My Department and other Departments have to work through a huge amount of detail. The Taoiseach has established a Brexit committee to deal with this.

I acknowledge, as the Tánaiste said, the good relationship between the PSNI, the Garda and between the relevant Departments. While the British Government has made positive statements that there will be no return to a hard Border, the UK's desire to limit immigration may certainly create difficulties in that regard. If the UK wishes to prevent immigration to the UK through the Republic, there is a very real possibility that it would need to introduce passport control on Border routes. If EU nationals no longer have the same free-movement rights in both countries, the land Border between the Republic and Northern Ireland could become a weak point in the UK's ability to control EU immigration. How confident is the Tánaiste that the British Government is genuinely committed to the common travel area? To what extent is it a priority for it?

Any statements made to date by the UK make it clear that it wishes to maintain the common travel area. The common travel area arrangements do not just cover travel without a passport, but also cover, for example, the right of a citizen of the country concerned to travel and work or go to a university. It is the job of the Government to ensure that our EU partners understand the particular issue relating to Northern Ireland, the Border and, of course, the peace process, which has to be maintained - nothing should be seen as a threat to that.

The Deputy rightly raises the issue of immigration matters and travel across the islands. In our meeting with the Secretary of State, Mr. David Davis, MP, the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, and I both reiterated the importance of maintaining the common travel area. Detailed issues need to be addressed. The UK Government is at an early point in identifying its approaches. Article 50 has not yet been triggered and probably will not be until January or February. There will be considerable detailed work to ensure there is no return to the so-called hard Border. That is certainly our position on the island of Ireland.

I agree that we all have a role to play in dealing with our partner countries in the EU to ensure that they have a positive say in terms of our relationship with, particularly, Northern Ireland. However, what Brexit means in practice remains unclear. The signals are that there is very strong pressure for a hard Brexit. Next week the Brexit hardliners are likely to ramp this up further at the Tory Party conference.

The UK trade Secretary, Dr. Liam Fox, MP, has made it clear that he wants to see Britain outside the customs union. I am interested in hearing the Tánaiste's view on how a withdrawal from the customs union can be compatible with an invisible Border.

Various statements have been made, including that to which Deputy O'Loughlin refers, in regard to the customs union but it is not the stated position of the UK Government at this point. The common travel area is central to the relationships across these islands. There is no question of that, with very clear benefits enjoyed by both communities. That arrangement is valued equally, North and South. It will be a priority for both Administrations to ensure its benefits are retained in the years to come in the context of the new relationship. That is the position the Irish Government will be taking, no doubt supported by Fianna Fáil. I cannot pretend to the House that Brexit will not pose very complex challenges; it will but we have to do all that we can to reduce any potential adverse affects for all the people of the island.

Even at this point, there are a number of areas on which work is continuing, including the recent signing into law of a new statutory instrument to enable the UK to collect advance passenger information in respect of flights from Ireland to the UK. There is a huge increase in co-operation across a whole range of areas, particularly in regard to advance passenger information and immigration issues such as sham marriages and those who would illegally enter this country, their visas having expired in the UK. There are many areas in respect of which co-operation is ongoing between both countries.

Community Policing

Jackie Cahill


18. Deputy Jackie Cahill asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality her plans to increase the number of community gardaí in the Tipperary Garda division. [27400/16]

What are the Minister's plans to increase the number of community gardaí in the Tipperary Garda division? In the five years from 2011 to 2016 the number of community gardaí in Tipperary has decreased by 26%. Unfortunately, in the last number of years Tipperary has been receiving unwanted attention in regard to the level of crime in the county. Approximately 12 months ago, a public meeting on the issue was attended by almost 2,000 people. The role of the community garda cannot be overstated. A 26% decrease in community garda numbers is alarming.

The latest date for which figures are readily available, which is 31 August 2016, indicate that there were 780 community gardaí assigned to Garda divisions throughout the country, 74 of which were assigned to the Tipperary division. It is the case - the Garda Commissioner makes this point continuously - that all gardaí have a role to play in addressing community policing issues as and when the need arises. I support that. It is true that community policing involves far more than a single unit within An Garda Síochána. The Garda Síochána strategic plan for this year sets as a priority the further development of community policing. I agree with the Deputy that this is an issue at the heart of An Garda Síochána in rural and urban areas. It is recognised that every community has its own concerns and that the Garda need to respond in that regard. In terms of the Garda Síochána modernising programme 2016 to 2021 the focus is on supporting and developing the community policing ethos.

