Other Questions

Garda Strength

John Lahart

Question:

6. Deputy John Lahart asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the action being taken to address the 27% fall in the number of personnel in the Garda traffic corps in Dublin since 2011. [15755/17]

My question relates to the action being taken to address the 27% fall in the number of personnel in the Garda traffic corps in Dublin over the past six or seven years. In her previous answer, the Tánaiste referred to the increase in road deaths, including the increase in the deaths of cyclists, the lack of roadside checks and the ongoing lack of speed checks as a result of the reduction of numbers in the Garda traffic corps. Will she comment on that?

The Garda Commissioner, who is responsible for the allocation of Garda resources, has indicated in her policing plan for 2017 a commitment to increase the number of personnel dedicated to traffic duties by 10% to reflect the increasing numbers of personnel across the entire organisation. This should also lead to better outcomes regarding road traffic enforcement.

The modernisation and renewal programme, which is being overseen by the Policing Authority, contains key strategic objectives for road policing which will inform and guide An Garda Síochána's road policing plans over the next five years. The overall point I would make is that it is critical that we continue recruitment because it is through continuing recruitment involving more people being recruited rather than retiring that An Garda Síochána will be in a position to allocate more gardaí for community policing and road traffic policing and across the system. This is what we need to see. People will welcome that because we need visible, efficient and responsive policing throughout the country to strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance to citizens and prevent crime. The Deputy knows that the workforce plan to bring the numbers to 21,000 personnel by 2021 comprising 15,000 Garda members and 2,000 reserve members is in place. The Deputy will have seen the recruitment advertisements that appeared last week. Many Members of this House will welcome that new recruitment. In 2017, funding has been provided for the recruitment of 800 Garda recruits and up to 500 civilians to support the wide-ranging reform plan in train in An Garda Síochána. Funding has also been provided for the recruitment of 300 Garda Reserve personnel. It will take some time given that there was no recruitment for five years because of the economic situation. Thankfully, that is being reversed and we can invest again. This will help in this area. This is combined with all the issues we were talking about this week that need change and more rigorous enforcement.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

It will take some time before there are fully trained officers available to replace adequately personnel who have retired across the entire organisation, including the traffic corps. However, the Commissioner has confirmed that the personnel requirement of the Garda traffic corps is being assessed to identify the most vulnerable areas in regard to serious traffic collisions and the level of compliance with road traffic legislation. I understand that the assistant commissioner with responsibility for roads policing is currently assessing the capacity of divisions and districts to identify and target areas where An Garda Síochána could accelerate the deployment of personnel to traffic in 2017. The filling of any vacancies identified will be conducted on a structured basis and will be further enhanced with the recently renewed recruitment campaigns to An Garda Síochána. The Deputy will also be aware that the Garda Commissioner has in recent days announced the restructuring of traffic policing with the creation of a new roads policing unit to be led by Assistant Commissioner Michael Finn.

Ireland has over a number of years developed a multi-agency approach to road safety through the involvement of a number of agencies working in partnership under the aegis of the road safety strategy. Under this year's policing plan, new measures will be explored with partner agencies relating to driver compliance and the promotion of a safe and crime-free road network. The plan also points to the enhancement of the use of technology to continue to deprive criminals of the use of the road network and develop policing capabilities. Among the road traffic initiatives identified in the plan are the strengthening and redevelopment of the traffic corps to tackle all forms of criminality on our road network, ongoing planning, risk assessment and operational preparation for major emergencies in conjunction with emergency management partners.

Road traffic legislation is, of course, also enforced as part of the day-to-day duties of members of An Garda Síochána. Both targeted and general methods of enforcement have a valuable role to play in An Garda Síochána's enforcement programme which targets locations with a view to preventing the commission of offences, detecting errant motorists, changing their behaviour and, ultimately, reducing death and injuries on our roads.

This is good news. The Tánaiste has made the connection herself because she mentioned the increase in road deaths. I have raised the issue of the deaths of cyclists, so an increase in resources can only be good news. The Tánaiste spoke about the statistics the Commissioner has given her. What is the Tánaiste's attitude to the Commissioner, who is essentially the head of an organisation that may have given her incorrect statistical information - I am not suggesting it was done wilfully - during her tenure as Minister for Justice and Equality that she then put on the Dáil record? The Commissioner has said that many other things may emerge. Logically, one of those things is that the Tánaiste may have been given incorrect statistics in respect of parliamentary questions, which means that she may have inadvertently misled this House. How does she propose to investigate that? Does the Tánaiste intend to ask the Commissioner about that and whether the Commissioner can confirm to the Tánaiste's satisfaction that the information she has given to this House in her time as Minister in response to legitimate and justifiable parliamentary questions has been accurate?

We were told by the Minister for Education and Skills this morning that there will be a very fundamental look at An Garda Síochána, for example, removing the security function from day-to-day policing. Has the Tánaiste given any thought to the possibility that the traffic corps could become an autonomous organisation in An Garda Síochána with its own commander and its own complement of staff? I remember asking the assistant commissioner with responsibility for traffic about this matter. He told me that the traffic corps is there but when its members are needed, they are on general Garda duties. Is it time for a dedicated traffic corps? When Fianna Fáil began the austerity programme, there were 1,250 gardaí who were just responsible for traffic.

