Other Questions

Garda Deployment

John Curran

Question:

51. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the reason numbers assigned to the Garda traffic corps continue to decline; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5415/18]

My question to the Minister relates to the reasoning the number of gardaí assigned to the traffic corps continues to decline at a significant rate. The traffic corps, as the Minister will appreciate, plays an important role in terms of both road safety and crime prevention yet we see on a continuous basis that the number of gardaí assigned to it has declined. At what stage will it become ineffective, if this decline continues?

The Deputy will be aware, as I stated earlier in respect of community policing, that the distribution of gardaí is exclusively the statutory responsibility of the Garda Commissioner.

I have been informed that the strength of the Garda traffic corps on 31 December 2017 stood at 623. In addition, there is one chief superintendent and two superintendents attached to the DMR traffic corps, a superintendent and traffic inspector attached to each of the five regions and one superintendent attached to the policing road traffic bureau. It is important to note that road traffic legislation is enforced as part of the day-to-day duties of all members of An Garda Síochána, as well as through specific enforcement operations.

While there is no room for complacency, I was pleased to note that last year represented the lowest number of road traffic fatalities on record at 159. It is imperative that the positive momentum across road traffic enforcement and road safety initiatives is harnessed towards further annual reductions in fatalities.

By working together with the RSA and other agencies, An Garda Síochána will continue to confront dangerous road-user behaviour through public presence, legislative enforcement, education, information and partnership. The Government is committed to further supporting An Garda Síochána in this regard, including by reversing the effects of the legacy of the moratorium on recruitment introduced in 2010 which resulted in a significant reduction in the strength of An Garda Síochána across the whole organisation, including the traffic corps.

The Government implementation of the plan for an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021 is well under way and there is real tangible progress on reaching this goal. Since the reopening of the Garda College in September 2014, just under 1,600 recruits have attested as members of An Garda Síochána and have been assigned to mainstream duties nationwide, including the traffic corps, as referred to by the Deputy.

I thank the Minister for his response, but it has not allayed my fears and concerns. I acknowledge there was a significant improvement in road safety last year, but one life lost on the roads is one too many. We all have a role to play in this regard. It is interesting to note that the Road Safety Authority, when it looked at road fatalities for the period 2008 to 2012, found that speeding was a contributory factor in 32% of road fatalities and alcohol in 38%. These are clearly issues of enforcement in which an active Garda traffic corps continues to have a role to play, notwithstanding the improvements that were made last year. In reply to a parliamentary question I tabled, the Minister reiterated that Templemore reopened in 2014 and that recruitment has been ongoing. My specific concern is that he indicated that only 627 gardaí were assigned to the unit in December 2017. Back in 2014, when Templemore was reopening, there were 800 gardaí in the traffic corps. As Templemore has reopened and the Department recruits more personnel, our traffic corps is diminishing. That is my concern.

The Deputy will appreciate that I do not have a direct role in the distribution of members of An Garda Síochána, nor do I have a direct role in the enforcement of road traffic legislation. These are operational matters for the Garda Commissioner and An Garda Síochána. However, it is important to note that An Garda Síochána undertakes a programme of high-visibility road safety and enforcement operations carried out in partnership with other State agencies. Garda operations specifically target road use behaviour known to contribute significantly to collisions, including driving while intoxicated or using drugs, dangerous and careless driving and the gamut of road traffic legislation, by working closely with the Road Safety Authority and other agencies. An Garda Síochána will continue to confront dangerous road user behaviour thorough public presence, the enforcement of the current legislation, education, information and partnership. I acknowledge the importance of the interdepartmental group on road safety, particularly the ministerial committee on road safety, which I attend regularly along with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross. I assure the Deputy that this committee plays an important role in ensuring best practice on our roads.

In addition to road safety, the traffic corps has a significant role to play in crime prevention. We are all well aware of rural crime and so forth. The Minister said, quite specifically, that he does not allocate members of the Garda. However, I would like him to reflect on a comment he made in a written reply to me only in November, namely, "The Commissioner has committed in the Policing Plan for 2017 to increase incrementally the number of personnel dedicated to traffic duties by 10% to support better outcomes in relation to road traffic enforcement and crime prevention." Let us consider what happened. In January 2017, there were 669 officers. If the 10% increase, as indicated, had come incrementally, at the end of the year there would have been 735 gardaí assigned to the traffic corps. It continues to be my concern that instead of the 735 officers that the Minister indicated on the advice of the Commissioner, he is now saying we will have 627. I am concerned that the traffic corps continues to be decimated. While we have people being recruited and going through Templemore, the traffic corps is not seeing any of that reflected. Every time a figure is published, it is a decline in the numbers.