In terms of recruitment, the plan is to increase Garda numbers to 15,000 and to double the Garda reserve. Subject to the budget, new civilians will be recruited into An Garda Síochána next year so that we can provide An Garda Síochána with the type of civilian expertise it needs and thus enable the release of gardaí to front-line duties. We are in the process of finalising this process in regard to gardaí engaged in immigration duties at the airport so that they are free to do more focused work. Taking account of the projected requirements, reaching a strength of 15,000 members will require an additional 3,200 new gardaí to be recruited on a phased basis over the next four years, in addition to the 1,200 that have already been taken into the college. The Garda Commissioner will be in a position to ensure that areas such as the Deputy's will have more gardaí in the time ahead as we double the amount of civilians in the system, recruit new gardaí and double the reserve.

The Garda Inspectorate 2014 crime investigation report identified issues that raised questions about the real value placed on community policing in the Garda Síochána and in regard to the inconsistency of approach to community garda. There are a couple of points I would like to make in that regard. The percentage of gardaí engaged in administrative and non-operational duties is noteworthy, with more gardaí in some administrative non-operational posts than in community policing units. Some districts have reduced the number of gardaí in community policing and others have removed all full-time community gardaí. Some community gardaí see their role as community engagement and not enforcement while others are investigating the full range of criminal offences, suggesting there is a lack of clarity in the role of a community garda. The role of community gardaí in regard to urban and rural crime cannot be over-estimated. The amount of information that can be gathered by a community garda in the prevention and solving of crimes cannot be underestimated. The 2014 crime investigation report raises questions in respect of which I would like to hear the Tánaiste's response.

We are committed to prioritising community crime prevention schemes. Last week, at the National Ploughing Championships, I announced a double of funding for the community alert programme to €350,000. That funding will go directly to local groups. This is a tangible expression of our commitment to supporting the partnership approach. Communities have a big role to play, as does business. We have seen some terrific initiatives around the country. The Garda are working with local businesses and taxi firms to ensure there is a whole of community approach to reducing crime. Investment in An Garda Síochána is also being increased, including the provision this year of additional funding for the installation of more CCTV cameras around the country, which is also a good preventative tool.

In terms of community policing, as every Deputy here is aware, the Garda engages with a wide range of local groups, including informal community groups and the joint policing committees. There is in excess of 3,700 neighbourhood watch and community alert groups in place. There is good local involvement by our police in many areas. This will improve as Garda numbers increase and more civilians are recruited to deal with the issue of gardaí doing tasks inappropriate to them.

I thank the Tánaiste for her response. As I said earlier, there has been huge focus on the level of organised crime in Tipperary. Thankfully, the Garda Síochána has in the recent past cracked some of those criminal gangs and it is hoped this will lead to convictions. The closure of rural Garda stations enforces the need for community garda. I welcome the Tánaiste's comments. As I said, the number of community gardaí in the Tipperary division has been reduced significantly. We would welcome priority in future allocations to try to rectify that situation.

We did have an economic crisis. Templemore College was closed. Thankfully, with the economic situation improved it has been re-opened and we can invest further in the type of resources the Garda Síochána need. We have seen the success of Operation Thor. The 26% success rate in that regard was officially confirmed in the CSO figures released today. As the Deputy has acknowledged, locally, criminal gangs are being apprehended and rural crime levels have decreased. There is no question of that. This is the result of focused policing, over-time provision and a greater focus on burglaries. We should see the impact of the new legislation in this area in our courts in the coming months. Consecutive sentences will be imposed on burglars, which is a very big deterrent. We are committed to ongoing work to make communities such as the Deputy's safer.

Question No. 19 replied to with Written Answers.