Deputy Broughan has posed a number of interesting questions, as has Deputy Lahart. Since becoming Minister for Justice and Equality, the issue of statistics has been at the core of my concern about the ICT requirements in An Garda Síochána, not just nationally but internationally. I have had many meetings on this. I have tried to ensure data can be exchanged not just nationally but internationally. This is why I relentlessly pursued the investment of more than €200 million for An Garda Síochána because, of course, I was concerned. I was concerned enough to arrange a meeting with the Central Statistics Office, CSO, when questions were raised about the quality of statistics. The CSO publishes crime statistics and has taken a series of steps to ensure they are ever more reliable because we must arrive at a point where they can be relied upon. That work has been under way and the CSO has noted progress in this regard, but there is more work to be done.

Regarding the question of whether the Garda traffic corps should be autonomous, I would like to speak in response to Deputy Lahart about other actions that are being undertaken in respect of traffic. This is the kind of issue that could be considered by the review the Government wants to see. They would need to remain within An Garda Síochána but the question arises as to whether the structures are best suited to modern policing requirements. Deputy Broughan's question is very interesting and is one that a review could look at among other issues because the Deputy is really raising the issue of management, how various tasks are done and what form of management provides the best results.

In response to Deputy Lahart's question, the assistant commissioner with responsibility for roads policing is assessing the capacity of divisions and districts to identify and target areas where An Garda Síochána could accelerate the deployment of personnel to traffic in 2017.

Can I come back?

The Deputy can but, normally, there are only two supplementaries.

That is very good of the Ceann Comhairle. My question concerns the contamination effect of the past week in terms of the efficacy of the information provided by the Tánaiste as Minister for Justice and Equality to the Dáil in response to parliamentary questions. As a parliamentarian, I wonder whether we can trust the statistics that are coming forward and what the Tánaiste's view on that is. If it starts with breath testing and fixed-charge notice fines, and the Garda Commissioner has suggested that other things may emerge, it behoves the Tánaiste as Minister for Justice and Equality to go to the Commissioner and ask her whether she can trust the accuracy and efficacy of the information the Commissioner gives her in respect of parliamentary questions because this is a pretty sacred place in terms of public knowledge and it is a place to which the public looks to get proper knowledge and accurate information about the running of the country and the operation of An Garda Síochána.

I have said that my goal from the very beginning has been to give An Garda Síochána the resources it needs to arrive at a point where it has the IT instruments that will ensure the most reliable statistics we can possibly get. As we have seen this week, it is also about what is inputted into that database.

I hope that very serious lessons have been learnt in the discussions, and this week, from what has arisen around the very serious issues of data and the input of data. A combination of a range of factors will determine the true accuracy at the end of the day. I can work on the material that is made available to me but I have also made sure, for example with regard to the issues raised by the Garda Inspectorate on crime statistics, a whole piece of work has been done on those. Because of the extra investment in PULSE it is now not just a question of recording crime but also putting up the information about the investigation. The Garda Inspectorate has said that this will be very important also. The more information that is put up the more reliable will be the feedback that is given to me as the Minister for Justice and Equality, to all the bodies that care about An Garda Síochána, to the Dáil committees and to the Committee on Justice and Equality.

Garda Deployment

Pat Casey

Question:

7. Deputy Pat Casey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the number of the new Garda recruits assigned to the Wicklow Garda division in each year since Garda recruitment resumed in 2014; and the attested personnel strength of the Wicklow Garda division in September 2014 and at the end of February 2017. [15758/17]

Wicklow has seen a decrease of over 15% in the number of gardaí in its district. Perhaps the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality will indicate the number of new Garda recruits assigned to the Wicklow division in each of the years since Garda recruitment resumed in 2014, and the certified personnel strength of the Wicklow division in September 2014 and at the end of February 2017.

They are very law-abiding citizens I assume in County Wicklow?

I will give Deputy Casey a breakdown of the detailed information requested about numbers of newly attested gardaí allocated to the Wicklow division since the first attestation of trainee gardaí in April 2015, and the number of gardaí assigned to the Wicklow division on 30 September 2014 and 28 February 2017, the latest date for which I have figures.

I can go into some detail now for the Deputy and there is further information in my written reply, which will be furnished to the Deputy and which will be published. In 2014 the personnel strength for the Wicklow division was 274, in 2015 it was 282, in 2016 it was 277 and in 2017 it was 275. In 2015 there were nine newly attested gardaí given to the Wicklow area, which is the total given to that area.

As I explained to the House earlier, the Government is committed to ensuring a stronger and more visible police presence. We have said in A Programme for Partnership Government commitments that we will increase the numbers of gardaí. There will be a workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021, which will comprise 15,000 gardaí, 2,000 Garda Reserve members and 4,000 civilians. The funding has been made available for 2017 and we have a plan, and Deputy O’Callaghan is aware of this plan, for each of the years in order to reach those numbers.

The target is well on course to be achieved and the Government is committed to funding it. This year, which is an important year, there will be 800 Garda recruits going into Templemore. This means that more gardaí will be able to be allocated, not just to the Deputy’s area of County Wicklow, but also throughout the state as we will have more recruits coming through.

Obviously, during the five years when the Templemore training college was closed it was an extremely difficult period for An Garda Síochána, when it was not possible for new people to be allocated or for members of An Garda Síochána to be transferred - there were many transfer requests in also.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

This Government is committed to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country in order to maintain and strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance to citizens and deter crime. To make this a reality for all, the Government has in place a plan to achieve an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021 comprising 15,000 Garda members, 2,000 Reserve members and 4,000 civilians.