The Deputy will acknowledge that funding has been made available by the Government to ensure we can continue what is a high level of investment in An Garda Síochána. This year a further 800 Garda trainees will enter the college, with 800 also scheduled to attest. This will see Garda numbers reach more than 14,000 by the end of this year. This increase in Garda numbers will facilitate the Commissioner in meeting his commitment to strengthen the numbers assigned to roads policing by 10% year on year. It is not all about numbers. The Commissioner's modernisation and renewal programme places a strong emphasis on the expansion of the role of the traffic corps to include crime prevention and detection on the roads through the setting up of divisional roads policing units. The Commissioner has confirmed that a review of roads policing has been completed and that a new role and job description for additional personnel for road policing units has now been developed. I am advised that regional competitions which will allow for the allocation of additional resources to the divisional roads policing units are ongoing. Garda management plans in the region of 150 additional gardaí to be assigned on an incremental basis to roads policing duties this year in order to support better outcomes in road traffic enforcement and crime prevention.

Refugee Resettlement Programme

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

52. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if persons (details supplied) will be allowed to resettle here. [5693/18]

This question is really a plea on behalf of a very vulnerable Palestinian family for compassion and generosity on the part of the Minister and the Government. The Barud family have been acknowledged as UN refugees. They are stranded in Turkey. Four of the children are disabled and the family has nowhere to go, even though they have been acknowledged as refugees. I have talked to the Minister about this and I appreciate the conversations we have had. I hope we will be able to take this family in. We have not accepted our quota of UN refugees, so I see no reason-----

The Deputy will have a minute to respond to the Minister's reply.

-----why we could not do so.

Deputy Boyd Barrett is asking whether Ireland can resettle a family now in Turkey who are United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, programme refugees and that some of the family members have disabilities. As I responded in recent correspondence to the Deputy, while Ireland participates in a resettlement programme led by the UNHCR, it is the latter that assesses each case and makes a referral to a participating state. Ireland has received no such referral from the UNHCR. It is highly unlikely Ireland would receive such a referral because it does not have a resettlement programme in Turkey.

As Deputy Boyd Barrett will be aware, Ireland has an active resettlement programme in Lebanon under the Irish refugee protection programme, IRPP. Ireland has doubled its commitment in respect of refugees currently in Lebanon and is accepting 1,040 programme refugees under that strand of the IRPP. Of these refugees, 792 are already in Ireland and the remaining individuals are due to arrive in the coming months. I have pledged to take a further 945 refugees from Lebanon between this year and next year. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, and I also recently announced a new family humanitarian admission programme, which provides for 530 immediate family members of refugees from established conflict zones to come to Ireland over a two-year period.

All programme refugees in Lebanon are selected by the UNHCR on the basis of vulnerability, including persons with various health conditions. Staff of the Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration who are responsible for the IRPP then undertake comprehensive resettlement missions in Lebanon. The selection of resettlement applicants requires detailed consideration of files received from the UNHCR as well as personal interviews, orientation and security assessments in Lebanon.

There are established and successful pathways for resettlement in this country. While I appreciate the vulnerability of the family that is the subject of the Deputy's request, I must point out, as I have done in correspondence, that it is extremely difficult for Ireland to engage in any form of resettlement in response to once-off requests. This would potentially disadvantage other refugees who have fulfilled objective criteria to qualify for the refugee programme.

I appreciate the Minister's response and I appreciate we are taking other refugees from Lebanon, but this is a particular case. This is a family of seven in which four of the children have very significant disabilities. They had previously lived in Saudi Arabia, but Saudi Arabia expelled them because of its "no Palestinian refugees" policy, which is not a very nice policy. They were subsequently expelled, despite their pleas, from Egypt after two of the children had completed their education but Egypt was not willing to take them either. They are now stranded in Turkey, where they are suffering very significant physical health deterioration and very severe muscle spasms because they are not getting the physiotherapy they need.

