6. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the rationale for refusing asylum seekers access to jobs in the public service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29607/18]
6. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the rationale for refusing asylum seekers access to jobs in the public service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29607/18]
I ask the Minister to outline the rationale for refusing to allow asylum seekers who want to get jobs in the public service to access such employment.
The 2013 EU reception conditions directive, which I signed into effect from 30 June last, enhances access to the labour market for asylum seekers. It means that eligible applicants will have access to all sectors of employment, other than appointments to the public service, the Civil Service, An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces. I am happy to outline the rationale for this approach. It is a standard requirement of the Public Appointments Service when advertising a position in the Irish public service that eligibility to compete is open to citizens of the European Economic Area. Similar provisions apply to recruitment to the Garda and the Defence Forces. An individual who applies for international protection in Ireland is given temporary permission to remain in the State to allow his or her application to be processed. This permission is temporary, pending the processing of the person's application. During this time, the applicant has not established a right to remain in the State on a permanent basis.
The processing of an application for international protection may result in a person being declared a refugee, in which case he or she will be fully entitled to compete for positions in the public service. Ireland's system for Civil Service recruitment through objective competitive examinations provides equal access to all of those who are eligible regardless of their origins. Equally, the examination of an application for international protection may conclude that the applicant is not entitled to international protection and therefore is not entitled to remain in the State. The Deputy will appreciate that the temporary status of international protection applicants is not consistent with being appointed to positions in the Defence Forces, An Garda Síochána, the Civil Service, the public service or an embassy or consulate representing the State. As I have outlined, the long-standing practice is for competitions for such appointments to include a requirement for candidates to be citizens of the European Economic Area.
While it is possibly understandable that there are restrictions on accessing jobs in the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána, it is unfortunate that the Government has chosen to exclude asylum seekers from the public service. Many asylum seekers in this country are very skilled.
Those skills could possibly be lost to the State with a restriction of this nature. For example, emerging and accelerating global and regional shortages of health care professionals present a significant strategic risk to the effective functioning of the health system. This is a lost opportunity to help to address those shortages. It could have helped to provide a mechanism to achieve better value for money compared with the use of agency workers.
The decision made in May 2017 to strike down the absolute ban on asylum seekers working as unconstitutional has forced the Government to finally address the need for reform of the direct provision system. The Minister mentioned the waiting time for a decision on an application for asylum, but it is still too long. It also takes too long to hear an appeal. Does the Minister have any comment to make on it?
I agree with the Deputy that there are people going through the various stages of the process who have skills that could be put to good use in their occupation while awaiting a final decision. It is not open to them to apply for public service jobs, but there are many similar arrangements in the private sector and I am sure they would be welcomed in that sphere.
I am committed to reducing the waiting time and ensuring the time it takes to process applications for international protection is the minimum. I want to ensure persons, who it is determined are in need of our protection, can have certainty of status at a much earlier stage. We want to facilitate their early integration into our society and communities. Persons with international protection status or permission to remain have full access to the labour market and State support on the same basis as Irish nationals.
My party and I welcome the announcement of a more open process to allow asylum seekers to access work. It is important to say that, but it is three years after the McMahon report that included those recommendations. On the waiting time for the granting of asylum, I am glad that the Minister acknowledges that the period is too long and that he is working on it. Asylum seekers spend too long in a system that in 2000 was designed to be a very short interim provision. Some 36% of residents spend two years or more in the system, which has been described as a form of internment. The delays in assessing applications are unacceptable and the long periods spent in the direct provision system have a negative impact on the mental health and well-being of residents. It impedes integration and creates a legacy of dependency. Is any other reform of the direct provision system being considered beyond the right to work?
I am very pleased to note the success of the initiative undertaken by Judge McMahon whom I thank for his engagement and ongoing interest in the area, in which he plays a very important role. My Government colleagues, including the Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, and I are very appreciative of the role he plays.