This plan is well on course to be achieved. This year, funding has been provided for the recruitment of 800 Garda recruits and up to 500 civilians to support the wide ranging reform plan in train in An Garda Síochána. Funding has also been provided for the recruitment of 300 Garda Reserves.

I am advised that, since the reopening of the Garda college in September 2014, there has been a total intake of some 1,400 new recruits with another 600 scheduled to enter the college by the end of this year. I am informed by the Garda Commissioner that some 839 recruits have attested as members of An Garda Síochána and have been assigned to mainstream duties nationwide, nine of whom have been assigned to the Wicklow division. I am also informed that another 750 trainee gardaí are scheduled to attest this year which will see Garda numbers, taking account of projected retirements, increase to approximately 13,500 by year end - a net increase of 700 in total Garda strength since recruitment recommenced.

This focus on investment in personnel is critical. The moratorium on recruitment introduced in 2010 resulted in a significant reduction in the strength of An Garda Síochána. We are now rebuilding the organisation and providing the Garda Commissioner with the resources she needs to allow her to deploy increasing numbers of gardaí across every Garda division, including the Wicklow division in the coming years.

In so far as the allocation of newly attested gardaí is concerned, this is a matter for the Garda Commissioner. I am assured by the Commissioner that the needs of all Garda divisions are fully considered when determining the allocation of resources. However, it is important to keep in mind that newly attested gardaí have a further 16 months of practical and classroom based training to complete in order to receive their BA in applied policing. To ensure that they are properly supported and supervised and have opportunities to gain the breadth of policing experience required, the Garda Commissioner's policy is to allocate them to specially designated training stations which have the required training and development structures and resources in place, including trained Garda tutors and access to a permanently appointed supervisory sergeant who is thoroughly familiar with their responsibilities under the training programme.

For ease of reference I have provided, for the record, a breakdown of the detailed information requested in respect of the number of newly attested gardaí allocated to the Wicklow division, since the first attestation of trainee gardaí in April 2015 and the number of gardaí assigned to the Wicklow division on 30 September 2014 and 28 February 2017, the latest date for which figures are readily available.

Year

Personnel Strength

Number of newly attested Garda

2014

274

n/a

2015

282

9

2016

277

0

2017

275

0

I thank the Tánaiste for her answer. I appreciate the situation we are in but out of the 277 gardaí we have in the Wicklow division at the moment, some 28 could retire tomorrow morning if they so wished. This would put huge pressure on the system. Equally, of the nine new recruits we did get into the area, three have since retired and have moved on. Wicklow has seen a 63% decrease in its drug squad and we have seen a 28% decrease in community gardaí. The Garda Reserve numbers for the county have seen a 43% decrease. This all has a significant effect on the ground especially around the operation of our towns where a Garda presence is not there. I am looking for more assurance from the Tánaiste that Wicklow will get its fair share of the Garda recruits as they are coming out in the future.

Deputy Casey makes the case for County Wicklow and of course other Deputies here would make the case for their areas. I recognise that more gardaí are needed right across State. This is why we have the recruitment programme. It is not going to happen overnight. The Garda Commissioner makes the decision and it is a completely independent operational decision. The Department of Justice and Equality has absolutely no role in the decision, nor do individual Deputies. The Garda Commissioner must examine precisely what the requirements are in different areas and, on the basis of priority needs around State, she must make that allocation. I have no doubt that almost every area would like to have, and perhaps could do with, more gardaí. It is, however, the Garda Commissioner’s decision to make based on what is known to her and upon assessment of the different areas.

I can confirm to Deputy Casey that a review is envisaged under the programme for Government and the Garda Síochána Inspectorate – at the request of the Policing Authority – is carrying out a review of the dispersal and use of resources available to An Garda Síochána. A very important part of that review is that all data will be available and that there is an IT system to map out exactly where gardaí are working at any particular time, the resources available and how those resources are being used, and a more efficient and modern means of communication between gardaí so that they can get the data back very quickly as is done in other jurisdictions.

I thank the Tánaiste but to be fair with regard to Wicklow’s case, neighbouring County Kildare got 14 new recruits during the same period, and Laois and Offaly got 41 new recruits. There is a discrepancy there that needs to be looked into. All I am asking for is that Wicklow gets its fair share. While I have the Tánaiste’s attention there is a vacant Garda station in Ashford that needs renovation and which went on fire on Sunday night.

I will ask Shane Ross.

I would appreciate it if the Minister could look into that issue also.

Deputy Casey makes the case for Wicklow very well. Obviously, I will follow that issue up and I will communicate with him directly on the last issue he raised. I have no doubt that the police force in his area will make headquarters aware of the need for the area. The Garda Commissioner has to examine the different needs in different areas. We have to become more flexible about the allocation of gardaí from different parts of the country. There are areas of high need such as those in urban areas - and we know there are also issues in rural areas - but the allocation must be made on a proper assessment of the needs of a given area. This is why we asked the Garda Inspectorate to look at that issue also. In the meantime, on a day-to-day basis, the Garda Commissioner has to get on with making decisions about where recruits are most needed when they first come out and where they would be best positioned. I take the points made by Deputy Casey.