They have written to the Minister and they have contacted the UNHCR. They are making a special plea that they be accepted here. I know, notwithstanding what the Minister said, that Ireland has not filled its full quota of refugees. It seems to me that in the case of this particularly vulnerable family, we could intervene and indicate to the UNHCR that we would be willing to take them.

I have been looking at that particular case and I have the details referred to by the Deputy. In this case, the Palestinian family previously lived in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. They are unwilling to return to Gaza as the medical needs of the children cannot be met there. The only way a UNHCR refugee can be admitted to Ireland is through its formal resettlement programme. I do not believe individual appeals outside that process can be favourably considered, but there are established mechanisms for the resettlement of refugees, including those with health issues. There are many refugees around the world in similar circumstances.

I want to advert to the formal UNHCR resettlement programme from Lebanon, which allows for the intake of refugees using objective criteria not based on any favouritism or subjective consideration. The only routes through which this family may be considered would be through UNHCR resettlement, which is from Lebanon, or perhaps through the new family reunification humanitarian admission programme, FRHAP, to which I referred, in the event of their having eligible family members in Ireland.

I do not have an immediate favourable response for the Deputy, and if there is any way we could have a look at the situation in Lebanon, that may well be a positive avenue. I regret it is not possible for me to intervene under the current circumstances.

Will the Minister elaborate slightly? Is he suggesting that if they apply through Lebanon and could make their way to Lebanon that might be possibility? Perhaps he could indicate. Will the Minister explain whether there is a particular reason, given that we have a diplomatic presence in Turkey, that we could not also take programme refugees from Turkey? Will the Minister confirm that we have not filled our quota, so there is space in the quota commitments we have made. Could we not engineer something for this family? Given that our quota is not filled, it is not as if the family, which is in very particular and urgent need, would be taking the place of somebody else but rather filling a space that has not been filled.

I believe the manner in which this issue was framed is based on whether a particular family might be included in the resettlement process. Resettlement is conducted on the basis of objective criteria that have been set down by the UNHCR. This process is conducted by the UNHCR. It is a structured and demanding process and there are multiple partner organisations. Our process is by means of engagement with Lebanon and I do not believe we can depart from the structured process. I do not believe it is feasible for us to conduct a bespoke selection mission in response to an individual family. The family should remain in close contact with the UNHCR; it is the only means by which this issue can be satisfactorily resolved. It is not one we can do by way of any positive initiative from this end.

Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission

Clare Daly

Question:

53. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the steps he has taken to review the supports available to Garda whistleblowers, particularly in view of GSOC's acknowledgement of its lack of resources in fulfilling this function; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5652/18]

This question relates to the adequacies, or rather inadequacies, of GSOC with regard to its ability to deal with its function as the recipient of protected disclosures from Garda whistleblowers. This is a matter Deputy Wallace and I have raised on repeated instances, even at the time the legislation was brought forward. We are heartened by the fact GSOC now agrees with us and has itself issued a call to have its powers, resources and ability beefed up. Is the Minister concerned about these matters and what does he propose to do about them?

I am satisfied with the protection provided to persons who make protected disclosures in An Garda Síochána. Deputy Daly is aware the Protected Disclosures Act came into operation on 15 July 2014. A member of the Garda who makes a disclosure in accordance with the Act is entitled to all the protections provided for whistleblowers in the legislation. These protections include protection from having their identity revealed, protection from dismissal and protection from being penalised in their employment as a result of having made a protected disclosure. These supports are, therefore, available to any person in the Garda organisation who makes a protected disclosure. An Garda Síochána has signed up to Transparency International Ireland's integrity at work initiative, which will involve external validation of these processes.

Members of the Garda Síochána may communicate their concerns to the Garda Commissioner, as their employer if they so choose, or under the 2016 Act they may opt to make a disclosure directly to GSOC, which is a prescribed body for receiving protected disclosures. Where a protected disclosure is made to GSOC, the Act provides that GSOC may, if it appears to it desirable in the public interest to do so, investigate the disclosure. It is also open to a member of the Garda Síochána to make a protected disclosure to me as Minister, and I will consider it in the context of my Department's sectoral policy on protected disclosures.