Garda Reserve

Jackie Cahill


20. Deputy Jackie Cahill asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the number of Garda reservists in the Tipperary Garda division. [27401/16]

Deputy Eugene Murphy asked a very similar question and the Minister gave a detailed answer. I want to focus on the drop in the number of Garda reservists. From 2014 to this year, the number has dropped by 30% from 42 to 26, which is alarming. The Minister gave a detailed response on the future role of Garda reservists but I would like to focus on the drop in the number in our division.

I confirm that 25 reservists are assigned to the division in the Deputy's area. The allocation of reservists is an operational decision by the Commissioner. One of the initiatives being examined in the review of the role of the reservists is the possibility of recruiting locally rather than centrally. This may well be very worthwhile in terms of local interest and people can be encouraged to apply.

As I stated to Deputy Cahill's colleague, we are going to double the number. This will start from the middle of next year. The number has been depleted in part because the Public Appointment Service was focusing as a priority on recruiting members of An Garda Síochána. We now have a focus very much back on doubling the reserve as we have the commitment in the programme for Government. The review is ongoing. The Garda Commissioner has announced the extension of some powers for the Garda reservists. We must ensure that in the first instance Garda reservists are doing work which is helpful to An Garda Síochána, that they are getting job satisfaction and that the work adds to the safety of local communities. The review of the job description is timely given that recruitment will start next year and the Reserve will be doubled. It can only benefit communities, such as the Deputy's, when we will have an increased number of reservists available to be deployed throughout the country.

The Garda Inspectorate report on changing policing policy in Ireland published just before Christmas pointed out that despite receiving considerable training, reservists are not consistently or strategically used for operational purposes. I welcome the Minister's comments that attempts are being made to improve this. Recruiting reservists locally would be a good initiative and would make the reservists more focused on their area. Recruitment is key. The number in our division is not satisfactory. I respect the Minister's remark that it is outside her brief but I would like her to highlight the drop in the number. A 38% drop over the period in time is significant. I thank the Minister for her comments. She gave a very good briefing to Deputy Eugene Murphy earlier on what she will do.

We must ensure the roles are properly outlined and consistent. In recent years, the Garda Commissioner has conferred further powers on members of the Garda Reserve under the Criminal Justice Public Order Act 1994 and the Road Traffic Act 1961. She also decided they should carry out more duties, including serving summonses and issuing fixed charge penalty notices where offences are detected. In my experience of meeting reservists, they are very enthusiastic and interested. Some want to go on to be members of An Garda Síochána and others do it because they want to make a contribution to the community. They are particularly interested in being members of the reserve but not full-time members of An Garda Síochána. There is much potential for voluntary action by people interested in policing. With the new recruitment, the audit being done and an examination of the training that is best, we will see the progress Deputy Cahill and his colleagues have outlined they would like to see.

Refugee Resettlement Programme

Thomas Pringle


21. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she will explain the low number with regard to the refugee resettlement programme and provide details on the additional steps Ireland is taking to ensure it meets its commitment to take in 4,000 refugees by the end of 2017, given that Ireland has to date only taken in just over 300 refugees; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27439/16]

This question relates to the commitment we have made to take in 4,000 refugees by the end of 2017. The nub of the problem is to see where are the problems and delays regarding living up to our international commitments. There certainly seems to be a feeling the Government is not too sorry to see the delays and that there has been a very slow uptake.

I acknowledge the Deputy's interest in this area and thank him for his question. The Irish refugee protection programme was established by in September 2015 as a direct result of the humanitarian crisis that developed in southern Europe as a consequence of mass migration from areas of conflict. Under the programme, the Government has pledged to accept a total of 4,000 persons into the State by the end of 2017 through a combination of relocation from Italy and Greece and resettlement from Jordan and Lebanon.

Under the resettlement part of the programme, 520 refugees are to be resettled in Ireland by the end of this year. To date, 486 refugees have been admitted to the State. Sufficient cases have already been selected during a mission to Lebanon earlier this year to ensure the remaining refugees in this quota of 520 will be taken in by the end of 2016 ahead of schedule. In addition, the Government recently announced it is extending the resettlement programme to take in a further 250 refugees from Lebanon in 2017.