Garda Strength

Jack Chambers

Question:

8. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the drug squad numbers in each Garda division for each of the past five years and to date in 2017, in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15750/17]

I want to ask the Tánaiste about the drugs squad numbers in each division, for each of the past five years and to date in 2017, and if she will make a statement on the matter. We have seen how drugs squad personnel numbers have haemorrhaged in recent years with certain districts such as Cavan and Monaghan without any drugs unit at all. Given the massive amount of gangland activity in Dublin and elsewhere, perhaps the Tánaiste will explain what is being done at a divisional level to ensure that places - at the very least - have some unit, and if the issue is being given attention politically and by the gardaí. Have there been any changes since I last asked this question of the Tánaiste?

As the Deputy will be aware all gardaí have a responsibility in the prevention and detection of criminal activity whether it be in the area of drug offences or otherwise. I can assure the Deputy that An Garda Síochána continues to pro-actively and resolutely tackle all forms of drug crime in this jurisdiction.

In 2015 the Garda Commissioner, who is responsible for the allocation of Garda resources, established a new national drugs and organised crime bureau. The bureau has been working with divisional drug units in tackling supply reduction at local level. This work is further supported by other national units including, as the Deputy will know, the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, in targeting persons involved in the illicit sale and supply of drugs. We made some changes to legislation recently in this regard. It is about using all of the Garda resources to deal with the drugs issue. It is not just about those who are working within the drugs units, it is about working overall with the other units.

The fact that we now have recruitment is significant. I cannot say it often enough. We need recruitment in order to have new people working in these specialist units. That is under way and its impact will be to augment those units in the period ahead.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Furthermore, the drugs and organised crime bureau has continued to make significant seizures of controlled drugs as evidenced by a number of significant seizures made in January this year including a huge seizure of herbal cannabis - estimated at that time to have a street value of over €30 million - made as a result of a targeted joint operation involving An Garda Síochána and Revenue's Customs and Excise service.

Multidisciplinary approaches are also utilised to ensure that those involved in illicit activity are effectively targeted including through the use of the proceeds of crime legislation, money-laundering legislation and the powers of the Criminal Assets Bureau.

I am informed that this approach adopts good practice in implementing a co-ordinated use of Garda resources and in utilising available criminal law to its fullest extent in tackling all forms of organised crime, including drug trafficking.

This Government is committed to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country in order to maintain and strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance to citizens and to deter crime. To make this a reality for all, the Government has in place a plan to achieve an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021 comprising 15,000 Garda members, 2,000 Garda Reserve members and 4,000 civilians. This year, funding has been provided for the recruitment of 800 Garda recruits and up to 500 civilians to support the wide-ranging reform plan in train in An Garda Síochána. Funding has also been provided for the recruitment of 300 members of the Garda Reserve.

This focus on investment in personnel is critical. The moratorium on recruitment introduced in 2010 resulted in a significant reduction in the strength of An Garda Síochána. We are now rebuilding the organisation and providing the Commissioner with the resources she needs to allow her to deploy increasing numbers of gardaí across the organisation including the divisional drugs units.

The investment in personnel is complemented by substantial investment in resources across the board for An Garda Síochána. The Deputy will be aware of the significant resources that have been made available to An Garda Síochána under the Government's capital plan 2016-2021. In particular, approximately €205 million in additional funding for Garda ICT and €46 million for new Garda vehicles has been allocated over the lifetime of the plan. This investment will facilitate the provision of more effective policing services and support An Garda Síochána in tackling illicit drug activity.

For ease of reference I have provided below a breakdown of the detailed information requested in respect of the drug squad numbers in each Garda division for each of the past five years and to 28 February 2017, the latest date for which figures are readily available.

Drugs Unit Personnel 2012-2017

Division Drugs Unit Personnel 2012 - 2017

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

D.M.R.S.C.

13

11

19

19

13

10

D.M.R.N.C

20

13

20

20

30

18

D.M.R.N.

31

27

16

25

21

21

D.M.R.E.

13

13

10

10

9

8

D.M.R.S.

30

23

17

16

7

18

D.M.R.W.

28

26

24

26

20

20

Waterford

10

9

5

5

5

5

Wexford

6

4

1

6

6

6

Kilkenny-Carlow

7

7

5

7

4

4

Tipperary

8

7

7

8

9

8

Cork City

26

29

28

15

20

15

Cork North

9

9

5

5

5

5

Cork West

5

4

3

4

3

7

Kerry

6

8

10

9

7

7

Limerick

12

11

12

14

12

10

Donegal

10

10

8

7

4

4

Cavan-Monaghan

5

0

0

0

0

0

Sligo-Leitrim

8

6

8

7

7

7

Louth

7

6

6

6

6

6

Clare

7

6

7

5

5

5

Mayo

5

5

5

5

5

5

Galway

11

12

8

12

9

8

Roscommon-Longford

6

7

6

6

6

6

Westmeath

7

7

6

5

6

4

Meath

6

4

4

5

8

8

Kildare

2

2

6

7

8

8

Laois-Offaly

3

0

3

0

0

0

Wicklow

3

4

4

4

11

10

Total

310

270

253

258

256

233

I agree with the Tánaiste and echo her point about the Criminal Assets Bureau. In terms of staffing allocations, in the five years in which we saw a haemorrhaging of numbers in the divisional drug units, the Criminal Assets Bureau kept the number of gardaí allocated to it and its budget remained relatively stable. That was a portion of justice policy that delivered and kept the priority in place in terms of funding and staff. In contrast, the divisional drug unit numbers are really shocking in that we have seen massive reductions across the board. Some counties have no drug unit whatsoever, which gives carte blanche to dealers to operate at whatever level they want. I recognise there has been an increase in recruitment but it needs to be prioritised, as was the Criminal Assets Bureau, in order that we keep proper staffing thresholds in place to address what will be a constant matter for us all.