GSOC has a very important role in ensuring that public confidence in the Garda Síochána is safeguarded, and it has extensive powers under the 2005 Act to enable it to carry out its responsibilities. I assure the Deputy that resources and funding are kept under continuing review to ensure that GSOC is enabled to continue to operate effectively and efficiently and in accordance with its statutory remit. In May 2017, sanction was given for an additional five staff to create a dedicated unit in GSOC to deal with protected disclosures. It must be borne in mind that there were, at that time, a relatively small number of disclosures on hand in GSOC. The sanction was provided on the clear understanding that GSOC would revert should the evolving situation indicate that greater resources were required. It is unfortunate that, eight months later, it would appear that GSOC has not yet succeeded in recruiting all the staff who were sanctioned. I am at one with the Deputy in my being keen to ensure there are available resources to allow GSOC conduct its statutory duties and obligations.

I am afraid the Minister and I are certainly not at one because he is satisfied and I am not, and I am not the only one who is not satisfied. GSOC itself is not satisfied and, more particularly, the Garda whistleblowers who have made protected disclosures to that organisation are not satisfied. There is a very real reason for this, which is that their legitimate complaints which were handled through GSOC were, first of all, delayed in terms of non-co-operation by Garda authorities in getting the information to GSOC to allow it to investigate it. When GSOC then recommended to Garda management that it would be involved in some of the disciplinary hearings on the outcome of some of those investigations, Garda management said "No", told it to butt out and said that it would not have anything to do with the investigation. Critically, when Garda officials turned around and said they had not completed their own internal report, GSOC could not publish its report, with the result that a Garda whistleblower in the Minister's constituency, where Garda involvement in the drug trade has been proven not just in Athlone, but also in Laois with the re-emergence over the past weekend of drugs which had been lost six years ago coming back into the station, is out sick and on the floor without any support whatsoever. All of these matters have supposedly been under investigation for four years.

Given GSOC's acknowledgement of its lack of resources in its efforts to fulfil its functions, will the Minister consider looking at some other areas where a shortage of resources has led to us not being able to hold certain companies to account?

I am referring to over €28 million paid to the information technology company Vantage. This may be in breach of public procurement guidelines in view of the fact that the principle contract with the company has not been advertised for tender since 2006. Will the Minister request the Comptroller and Auditor General to conduct a review of the company's role and its engagement with An Garda Síochána?

I assure the House that I, as Minister, want a robust and transparent system for dealing with issues as raised by people commonly known as whistleblowers. I also want GSOC to be working efficiently and effectively. I made funding available for a number of staff members. That was provided on the understanding that we would continue to engage. When the new staff are fully operational, a better assessment can be made as to what, if any, additional resources may be required in order to handle protected disclosures within GSOC.

I met representatives from GSOC. The issue of resources was discussed. I invited the Commission to brief my Department on what GSOC estimates are its staffing requirements in order to meet all contingencies. I assure Deputies Clare Daly and Wallace, who tabled questions on this matter, and the House that this will be considered once it is received.

The Minister can dress it up any way he likes but it has been established that there has been Garda involvement in the drugs trade in Athlone. It is a fact that no action has been taken against those responsible. It is a fact that the person who made the allegations is out sick and his senior manager has recently been promoted despite being at the centre of allegations of bullying and harassment. Those allegations have not been investigated. We have a mechanism which is not fit for purpose. Points put by Deputy Wallace were not included even on the agenda in terms of the €28 million. There is a huge deficit in the context of accountability with people inside An Garda Síochána putting their necks on the line and not getting support from the agencies in this State. Deputy Flanagan is the Minister. If GSOC is saying it, the whistleblower is saying it and people in this House are saying it, then a lot more needs to be done than is the case at present. I think the Minister should investigate and answer the questions that he refused to even table, such as those from Deputy Wallace that were disallowed.

The 2014 Act makes it perfectly clear that where a member of An Garda Síochána is subject to bullying and harassment as a result of disclosures, then that ill treatment can and will form part of the overall disclosure being made. I want to point out, yet again, that An Garda Síochána has published its protected disclosures policy. All Garda members and all civilians have been informed of this policy. In addition, the Garda Commissioner has appointed a protected disclosures manager who will be supported by a dedicated and properly trained team. The Garda Síochána continue to work with Transparency International Ireland and other external providers so that an environment is created to ensure that whistleblowers and people with complaints are protected and supported.