Under relocation, Ireland has to date taken in 69 Syrians from Greece, mostly families. A further 40 people have been assessed and cleared for arrival and arrangements for their travel to the State are being made. Last week, officials interviewed a group of 63 people in Athens who, once cleared for travel, are expected to arrive in October. It is estimated that by the end of 2016, Ireland will have accepted at least 360 people under relocation. The intention thereafter is to sustain the pace of intakes throughout 2017 at the levels required to allow Ireland to meet its commitments within the timeframes.

As regards the well-documented delays, the Minister is on record as stating that the pace of arrivals during pervious months has been a lot slower than she or I would have liked. The delays have been experienced by the majority of participating states, not just Ireland, and are due to issues outside of our control. They include issues such as inadequate resources and administration on the ground in Greece, technical issues regarding security assessments in Italy and a reluctance on the part of migrants to apply for asylum in hotspots, which is a pre-requisite for entering the relocation programme.

The Government has been concerned at the slow pace of intake. In June this year, a team of officials travelled to Athens to help Greek authorities to identify ways of addressing administrative obstacles and to devise a more ambitious schedule for relocations from Greek hotspots to Ireland. Irish officials also helped to develop and deliver information sessions for potential relocation applicants aimed at encouraging them to take up places on offer in Ireland rather than remaining in limbo as unregistered migrants. More recently, I spoke with colleagues from Italy and an official travelled to Italy to address the delays there. Following this, we expect these issues will change.

I thank the Minister of State for his response and I look forward to reading the full reply. It seems there are problems on the ground in the hotspots, particularly in Italy where the Italians do not want gardaí on their territory. Potentially, there could be police from 27 member states operating in the territory and this might be the cause of some of the problem. What personnel do we have on the ground in the hotspots? What can be done to speed up the agreements? Surely, if the Italians can do the processing work the gardaí would do, we could live with this and the Italians could stand for it also. I may have further questions later.

The issue with the Italians was technical and related to member states conducting, as the Deputy has said, security assessments of groups being allocated to them under relocation. National security is a competency that remains the sole reserve of each individual member state and Ireland already has arrangements in place to allow Garda detectives to travel to Greece to interview people assigned to Ireland. Unlike Greece, however, as the Deputy has said, Italy, for various reasons, had a difficulty with allowing police officers from member states carry out this function on Italian soil. Following recent diplomatic efforts by me and Irish officials, a compromise has been tabled which is likely to resolve the matter to the satisfaction of all member states. Carrying out security assessments on large groups of refugees arriving in the State is common practice and has been taking place under Ireland's resettlement programme for many years.

The Government gave a commitment to the public when establishing the programme that security assessments would be carried out on asylum seekers. The awful events in Aleppo this week remind us of the terrible suffering that has been inflicted on the people of Syria. I call on all sides, as I am sure all Members will, to work towards an end to this horrendous conflict which has resulted in loss of life and homes for many Syrians.

I promised Deputy Wallace that he could make a short contribution. I call Deputy Pringle first.

I have a quick question and I will then be happy to give way to my colleague. I presume the figure of 4,000 relates to both relocation and resettlement. If the difficulties continue in Italy, would it be possible to speed up the resettlement number to compensate for the ones that cannot be taken in through relocation?

Last April, both Deputy Clare Daly and I raised the issue of unaccompanied minors in Calais. We pleaded with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to send officials to Calais and Dunkirk to process some of the people there and to see if it was possible to take some in. This would not have cost the State a penny given Irish families were prepared to take them in. I promised to take one myself. We contacted Tusla and we were promised a meeting to talk about how the process for resettlement of unaccompanied minors would work. There was no meeting, no replies to e-mails and no understanding of how to move forward.

There are 1,000 unaccompanied minors in Calais at the moment. The camp will be flattened before the end of October. The French admit they only have facilities for approximately 260 of these minors. Will the Government please consider taking in unaccompanied minors and sending officials there to process them? An Irishwoman, Karen Moynihan, is on the ground there working with the refugee youth service. She is a brilliant individual who has done a number of reports. The Minister of State could communicate with her. The last time the camp was cleared, 129 kids disappeared. It will be worse this time. Surely we can do something.

I thank the Deputy. I appreciate his comments.

The decision on expanding the resettlement programme has been made. By the end of this year, we will have reached our commitment of 520 refugees. The Minister recently announced that we will take another 260 refugees from Lebanon in 2017. We are, therefore, expanding the programme.