Whether we are talking about the work of the armed response unit in Dublin or the work of the Criminal Assets Bureau, all of this is targeted at getting intelligence on and interrupting the work of criminal gangs, many of which are involved in the exploitation of people through trafficking, as well as in drugs criminality. All of the efforts of the broader work of An Garda Síochána is targeted at these criminal gangs. While the personnel in the drugs unit have a very specific role, I emphasise the point that the broader work of An Garda Síochána of interrupting the activities of criminal gangs clearly impacts on the availability of drugs. I am sure the Deputy accepts we have seen very significant seizures by the Garda in respect of the drugs trade, which continues to be extremely serious and on a huge scale not just in Ireland but internationally. I take the Deputy's point about the importance of this work.

Underage Drinking

Anne Rabbitte

Question:

9. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she will be bringing forward new measures to tackle underage drinking. [15527/17]

My question is whether the Tánaiste will be bringing forward new measures to tackle underage drinking.

The position is there are robust provisions in place regarding the sale and the consumption of intoxicating liquor by persons under the age of 18 years. The law in this area was most recently amended by the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008, which amended the Licensing Acts 1833 to 2004 and the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 with the aim of reducing access to alcohol and at the same time strengthening measures to tackle public disorder and anti-social behaviour.

The sale of alcohol products to underage persons is prohibited under licensing law. As the Deputy knows, it is an offence under section 31(2) of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1988, as amended, for a licenceholder to sell or deliver, or permit another person to sell or deliver, intoxicating liquor to a person under 18 years of age. This applies equally to premises with off-licences, including supermarkets, convenience stores and similar outlets, and those with on-licences such as public houses. The penalties were substantially increased in 2008. On conviction for a first offence, a mandatory closure order of between two and seven days will be imposed, together with a fine of up to €3,000. The penalties for a second or subsequent offence is a closure order of between seven and 30 days and a fine of up to €5,000. In addition, the licensee is required to continue to pay staff for the duration of the closure period.

Moreover, under section 32 of the 1988 Act, as amended, it is an offence for a person to purchase intoxicating liquor for delivery to, or consumption by, a person under the age of 18 years or to deliver intoxicating liquor to such a person. Under section 33 of the 1988 Act, as amended, it is also illegal for a person under 18 years to buy intoxicating liquor or to consume it in any place outside their home or in another person's home where they are present by right or with permission.

There is very detailed legislation about this. Clearly, the implementation or monitoring of it is a highly challenging issue. We know we have a very serious problem in respect of young people's drinking, which is not least seen in our road statistics. Alcohol features in many of the fatalities we see on the road, particularly among younger people. It is a group we need to target in this regard.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 also provided the Garda with significant additional powers to address the problem of alcohol sales to persons under the age of 18 years. Section 14 contains provisions which allow a garda who believes with reasonable cause that a person is under 18 years and that that person, or anyone accompanying that person, is in possession of intoxicating liquor for the purpose of consuming it in a place other than a private dwelling, to seek an explanation and if not satisfied with the reply, he or she may seize the intoxicating liquor if it is not handed over voluntarily.

Section 14 of the 2008 Act also makes provision for the test purchasing of alcohol products. The primary objective of the scheme, which entered into force on 1 October 2010, is to enable the Garda to target those licensed premises which are suspected of engaging in illegal sales to young people. This scheme provides the Garda Síochána with an additional instrument in its overall enforcement programme.

The Garda national age card scheme is an important proof-of-age mechanism in respect of the sale of intoxicating liquor. The scheme is administered by An Garda Síochána and has facilitated the Garda, in co-operation with the licensed trade, to address and combat underage consumption of intoxicating liquor.

The Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994, which was amended by the 2008 Act, also permits An Garda Síochána to seize bottles or containers containing intoxicating liquor where there is a reasonable apprehension of public disorder or damage to property and require a person to leave the place concerned in a peaceable and orderly manner. Incidents of public disorder and anti-social behaviour arising from the abuse of intoxicating liquor are investigated by the Garda and dealt with in an appropriate manner, including by caution, fixed charge penalty notices or commencement of proceedings.

In addition, the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, the overall objective of which is to reduce alcohol consumption and to address the underlying causes of alcohol misuse, includes a number of provisions aimed specifically at children. For example, the Bill makes provision for restrictions on the content, placement and volume of alcohol advertising. The aim of the restrictions is to protect children from exposure to alcohol advertising and to break the positive associations between alcohol and lifestyle, for example, advertisements linking alcohol with social or sporting success. The Bill also prohibits the sponsorship by alcohol companies of events where the majority of individuals taking part are children or aimed particularly at children. The Bill commenced Committee Stage in the Seanad on 26 October last and I understand from my colleague the Minister for Health, who is responsible for the Bill, that it will recommence Committee Stage in the Seanad during the current session of the Oireachtas.