I wish to refer to the integrity at work pledge and the integrity at work membership agreement signed by the Garda Commissioner and Transparency International last autumn. All of this points to a significant change in the regime for members of An Garda Síochána making protected disclosures. I am satisfied that the legislative and administrative provisions now in place will prove to be an effective remedy for Garda members who wish to report their concerns regarding potential wrongdoings.

I am familiar with the individual in the specific case referred to by both Deputies. I am anxious to ensure that the various investigations and reports under way are brought to a conclusion at the earliest possible opportunity.

Garda Deployment

Brendan Smith

Question:

54. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when additional Garda personnel will be allocated to the Cavan and Monaghan Garda division in view of the level of crime in thearea and the additional policing demands due to a land border with another jurisdiction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5658/18]

The Minister will recall that I spoke to him and tabled parliamentary questions regarding the need to provide additional resources to the Cavan-Monaghan Garda division. Since 2010, the Garda force in County Cavan has been reduced by approximately 20% and that in County Monaghan by in the region of 28%. I am anxious that in the context of the allocation of new recruits, the particular policing needs of the Cavan-Monaghan division should be given urgent consideration and additional resources are provided, including personnel. The Minister is aware we have a long land border with a different jurisdiction. There are particular and unique policing demands on our force in our jurisdiction.

I acknowledge that Deputy Brendan Smith has raised these issues with me on numerous occasions and that he represents a challenging constituency. I refer to the Border and the rural nature of a large constituency comprising two counties. I am sure he will agree that the distribution of gardaí is exclusively the statutory responsibility of the Garda Commissioner. However, I am advised by the Commissioner that the Garda strength in the Cavan-Monaghan division as of 31 December 2017 was 329. In recent years, 40 newly attested gardaí have been assigned to the division and there has been a net increase of 11 in the strength compared with that which obtained in December 2016. There are also 11 Garda reservists and 38 civilian staff attached to the division. When required, the work of local gardaí is supported by a number of Garda national units, including the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the armed support units, the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau.

The Deputy will also be aware that there is close and ongoing co-operation between An Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, on all aspects of policing, with a particular focus on combating security threats and cross-Border crime. The Garda Commissioner and the Chief Constable of the PSNI, who are responsible for operational policing co-operation, have repeatedly emphasised the scope and the value of the close and high-quality co-operation between the two police services in combating crime, protecting community safety and saving lives. The two police services operate a joint cross-Border policing strategy which has as its aims to improve public safety throughout Ireland, to disrupt criminal activity and to enhance the policing capability of both police services on the island.

I thank the Minister for his reply and I fully appreciate from the exchange that we had the last day, and indeed in conversation, that he is familiar with the policing needs of the Border area. I will give one example. There are four Garda districts in Cavan Monaghan. The Cavan district now encompasses what was formerly Cavan and the Ballyconnell district. That district alone has 80 km of a border with County Fermanagh. There are, to my memory, 21 official crossings and there are unofficial crossings as well. The Minister will appreciate that there are huge demands on our Garda personnel. They are already overstretched. I am a regular attender at our joint policing committee meetings. We hear time and time again from the superintendents and the chief superintendents that resources are stretched.

The Minister is aware as well that over the years there are unsavoury elements operating along the Border. We know of the illicit trade in fuel and tobacco products. Unfortunately, all of those people have not gone away. That is an extra demand as well in regard to the thuggery of those particular criminals and their unsavoury activities doing huge damage to decent businesses along the Border. We have to ensure that An Garda Síochána has the necessary personnel and other resources that it needs where there are huge and difficult policing demands. That one division-----

The Deputy will have another chance to come in.

-----goes literally from the west coast to the east coast.

I support my colleague in his call for extra personnel in the Cavan-Monaghan district. Since 2014, of the 1,400 recruits that have come through Templemore, only 44 have come to the Cavan-Monaghan division. My colleague, Deputy O'Callaghan, kindly came to Cavan for a day and visited Ballyconnell and Bailieborough Garda stations. If we are really to address rural crime, it is about personnel. It is so important. My understanding is not one garda has been appointed to community policing in the entire division.