On the Calais issue, I acknowledge the Deputy's interest in this and the work he has done. Persons who are currently in another member state, including those in the camps in Calais, and who are in need of international protection are entitled to make an application for asylum in that country should they wish to do so. It also needs to be borne in mind that a defining characteristic of the people in Calais has been their strong desire to go to the UK as their ultimate destination and that is unlikely to change. France to date has been facilitating the UK's desire to control its borders by preventing crossings at Calais. Moreover, President Hollande, recognising the situation in Calais is, as the Deputy said, both intolerable and sustainable, has signalled in the past few days his intention to disband the camp and have its occupants dispersed to accommodation centres throughout France, a move that should be broadly welcomed by all. In the circumstances, any unilateral initiative from Ireland regarding the situation in France at this juncture would be wholly inappropriate.

I acknowledge we went over time on that question but I appreciate everybody's co-operation.

Garda Deployment

Thomas Byrne


22. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she is satisfied that sufficient resources are available to meet the needs of the policing of County Meath. [27217/16]

Are Garda resources in County Meath sufficient? I am sure the Minister and the entire House will join me in recognising the sacrifices members of An Garda Síochána have made in the north east. A number have been outrageously murdered while a number others have been injured in County Meath recently while detecting crime.

I can only join with the Deputy in acknowledging both the loss of life of gardaí undertaking their duties, including Garda Golden in recent months. I was in Templemore earlier this week when the Scott medal was given to Caroline, the wife of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe who lost his life.

The number of gardaí assigned to any one place is an operational matter for the Garda Commissioner. There has been a great deal of discussion about making sure that we do not do what was always done previously in allocating gardaí and assign them to where the crime trends are showing an increase in future. The allocation of gardaí should be matched to the demands of an area.

According to the latest figures for the Meath Garda division, there were 289 gardaí with 23 reserves and 25 civilians. Where appropriate, the work of local gardaí is supported by a number of Garda national units. While I have outlined the allocation of gardaí in the county, I would like to be clear that local gardaí are often backed up by the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and the Garda National Drugs and Organise Crime Bureau. I expect that as Garda recruitment accelerates next year, when we hopefully will take in approximately 800 new recruits into Templemore to bring the force's strength to 15,000, more civilians are recruited and the reserve is doubled, the impact will be felt in all areas. The decision to assign gardaí to a particular area is up to the Garda Commissioner.

As Members will have noticed, the clock has crashed and, therefore, it is back to school for me. I warn everybody that I am able to count. Deputy Byrne has one minute.

The problem in County Meath is the population continues to increase and Garda numbers have not kept pace. There is also a significant motorway network traversing the county, which lends itself to burglaries. There are spates of burglaries in particular areas. Over a year ago, it was Duleek, then Donore, Stamullen and, most recently, the Kiltake-Moynalvey area where gardaí were injured during a spate of burglaries. The burglars were using the motorway but they are also aware of the lack of a Garda presence in large areas because of the lack of numbers. It is not the fault of gardaí.

The other issue is there is a large number of towns in other counties, which border Meath, and the gardaí stationed in them ordinarily cannot serve our county. I refer to Kingscourt, Drogheda, Balbriggan, Maynooth and Kilcock. In general, these gardaí cannot enter the county even though they are stationed on the edge of the county. In some cases, one can walk across the street in these towns into the county. That has to be addressed. People in these areas feel vulnerable. Somebody living outside Kilcock has to look to Ashbourne or even Layton for a Garda presence.

Everybody is concerned about his or her own area and will make a case for it, which I appreciate, but the allocation of gardaí, particularly the 534 newly attested gardaí, is important. A total of 19 of them have been deployed in the Meath division. As recruitment is accelerated following the reopening of Templemore College, the areas where the need is greatest will benefit. Clearly, that is a decision for the Commissioner. She has to consider the particular needs of individual areas when allocating new gardaí.

I take the Deputy's point regarding access to motorways for criminal gangs and their mobility but we must ensure the Garda can match that. A total of €64 million has been invested in Garda vehicles, which is important. It is also important to update technology to enable quick reaction by the force.