I am keen to ensure a first instance decision at an early date. If it can be earlier than nine months, all the better. The Deputy has referred to persons who have been in the direct provision system for a number of years. The vast majority are persons who continue to appeal decisions already made. I acknowledge the importance under our law of people, as is their entitlement, engaging in the process of appeal and judicial review. My determination is to ensure a first instance decision is made within a reasonable period. Any lengthy period beyond nine months is unreasonable. I will continue to ensure we can have an early decision in the form of a determination, with a person either being given leave to remain in the State or, if it is in the negative, arrangements being made for the return of the person to his or her country of origin as circumstances may ordain.
I remind Deputies and the Ministers that we must keep to the timelines set down by the Business Committee as not doing so is unfair on others. Deputy Ruth Coppinger has apologised for not being here.
8. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the engagement he has had with the Garda Commissioner on the funding and provision of additional resources for An Garda Síochána to prepare for a hard Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29637/18]
There are less than nine months to the date when the United Kingdom is to depart from the European Union on 29 March next year. The June summit has been held. We were told that the deadline was that summit and that a deal would be organised at that time, but it did not happen. As there is, unfortunately, the prospect of a hard border and the United Kingdom simply falling out of the European Union without a deal, what measures have been put in place to ensure additional resources will be provided for An Garda Síochána should there be a hard border?
As the House is aware, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade is co-ordinating the whole-of-government response to the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. In this capacity, he is working closely with all Ministers, including me, to address the many challenges Brexit will present in a joined-up manner. However, I emphasise that it is the Government’s firm intention that the same Border arrangements as currently apply on the island of Ireland will continue into the future. In its approach to the negotiations the Government has ensured protecting the gains of the peace process and the avoidance of a hard border are high priorities for Ireland, our partner member states and the European Commission.
As the House is aware, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the distribution of resources, including personnel. Garda management keeps the distribution of resources under active review in line with operational and security demands, including possible policing requirements post-Brexit. In that respect, I recently met the Garda Commissioner and his team to discuss contingency planning for Brexit and I am assured An Garda Síochána is preparing for it with a wide-ranging focus to determine operational requirements, including personnel and technology. I am also assured An Garda Síochána will continue to progress its contingency preparations and is committed to ensuring the organisation will be prepared for the associated policing implications and challenges arising therefrom.
My Department is engaged on an ongoing basis with An Garda Síochána as part of the deep and detailed work being undertaken across government and the public sector in response to the United Kingdom's decision to leave the European Union. In June departmental officials and a member of An Garda Síochána met representatives of the European Commission in Brussels to discuss North-South co-operation in the areas of law enforcement and police and judicial co-operation. Furthermore, An Garda Síochána is represented at a senior level in the ongoing discussions between my Department and the Home Office in the United Kingdom on the operation of the common travel area.
Fianna Fáil also wishes for the same Border arrangements to apply after Brexit, but there is unquestionably a risk that that may not be the case. If there is no deal between the European Union and the United Kingdom, the island of Ireland could become the meat in that dangerous sandwich. It would not be the first time the interests of this island had been subordinated by the interests of our larger neighbour and other global affairs. We must be prepared for the potential for a hard border on the island after 29 March.
The Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, Mr. George Hamilton, has indicated that the service may need approximately 400 extra PSNI officers to police the Border if a hard border is imposed. We know that there are nearly 250 Border crossings between the two jurisdictions on the island.
We need to be prepared for a hard border. No matter the fact that the agreement within this House is that we do not want a hard border, it could be imposed upon us. It should not be forgotten that the Border was put in place without most of the people on this island having any say in respect of it
I reiterate that it is the firm commitment and determination of the Government to ensure that the current border arrangements continue. In this regard, I acknowledge the repeated statements of the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, in regard to the current border arrangements, a seamless border, maintaining the freedom of movement of goods and people between North and South on the island of Ireland and maintenance of that relationship as it stands.