If we are serious about rural crime, the first job to be done is to have gardaí officially appointed to that role.

The Deputies will be pleased to hear that the number of gardaí for the Cavan-Monaghan division increased from December 2009 to 2017: in 2015, it was 318; in 2016, it was also 318; and in 2017 it was 329. There are more on the way. A number of new recruits have been assigned to the Cavan-Monaghan division. The total number of gardaí, taking account of retirements, had increased to over 13,500 at the end of last year, a net increase of 600 since the end of 2016. I am pleased that funding is in place to maintain this high level of investment in the Garda workforce. I will continue to ensure there will be recruits from Templemore to ensure proper and adequate policing.

Deputy Brendan Smith has been in contact with me about a number of Garda stations. He will be pleased that the final report of the Garda Commissioner regarding the pilot programme recommends that Bawnboy Garda station in County Cavan be one of six stations to be included in the programme. The Deputy has been making representations to me on that issue. I will be happy to keep him fully informed of developments. However, I assure both Deputies that the situation in Cavan-Monaghan will be kept under review in light of the current obvious challenges.

Bawnboy is my home village. Nine Garda stations were closed in Cavan-Monaghan and I am sure the Minister will come around to ensuring a few others are reopened as well.

I do not think we can emphasise enough the additional and unique policing demands in our Garda division because of the long Border with Fermanagh, Tyrone and Armagh. The Minister participated and contributed handsomely to the Fresh Start agreement and all Members supported his work. At that time, I proposed the establishment of a cross-Border crime agency to deal with the illegal trade in goods on an all-Ireland basis. In fairness, the Fresh Start agreement incorporated some of the measures we had proposed in our cross-Border crime agency Bill to ensure that the new measures that were put in place were effective. In counties such as Cavan, Monaghan, Louth and neighbouring areas along the Border, the Garda Síochána needs additional resources. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that the Garda Commissioner and the senior people in An Garda Síochána who make the decisions on the allocation of resources are ever mindful of the particular policing needs in our division and in other Border areas.

I acknowledge that there is a particular challenge in Border areas having regard to the ongoing work in progress that is the peace process. I hope that over the next few weeks we will see the successful re-establishment of the power-sharing institutions in Northern Ireland, particularly the Executive and a working assembly. It is almost a year since the people in Northern Ireland voted and they deserve to have a working Executive and assembly. In the event that the current round of talks is successful, one of the first consequences will be the re-emergence of regular meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council. I mentioned earlier the close working relationship between the Garda Síochána and the PSNI. I acknowledge the work of Deputy Brendan Smith on Border matters, both North and South, over many years. I agree there is much work to be done in that area. Much of the cross-Border security work is ongoing but in the event of there being an early meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council there will be work to be done by Oireachtas committees and at executive level to ensure the best approach for what will be a concerted effort to stamp out criminality in the Border area.

Policing Authority Reports

Seán Sherlock

Question:

55. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on the progress on completion of a workforce plan and human resources strategy within An Garda Síochána as outlined in the Policing Authority report of December 2017; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5559/18]

The Policing Authority report is very good. It is easily readable and digestible. There is the creation of a new language, as it were, within the Policing Authority regarding how it sets out the challenges it faces. Has there been any progress on the completion of the workforce plan and human resources strategy?

The Policing Authority is tasked with overseeing the implementation of the agreed recommendations of the Garda Inspectorate report, Changing Policing in Ireland, and reporting to me on a regular basis. I welcome its fourth progress report which includes an in-depth assessment of the human resources function within An Garda Síochána.  Human resources is an important strategic business support in any organisation but this is most especially the case in an organisation such as An Garda Síochána that is undertaking a programme of reform in tandem with a major expansion of its workforce. In this regard, the Deputy will be aware the Government is committed to an increased Garda workforce, comprising 15,000 gardaí, 4,000 civilians and 2,000 reservists, over the next four years.