I am trying to accommodate a number of Members. I ask Members to help their colleagues but sticking to their time.

I thank the Minister. Will she ask the Garda authorities to seriously examine this geographical issue, which is detrimental to County Meath at the moment? There are many towns on our border. If one walks up the street in Kilcock, one crosses into County Meath. It is a similar story in Drogheda while Balbriggan and Kingscourt are only over the road. The gardaí stationed in those towns cannot enter our county and people must look to stations much further away. That is instilling a lack of confidence among the public in the Garda's service. They wonder why a garda from down the road cannot come to deal with their crime and why they have to contact a station in a town much further way, which they never visit.

That is something which will have to be addressed and at which the gardaí will have to look. This was done for the joint policing committees, JLCs, but all these towns used to serve these areas. When the JPCs came in, this had to be done on a county boundary basis. We should not be doing Garda administration on the basis of what the JPCs are but on the basis of what is best for detecting crime on the ground.

The issue of divisions and operational responsibility is one the Garda is currently examining. I ask the Deputy to write to me on the points he has made and I will bring them to the attention of the Commissioner. I will get some information for him on the new approaches that are being recommended on divisional operational responsibilities, which I think address the point he is making about gardaí not being able to move between certain areas.

Regeneration Projects Status

Jack Chambers


23. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the role her Department is playing in the north-east inner city initiative. [27422/16]

I ask the Minister about the exact role her Department has played in what was a welcome announcement of a north-east inner city initiative, which is something with which we all have sympathy. Any community that has been ravaged by the murderous feud we have seen over the past number of months would need the support of this House. What exactly has her Department done in the past number of months?

As the Deputy is aware, arising from discussions with community representatives from Dublin north-east inner city involving the Taoiseach, myself and other Ministers, a ministerial task force, chaired by the Taoiseach, has been established with a focus on the economic and social regeneration of the area. Mr. Kieran Mulvey has been appointed to prepare a report to inform the work of the task force and he is engaging with a wide range of local stakeholders in this regard. He will attend the crime forum being held today or tomorrow.

The ministerial task force is considering a very broad range of issues and my Department will play a full role in supporting that work, including in relation to community policing in the area and the provision of Garda resources. The Deputy will be aware of the Garda resources currently being made available following a number of shocking gun murders in the early part of this year and a series of policing and legislative measures has been put in place. Recruitment has been made to the armed support unit, which attracted huge interest from members of An Garda Síochána. Training has begun and people have been identified so there is very significant extra Garda resources and my Department has been involved with the Garda Commissioner to ensure we have the policing and legislative framework we need. We passed legislation in this House recently to support the work of the Criminal Assets Bureau and that will play out in the work the gardaí do in this area.

The current set of initiatives in the north-east inner city are aimed at improving the quality of life for local communities and effective community policing is an important part of that, as is engagement between local gardaí and the people they serve. It is obvious from the meetings I have attended in the north-east inner city what the relationship is between the community and the local police - it is extremely good. Every leader in the community said the same thing but criminal gangs are intent on revenge and retaliation and are very demanding on the resources we need to interrupt that cycle.

I agree that effective community policing is a key facet in addressing this problem but it is important to look at the figures. In 2014, there were 79 Garda reservists in the Dublin north-central area and now there are 52, according to the Department's own figures. There were 148 community gardaí in 2011 and 135 in 2015 but there are now 112 in 2016 and this is an area that has been particularly ravaged by murderous crime. There has been a haemorrhaging of effective community policing so what has been done to replace the permanent community policing positions that were removed in the past number of years? It is important we recognise the great work of the gardaí and I welcome what the Minister and the Commissioner have done to allocate additional overtime because that has helped. What is the Minister doing to ensure there are permanent replacements for community gardaí in these communities and others which have seen a haemorrhaging of people on the ground in recent times?

The country went through a disastrous period in terms of the economy and recruitment to Templemore was stopped by the previous Government. We have reopened Templemore but one cannot magic up figures overnight. One has to recruit and to invest. We are making sure recruits are going through Templemore now and that will be accelerated with a commitment in the programme for Government for 15,000 recruits. In any area of the country, if one stops recruitment, there will be nobody to replace people who retire and there will be a decrease in numbers but we are now seeing an increase and that will be welcomed by everybody in this House. We can do that because we have an improved economic situation and a more stable economy so that we can invest in the area of justice.