On An Garda Síochána, it works closely with the Police Service of Northern Ireland in combating cross-Border crime, including in the pursuit of individual criminal investigations. This ongoing close co-operation across a full range of policing responsibilities of both services is in place and will continue regardless of the final shape of Brexit. Joint working is central to the shared objectives of An Garda Síochána and the PSNI in combating crime of all sorts and promoting community safety on the island of Ireland. There are many collaborative policing initiatives in place, including the cross-Border policing strategy, updated and published by both police services in 2016. There is annual official engagement and informal engagement on a daily basis, where required.
The British Prime Minister has made many positive statements about keeping the Irish Border fully open. However, her statements cannot be relied upon for the purpose of us believing there will be no hard border. The situation within the British Government at the moment is such that it does not know what its own negotiating policy will be with the European Union and we are less nine months away from the Brexit date. We need to be better prepared. We need to take on board, for instance, what the Garda Representative Association stated in respect of the increased demand on An Garda Síochána should there be a hard border. It has indicated that approximately 100 additional gardaí would be required to police the Border, if it is the case that a hard border is imposed upon us.
The new Garda Commissioner has significant knowledge of the two jurisdictions and the Border but the Minister needs to meet him and plan for what we hope will not happen. Unless we are prepared for it, we will fail in respect of it.
I can confirm that I have already met the Garda Commissioner designate and I look forward to working closely with him. I understand that he will take up his position in early September. I agree with Deputy O'Callaghan that be brings a unique perspective on the matter of policing across the island of Ireland. I look forward to working closely with him in this regard.
There is contingency planning in the Department of Justice and Equality. A working group of senior officials was established to manage the Department's response to Brexit and to carry out a risk analysis of the UK's departure, taking into account the views of the relevant justice sector agencies and other stakeholders. Planning to date in the Department has focused on how the withdrawal agreement would work in practice and our future relationship with the UK.
Deputy O'Callaghan mentioned the Garda Síochána. I assure the Deputy that An Garda Síochána is fully aware of the ongoing complex negotiations regarding Brexit and it is committed to ensuring that the organisation is fully prepared for any possible policing implications and challenges arising therefrom. A high level team composed of managers from across the Garda Síochána has been established and scoping exercises in anticipation of Brexit have been conducted. I again welcome the appointment of Mr. Drew Harris, who has the necessary experience and expertise in terms of ensuring top level North-South co-operation in addressing the challenges that lie ahead in policing matters.
11. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when he expects the Commission on the Future of Policing to finalise its final report; if he has received an interim report to date; the costs associated with the running of the commission, including salaries and so on, since its inception; if the new Garda Commissioner will be bound by the expected recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing; if the Minister has discussed the commission and its work with the new Garda Commissioner; if his attention has been drawn to whether the work of the commission was raised during the interview process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29597/18]
We sought an outsider for the role of Garda Commissioner and we got one. I welcome him and wish him the best. We will judge him on his performance in An Garda Síochána. When does the Minister expect the Commission on the Future of Policing to finalise its report? Has he received any interim reports to date and, if so, what is the cost associated with same? Will the new Garda Commissioner be bound by the recommendations of the commission? Has the Minister discussed the Commission on the Future of policing with the new Garda Commissioner and was the work of the commission raised during the interview process?
I fundamentally disagree with Deputy Wallace's description of Mr. Drew Harris as an outsider. He is not an outsider. He is a policeman, an Ulster man and an Irishman and I very much welcome his appointment.
So do I.
I am sure he will lead An Garda Síochána in terms of its modernisation and reform programme. Mr. Harris is far from an outsider. He comes to the role with a wealth of experience and knowledge, not only in terms of policing in Northern Ireland, but in international policing. His relationship with An Garda Síochána down through the years will stand him in very good stead.
The Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, which began its work in May 2017, is undertaking a comprehensive examination of all aspects of policing, including all functions currently carried out by An Garda Síochána. It is also examining the full range of bodies that have a role in providing oversight and accountability for their activities.
The commission is due to report in September. I have discussed the issue with the chairperson of the commission, Kathleen O'Toole. The commission expects to publish its report in accordance with that timeline. The members of the commission come from diverse backgrounds and have impressive track records in their respective fields. The chairperson was a member of the Patten commission which developed the blueprint for the successful transformation of the PSNI following the Good Friday Agreement. I am confident that the commission's report will similarly chart a new course for policing in Ireland in the decades ahead and I look forward to receiving it.