I thank the Tánaiste for her response and warm to her closing words, when she moved away from all the legislative pieces that are place. While the legislation is there, my question is about its implementation and enforcement. The Tánaiste talked about the 1998 Act and the issue of delivering alcohol to minors. That is where my biggest concern lies. I am at the stage of bringing teenagers to discos and when I pull up to the disco I am turning into one of those mothers who stays in the car and watches to make sure they go in the door. If I turn my eye and look down along the canal or the walkway, as it is called in Loughrea, I am watching the over-18s sell the cans and bottles. I am a mother in that moment, not a Deputy or anything else. I see the oranges being handed over that have been frozen with vodka, so they can suck on the oranges as they are standing there. I am talking about second and third-year discos.

On the enforcement of the 1998 Act, I suppose we are talking about community policing and so on, while they are doing a fantastic job they cannot watch every last bit of it. How can we progress it on to that part of enforcement?

I agree with the Deputy. As a mother of three sons who are thankfully now older, I can empathise with her concerns about young people. We have to approach this on a number of different levels. Enforcement is one part. My own view is that the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill is really important legislation. I am struck again and again by the ambivalent attitudes often displayed in this House when it comes to alcohol legislation. I must say I regret that. We need to be sending clear messages about our approach, within the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill and other legislation that is being recommended at present. We either want to deal with this issue or we do not. It requires a very serious and thorough approach. The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill is a very important part of getting the message across to our young people. The provisions in it aimed specifically at children are really important. The Bill makes provision for restrictions on the content, placement and volume of alcohol advertising. We all know that is so important when it comes to young people as they are influenced by this type of advertising. The aim of the restrictions is to protect children from exposure to alcohol advertising and to break the positive associations between alcohol and lifestyle, for example, advertisements linking alcohol with social or sporting success. We have to get serious about this if we want to deal with the issue. Of course it is about the legislation that is in place pertaining to young people. It is about enforcement of the underage provisions. However, our critical task as a society is to deal with these other issues, many of which are addressed in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.

I thank the Minister. This is a topic in respect of which we need to get serious. We are sometimes too quick to point the finger, whether in the direction of the shopkeeper or the off-licence, but I believe there is an onus on parents to take responsibility and leadership. I also have to question the whole idea about the implications of below-cost selling and easy access to alcohol, particularly in very large shops where people walk in and see it.

Drinking on the streets and public order is another issue. There is a law in place to govern that but drinking when walking down a street before a game or on a balmy summer day is not the right message to be sending out because it is not legal in this country. I would love to see that law enforced more and, yet again, that is where increased community policing comes in. It is important to say that community policing is not the sole solution to this problem. Under age drinking is a huge problem that also needs to be addressed in the schools.

The antisocial behaviour we can see on streets and in estates and communities is very upsetting for local residents. The Deputy made that point very clearly. It is a very important part of local policing. There are now some new initiatives in the parks. The police are working where young people are gathering and getting to know them, and they are interrupting anti-social behaviour. We need to see more of that kind of policing in public places because this behaviour interferes hugely with people's quality of life, it is dangerous for the young people and it interferes with people who just want to use the park for recreational purposes. In my own area of Lucan and Clondalkin I have seen some very effective local policing in respect of these issues and I believe it is an increasing focus of community policing. I am very pleased that the development of community policing is a priority in the policing programme for this year.

Stardust Fire

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

10. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the current status of Judge McCartan's review of the Stardust Relatives and Victims Committee's evidence; when this review is expected to be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15531/17]

In January I put a motion to the House to establish immediately a commission of investigation into the Stardust tragedy of 1981. The Minister and the Government opposed that and, now, we are to have this second look-back. I understand my distinguished predecessor as a Deputy for Dublin North-East, and distinguished former member of the Judiciary, Judge McCartan, is the independent person who has been selected. We also hear reports in the media that his look-back is to take 90 days and will cost €140,000. What is its current status?

Judge McCartan began his work on Monday, 27 March, and it is hoped that he can conclude his assessment process within the 90-day period. The Government agreed on 7 March to appoint Judge McCartan to assess any new and updated evidence uncovered by the Stardust Relatives and Victims Committee in order to recommend whether there should another commission of investigation into the Stardust tragedy of 1981. That will be conducted completely independently of Government. I want to thank Judge McCartan for being willing to do this.

The scope of the assessment process is outlined in the Dáil motion of 26 January, so the Deputy will be well aware of it. Judge McCartan will be assisted by a junior counsel. In addition, the Stardust Relatives and Victims Committee may obtain sanction from Judge McCartan to avail of appropriate representation, if necessary, in order to present its evidence to him. To facilitate the assessment process, office accommodation and meeting facilities have been obtained by the Department of Justice and Equality at Haddington Road, Dublin. An e-mail address has been provided to Judge McCartan and forwarded to the Stardust Relatives and Victims Committee for the purposes of facilitating contact between Judge McCartan and the committee.

Judge McCartan will have discretion to afford the committee whatever representation he believes is necessary in order for the committee to present its evidence to the assessment process. The relevant daily rates payable will be set by my Department and costs will be borne by the Exchequer. The requirement for representation will, most likely, be dependent on the nature of the evidence to be presented to Judge McCartan.

As I said, Judge McCartan began his work on Monday, 27 March. In parallel with the assessment process, my Department has met with the committee and its advisers on a number of occasions regarding historical fees that the committee claims are owed to it. The committee believes the Exchequer should be liable for payment of those fees and has threatened to refuse to engage with the proposed McCartan process if the historical fees issue is not resolved. I hope discussions will be ongoing on this issue and it is my Department’s intention that these discussions remain separate from the proposed McCartan process.