When I was Minister with responsibility for children we cut budgets, unfortunately, but there has been a complete turnaround in that respect with further investment in public services. In the upcoming budget, we will do the same by investing more in services again. That will mean areas like the north inner city, and other areas the Deputy's colleagues have been discussing tonight, will get more resources and will see an improvement in services. We have been able to make investments not just in people but in resources, such as more than €200 million in IT, and that will make sure the problems in the north inner city, about which the Deputy has talked tonight, can be targeted with more resources.

I accept that there were economic difficulties but the figures speak for themselves. There were 67 reservists in 2015 but there are now 52 in 2016. It is important as part of the inner city initiative that the Minister ensures there is a community gain in terms of community gardaí but this has not been formally assured in the public announcements. We have seen welcome initiatives in the shape of sports facilities, housing and regeneration but it is important the Minister incorporates a formal announcement around additional permanent community gardaí as part of the package of measures and that this is recognised as part of the solution rather than it being announced in a haphazard way in a year's time when there will be different figures from the gardaí. However, much of what the Minister is doing in the north inner city is positive.

The north inner city is saturated with police at present. They are involved in patrols, in community policing, in preventative work and intelligence work. If he was to add up the hours of overtime that have been given to the north inner city, the Deputy would appreciate that it is a very substantial figure. Hopefully, we will move on from this situation as the threat recedes and as we deal with these criminal gangs when they are arrested and prosecuted. The Deputy made the point that permanent community policing in the north inner city is where we want to be, with normal community policing and normal Garda attention as opposed to the very intensive policing which is needed at present.

Garda Recruitment

Robert Troy


24. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality when the Westmeath Garda division will have additional gardaí; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27384/16]

I have been informed that the number of gardaí assigned to the Westmeath Garda division on 31 August 2016, the latest date for which figures are readily available, was 248 with 17 reservists and 20 civilians. As I have said in response to a number of questions put tonight on Garda reservists and community policing, the work of gardaí and reservists is supported, where appropriate, by the specialist units of An Garda Síochána, whether for criminal investigations, fraud investigations or drugs investigations. We want a very strong and visible police presence and support for Garda vehicles and investment in improved facilities, such as Garda stations that need upgrading, are part of a commitment to an effective police force that is fit for the 21st century and can ensure people are safe.

The accelerated recruitment is key to that. I will not repeat what I said earlier because the Deputy was present. Clearly, as we recruit more gardaí, reservists and civilians next year, I hope that every area will experience increases in the numbers and that we will start returning to the higher numbers that were in place previously. However, it is also about reform and more efficient policing.

Last week the local newspaper reported, on foot of a national report, that there are now situations where gardaí are searching houses in Kinnegad. Criminal gangs that are linked to "Fat" Freddie Thompson and gangs operating in Dublin are relocating to the midlands. They are coming into peaceful communities and causing disruption. The Minister spoke about accelerated recruitment for the Garda. I ask that these additional gardaí not be located exclusively in the capital city or other large urban areas. They are also needed in the rural and provincial towns around Ireland.

Finally, I wish to make a point about some of the replies from the Minister relating to Garda figures for personnel attached to particular stations. The figures are inaccurate. It might not be the Minister but certainly somebody is trying to manipulate the figures. In the case of Kinnegad, they say there are five gardaí there. There is not. There is no sergeant and there are only two operational gardaí.

We must move ahead, Deputy.

They say there are four gardaí attached to Killucan Garda station. There is not. There is one operational garda there. The problem is that specialised gardaí are being attached to local stations to manipulate the figures.

I am sure the Deputy can hear me. We must move on.

That is not on and is not fair. Perhaps the Minister would look into this and refer back to me.

The Minister will refer back to the Deputy. Under the order of the House I must proceed to the next business.

There is no manipulation. The Deputy can send me the details and I will follow up on it.

I apologise to the Members who have been here for a long time waiting for their questions, such as Deputies Declan Breathnach and John Curran, but we have run out of time.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.