The broad principles underpinning the deployment of these additional personnel are contained in the Garda Commissioner's modernisation and renewal programme for the period 2016 to 2021 and supported by the Government's commitment to civilianisation and in particular the medium-term target of 20% civilians to be achieved by 2021. However, I agree with the authority's assessment that a HR strategy articulating how these resources are to be leveraged in support of visible, responsive policing is necessary at this stage. This would assist in ensuring that there is clarity as to how the contribution of gardaí, reservists and civilian staff is to be optimised throughout the organisation and ensure a coherent approach. It would also facilitate better planning in other areas, for example, with regard to training needs and accommodation needs. The Garda Commissioner is committed to the development of such a strategy by mid-year as part of the 2018 annual policing plan. I will be meeting the Garda Commissioner shortly to discuss the fourth report and this subject will be one of the key items on the agenda.

Does the Minister acknowledge that concerns were raised in the report of 22 December 2017 about the pace of implementation? The July report stated that although the Garda Síochána had indicated that 20% were completed, the authority found on further investigation that many of those which had been marked as complete had, in fact, not met the intent of the relevant recommendation in Changing Policing in Ireland. Does the Minister acknowledge that the clear, cohesive language of the Policing Authority, which is reporting back to us and publicly, is telling us that there is still much change management to be completed within An Garda Síochána and that the pace of the implementation of change is not where it needs to be?

I certainly agree that there is a body of work to be undertaken. The Deputy referred to the plan that was submitted by An Garda Síochána to the authority in July. This has been the subject of discussion with the authority, my Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I am informed by the Garda Commissioner that a further iteration of that plan is currently being drafted. It will expand on issues such as workforce assessment, workforce supply and demand, the model for redeploying sworn officers to operational policing roles and the identification of new civilian posts. In recent months, An Garda Síochána has been in a position to enhance its capacity in this area through recruiting civilian expertise. This additional capacity is contributing towards the delivery of an updated workforce plan.

The Commissioner has acknowledged that the human resources function within An Garda Síochána is outmoded and unsuitable for an expanding 21st century workforce. It is important that the Policing Authority and An Garda Síochána work closely together on the issues in conjunction with my Department while also recognising the role of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

I thank the Minister for his response. All Members, along with the community who are observing the ongoing change management, want to see a policing strategy and a committee to examine performance in that regard. I acknowledge that is taking place on a monthly basis but we must ensure that milestones are being reached and that reform, which is a slow and meticulous process, is achieved. Does the Minister agree that the role of the Policing Authority has been crucial in ensuring the progress of the change management process?

Is Deputy Sherlock certain he has no other questions? I call on the Minister to respond.

I acknowledge the crucial role of the Policing Authority in the ongoing process of modernisation and reform. The issue of recruitment of civilians is of particular significance and I am anxious to ensure that process is accelerated. It is disappointing that the target of 500 civilian recruits last year was not reached. I acknowledge a number of contributory factors in that regard, including the need for An Garda Síochána to increase its recruitment abilities after a lengthy moratorium, the time required to vet persons comprehensively before they can be employed in the policing sector and the number of bodies, including the Policing Authority, my Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, involved in the sanctioning process for each post. I acknowledge there was a significant acceleration in pace in the last quarter of 2017 but it is imperative that progress is more intensively accelerated this year.

I will shortly meet the Commissioner to discuss the fourth progress report of the Policing Authority. We will emphasise the importance of moving more quickly on the two strands of the civilianisation programme: the recruitment of additional civilians to address critical skills gaps and the redeployment of gardaí to policing duties and the backfilling of their posts with suitably qualified civilian staff. There are some complex and detailed issues to be addressed but this is a priority for me, as Minister, and I am happy to engage bilaterally with Deputy Sherlock and keep the House fully informed on this crucial aspect of the modernisation and reform programme for An Garda Síochána.

Family Law Cases

Peter Fitzpatrick

Question:

56. Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the reason for the delay in the family law Bill coming before Dáil Éireann; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5653/18]

Last week during questions on promised legislation I asked the Minister to update the House on the family law Bill. I stated that fathers and mothers fight over the possibility of having their children removed from their custody. Courts deal with personal and sensitive matters including divorce, custody issues, children in State care, child maintenance and domestic violence. These courts are operating up and down the country, in every small town and city in Ireland. The facilities are inadequate. I have seen at first hand what is happening in these courts.

I acknowledge that Deputy Fitzpatrick has been raising this issue with me for some time. It is an issue that is important to him as a parliamentarian.