There is a huge body of evidence dating back to the mid-1980s. The Keane report, with which the people of the area I represent were very unhappy, was followed by books, including the famous one, They Never Came Home, by Tony McCullagh and Neil Fetherstonhaugh, the "RTE Investigates" programme by Ms Rita O'Reilly, the work of the committee and the Coffey report, which it is fair to say demolished the Keane report. Will Judge McCartan be reviewing the impact of all of that evidence?

People constantly contact members of the committee and those like myself in regard to new evidence. While the Minister mentioned an e-mail address, will there be a website and contact details so people could telephone to say, for example, that they knew where the storeroom was or that they felt there was something wrong with the electrics? Will there be a process whereby those people can engage with Judge McCartan?

We have set up this part of the work very much based on what was discussed in the context of the Dáil motion. What is important now is that Judge McCartan has offices, support and an e-mail address. I have made it very clear about the evidence the committee may have, the fact it can get representation and that we would hope to deal with the historical issue. Judge McCartan will now address the issues the Deputy has raised and I have no doubt he will be making public the precise scope and making it clear whether there is an opportunity for people other than committee members to present evidence. He will, no doubt, address those issues and make that information publicly available.

At the Department's most recent meeting with the committee in the context of the historical fees issue, on 15 March, the Department indicated there may be scope to make provision for some payment based on the differential between the amount sought following the Coffey process and the amount that was paid out at that time. However, the Department has emphasised that, as I am sure the Deputy will understand, a case has to be made before State money could be paid out.

Is there ongoing liaison between the Department and the victims and relatives committee? What has been the outcome of recent meetings that took place between the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, and members of the committee? In a general sense, there is a feeling that the wider Coolock area, the hundreds of families who are affected and all of their relatives affected down through the decades need justice and closure. I thought the best way to do that was to have an immediate commission of investigation. The Minister said Judge McCartan will look at all relevant information and will encourage the public to come forward. For a long time, there has been a Facebook page, Justice for the Stardust 48, operated by Ms Antoinette Keegan and her committee, where people are encouraged to bring forward information. Will this be a scoping exercise which will include the widest possible encouragement of people who, more than 30 years after attending a function there, can ring me up and say they have important new information?

Let us be very clear. The Government agreed to appoint Judge McCartan to assess new and updated evidence uncovered by the Stardust Relatives and Victims Committee in order to recommend whether there should be a commission of investigation into the Stardust tragedy of 1981.

It will be done completely independently of Government. Obviously, the work that was done in the Dáil and the terms of reference will guide that work. With regard to the discussions with the committee, the most recent meeting was on 15 March. I have already told the Deputy what the Department indicated at that meeting about the possibility of engagement and provision of some payment based on the differential between the amount sought following the Coffey process and the amount paid. The committee decided at that time to leave that meeting. However, my Department is committed to continuing its engagement with the committee on its claim regarding the historical moneys owed.

Garda Recruitment

Margaret Murphy O'Mahony

Question:

11. Deputy Margaret Murphy O'Mahony asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the number of the new Garda recruits assigned to the west Cork Garda division in each year since Garda recruitment resumed in 2014; and the attested personnel strength of the west Cork Garda division in September 2014 and at the end of February 2017. [15765/17]

I will circulate the details to the Deputy on the numbers in the Cork west division. In 2014, the personnel strength was 271, in 2015, it was 276, in 2016, it was 281 and it is now 282. Five of the newly-attested gardaí were stationed in that area in 2015. I made the point earlier to one of the Deputy's colleagues that as recruitment continues and as we have more newly-attested gardaí and extra recruitment throughout the year, the Garda Commissioner will be in a position to analyse the needs of different areas and decide where those newly-available Garda recruits can go. We have a plan in terms of the numbers of gardaí now being recruited. The goal is to arrive at 21,000 by 2021. That includes 15,000 Garda members. Taking account of retirements, which the plan does, we will reach that figure by 2021. That plan is on course to be achieved. The funding has been provided this year for 800 Garda recruits, up to 500 civilians to support the reform plan and 300 Garda Reserves. The Deputy will have heard the advertisements for that recently. In terms of the needs of the Deputy's own area and the area of the west Cork division, obviously the inspectorate is also looking at how gardaí are allocated to different areas. There is an overall review, but the important point is that the allocation of personnel to different areas is based on need in the area. I have no doubt that the Deputy is familiar with the need in her own area. The numbers have been increasing very slightly and five of the new gardaí have gone to the area.

I can guarantee the Minister there is a great need for new Garda recruitment. The number of gardaí in the west Cork division fell from 318 to 270 between 2010 and 2015, which is down 48. Many stations were also closed, including Ballinspittle, Adrigool, Ballydehob, Goleen, Ballingurteen and Castletownshend. The Minister must realise that many towns and villages throughout west Cork do not have 24-hour cover and are therefore on the back foot from the very start. Gardaí in these areas are reacting to incidents rather than ensuring preventative measures are in place. This, I must stress, is through no fault of their own. When many of the rural stations were closed, resources should have been afforded to the larger stations to counteract the closures around west Cork. I ask the Minister to comment on that.

The years during which Templemore was closed as a result of the economic situation had a very serious impact right around the country. The Deputy quoted the figures for her own area. Closing Templemore had a huge impact because recruitment was stopped. If recruitment is stopped, we do not have the people to station in areas like the Deputy's. We had to deal with that situation when we came into office in 2011. This Government has started to invest in An Garda Síochána as well. There are many challenges, as we saw this week. There are many areas in which work needs to be done. However, we need people to carry out the work. One cannot get people unless there is recruitment, obviously. People cannot be put in the Deputy's area without recruitment. I have no doubt that she is right and that the numbers fell by the figures that she quoted, but they fell because the country was in an economic recession and there was no investment in a huge number of front-line services as the money was not there. The good news is that the investment has started again, there is new recruitment right across the service and areas like the Deputy's will be among those to benefit as the recruits come out of Templemore and as those numbers are higher than the numbers retiring. We will then be in a position to ensure that a broad range of areas receive more gardaí. That is extremely important.

In some instances, towns with a station that is regarded as functioning is in fact managed from a central station in a larger town, which is not acceptable. A stronger presence is needed on the ground in west Cork, particularly at weekends. Drug availability is on the increase in west Cork as it is in other areas. Many people were previously insulated from drugs but this is no longer the case. Extra resources are needed to curb this problem. Obviously, the availability of drugs is married to the increase in anti-social behaviour and crime rates. It is critical we see new recruits coming to west Cork and that the stations that survived the Government's cull in 2012 and 2013 receive an additional Garda presence. I ask the Minister to keep her eye on that because I assure her that I will.

I take the Deputy's point. Decisions were taken on the best way to provide policing in this country and stations were closed. However, the key point is that it was the Deputy's party which presided over the economic recession that led to the decision to close Templemore. That is the reality of the situation. Fianna Fáil closed Templemore and I opened it. The Government is investing. The Deputy's party stopped investing. Having made that point, I want to assure the Deputy that the best way forward to ensure that communities like her one receive community policing is by continued investment in An Garda Síochána and by proper allocation based on the need in a given area. It should not be any other criteria or because somebody decides somebody should be placed in a particular area but should be based on the objective criteria of the needs of an area. The Deputy makes the case very well for her area in west Cork and I have no doubt that the points she made about drugs, the need for community policing and so on are accurate. There is no doubt that when the Garda Commissioner and the management of An Garda Síochána are allocating personnel, they will see to it that the needs of the Deputy's area are met as well as others.

Garda Stations

Mary Butler

Question:

12. Deputy Mary Butler asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if any of the Garda stations closed in County Waterford in 2012 and 2013 are included in the six stations being examined for reopening under the pilot programme. [15761/17]

The Deputy will appreciate that the Garda Commissioner is primarily responsible for the effective and efficient use of the resources available to her, including in relation to Garda stations.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Garda Síochána district and station rationalisation programme, which we have just been discussing, gave rise to the closure in 2012 and 2013 of 139 Garda stations, including Garda stations at Ballyduff and Stradbally in County Waterford, following the completion by An Garda Síochána of a comprehensive review of its district and station network. That review was undertaken with the objective of identifying opportunities to introduce strategic reforms to enhance service delivery, increase efficiency and streamline practices within the organisation. I have been advised by the Garda authorities that the closures have allowed front-line gardaí to be managed and deployed with greater mobility, greater flexibility and in a more focused fashion, particularly with regard to targeted police operations.

The programme for Government commits the Government to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country in order to maintain and strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance to citizens and to deter crime.

A cornerstone of this commitment is the recruitment plan. The Deputy was here and heard what I had to say. I have asked the Garda Commissioner, while fully cognisant of her statutory functions, to identify six stations for reopening on a pilot basis to determine possible positive impacts that such openings will have on criminal activity, with special emphasis on burglary, theft and public order. The pilot will feed into that wider review by the Garda Síochána Inspectorate of the dispersal and use of all resources available to the Garda because we have to look at that and decide how they can best be managed. I understand that work is continuing to identify the six stations for inclusion in the pilot and that consultations have taken place with the relevant stakeholders, including the Policing Authority, and in this context I am sure the Deputy would agree that a comprehensive and evidence-based analysis should be carried out, taking account of all of the relevant factors, before a final decision is made in respect of the stations to be reopened by the Commissioner. I expect to receive that report in May and so I cannot give the Deputy detail about her own area. I will be in a position to announce whatever the objective decision is at that time.

I thank the Tánaiste. I appreciate her answer and I welcome the fact that we will have a decision on the Garda stations in May. In my area of Portlaw in County Waterford seven Garda stations in the area close to the Comeragh Mountains closed and we were centralised into Kilmacthomas. Two years ago we had five gardaí and one sergeant, but we now have ten gardaí and one sergeant. I do appreciate that, and we are all very much involved in the text alert system. At the same time, there are 2,000 residents in Portlaw, and not having a Garda station there is a huge loss. I would be hopeful that Waterford might be considered.

Clearly this is a decision that will be made by An Garda Síochána. I have no doubt that the needs of a whole variety of areas will have to be taken into account, but equally when the Inspectorate is looking at what areas ought to have resources, they will be taking into account precisely the points the Deputy has made. They will be taking account of the changing environment in rural areas as we develop rural and suburban areas. The views of local communities and the local policing level will be taken into account, including what Garda facilities are in an area and the Garda Reserve. It is very important that this work is done and it will take into account what the Inspectorate has recommended as well in terms of how police should be allocated around the country. I will have the first report in May, but there is that wider review going on which should address the type of issues that quite a number of Deputies have raised as well the needs of various areas. The more information that is available centrally the better. Local police obviously have obligations to report the levels of crime in their area and the needs of their area and deployment should be made based on that.

I thank the Minister and accept her answer.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.