The Government remains committed to significant reform of the courts, including the establishment of a family law court structure that is streamlined, more efficient and less costly. My Department is working on the general scheme of a family court Bill which will aim to streamline family law court processes, clarify jurisdictional issues and provide for a set of guiding principles to help ensure the family court will operate in a user-friendly and efficient manner. The intention is to establish a dedicated family court within the existing court structures.

The family court Bill will support the provisions of the Mediation Act 2017 by encouraging greater use of alternative dispute resolution to assist in the more timely resolution of family law cases. As the Deputy will appreciate, it is essential that there is proper planning and consultation with relevant stakeholders in order to ensure the development of a new family court structure can be implemented smoothly and efficiently.

My Department has established a working group comprising officials from my Department, the Courts Service and the Legal Aid Board to examine the operational aspects relating to the family court. The intention is that the working group will develop an overall architecture for the new family court structure. It is consulting with other relevant stakeholders. Key issues arising in consultations include family court venues, facilities, resources, capital investment in family courts and integration of relevant family and child services to provide the best possible family law outcomes.

I hope to secure Government approval in the coming months for the general scheme of a family court Bill. Once the general scheme is approved by the Government, it will be referred to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel for drafting and to the appropriate Oireachtas committee for pre-legislative scrutiny.

It is over 20 years since the Law Reform Commission recommended a specialist court structure for family law and I welcome that plans in that regard are being progressed. It is welcome that three years ago the rules were changed such that the public now have access to proceedings that previously had taken place behind closed doors, with only judges, lawyers and family members involved in the case allowed to be present.

As I said, I have seen at first hand what happens in these courts and it is not nice. One walks in the door and sees many children running around but no play facilities for them. It is totally inadequate. There may be only one toilet available for the use of all present. All one can see is mothers, fathers, cousins, uncles, aunts and so on all fighting together. The facilities are not suitable for children. The previous Fine-Gael led Government for the first time established the office of a Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. It is very important that we ensure there are adequate family court facilities.

I do not disagree with the points raised by Deputy Fitzpatrick. The programme for Government 2011 to 2016 contained a commitment to establish a distinct and separate system of family courts to streamline the family law court process and make it more efficient and less costly. There has been ongoing negative comment in the media highlighting what are perceived to be the inadequate facilities faced by users of the family courts, including delays, the lack of appropriate waiting areas as outlined by Deputy Fitzpatrick and the issue of child care facilities. Since the 1990s there have been calls for the setting up of a dedicated family court. A series of reports on the matter were published which identified problems in the arrangement of the courts generally and in how the family court system operates. Many of those reports have not been acted upon and I hope to bring proposals to the Government in the coming months in order to advance this very important issue in the context of ensuring a separate and distinct family law division within the courts system.

I thank the Minister. Over the past seven years as a Deputy, I have received many complaints from parents about the state of family courts. As I said, I went to see the situation in such a court first hand. Everything they told me was wrong.

The Minister mentioned structures, venues, facilities and investment and having less costly and more streamlined and user-friendly family law cases. That is to be welcomed and the Minister has had my full support from day one. He is doing a fantastic job. However, family law has been pushed around. In 2015, the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, stated family law reform was one of the biggest reform issues to come before the Government and he was going to give it priority. The matter has been pushed from Billy to Jack. As I said, the Minister has my full support. Children are hugely important for our future. We must ensure they get the support, protection and facilities they need to carry on because what happens in such courts will mark these children for the rest of their lives.

I agree that there are issues to be addressed, including infrastructural issues in terms of court facilities and buildings. We must advert to the need to ensure there is specialist training in family law for those involved in its practice, which would not only focus on the latest developments in legislation and international treaties but also ensure best international practice.

We need to look at information communication technology investment, including appropriate digital audio recording equipment and acoustic systems, to ensure the courts can, where appropriate, hear evidence through video link. Obviously the sensitivity and very personal nature of many of these court cases will involve a certain flexibility and adaptability in responding to needs. Appropriate funding for the Legal Aid Board is necessary to deal with delays in processing applications for legal aid in order that we can shorten the waiting times. I acknowledge that over our lost decade of economic difficulties, this is an area that has not kept pace with needs. I hope we can do that in the context of this year's programme of work.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.