Deputy Wallace will appreciate that the commission is an independent body and it is important that it is free to carry out its work in whatever manner it sees fit. It has not submitted an interim report but it has published two updates on its activities which may be of interest to the Deputy. These are available on the commission's website at www.policereform.ie.
Mr. Harris is an outsider in that he was not previously a member of An Garda Síochána. The Minister mentioned that the commission is an independent body, which is all the more reason there is no excuse for it not producing an interim report.
Will the commission cease to exist on publication of its report and, if so, who will have oversight of the implementation of its recommendations? In terms of holding the Garda Síochána to account, the Garda Inspectorate's recommendations are often ignored. The reason for this is weak legislation, for which the Government is responsible. The Garda Inspectorate has no statutory responsibility for the monitoring of the implementation of recommendations made in its reports. A process to enable it to do so was established with An Garda Síochána in 2008, which resulted in the publication of status implementation update reports twice a year on the Garda Inspectorate's website. While former Garda Commissioner, Mr. Callinan, complied with this process the last update was in November 2013 because former Garda Commissioner, Nóirín O'Sullivan, did away with it. She was not interested in that sort of nonsense. When we asked the Minister's predecessor why this process ceased the response was pressure of work.
Does the Minister believe the Garda Inspectorate should oversee implementation of the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing, which will probably comprise most of the recommendations made by the Garda Inspectorate? Will the Garda Inspectorate have a role in this regard and will the Minister consider giving it statutory powers to monitor implementation of the commission's recommendations?
Following the establishment of the commission my Department engaged with the chairperson and secretariat on its budgetary needs, as mentioned by the Deputy. Sanction was obtained from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for €1.5 million. This budget includes the expected cost for the commission, including remuneration of the members and secretariat research in the conduct of an extensive public consultation process.
To date, the cost associated with the running of the commission has been just in excess of €1 million. It is expected that the total cost will be in line with the €1.5 million budget that was allocated. I am very much looking forward to the report, which I expect to be delivered on time. I also expect it to be sufficiently comprehensive to record the work done by the commission over the period of a year. It is important that there is an element of oversight of the recommendations. I have not decided what course of action might be taken in that regard but I agree with the Deputy that a form of oversight is advisable. I would be happy to take on board suggestions as to the manner in which that might be done. I agree there needs to be a firm form of oversight.
If the Minister is looking for suggestions, given that the Garda Inspectorate is probably the most impressive body to have come before the committee in the past two years, I suggest he give it the authority to oversee the recommendations. The new Garda Commissioner should provide an update on the website on how he is progressing with implementing the recommendations that have been put forward. This would make a lot of sense. I should add that it has been good to hear that the new Commissioner is not a spin merchant and is not obsessed with public relations. God knows we see a great deal of that, not only in State bodies but also in this place. It is to be welcomed that we are not getting a spin merchant this time around. We had enough of that the last time. I strongly encourage the Minister to give the Garda Inspectorate the statutory powers to monitor the implementation of the commission's recommendations.
I very much reject the Deputy's suggestion that nothing has been done with the Garda Inspectorate's report. I cite, for example, the welcome visibility of reforms that are under way on issues such as human resources and ICT. Another example is the conduct of an independent cultural audit of An Garda Síochána, which was published in May. This was the first such audit of the organisation. I assure the Deputy that once I receive the report of the commission, I will act on it. I look forward to its receipt and approval by Government. I assure the Deputy that neither I nor the Government have any intention of leaving it on a shelf to gather dust.
Deputy Thomas Byrne's question was No. 10 but he was held up in a committee meeting.
I took the chair from Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin.
That is fine. I will explain the position to the House. Deputy Byrne had to do some work chairing a committee. Deputy Gino Kenny, who tabled Question No. 12, has kindly offered to allow the Deputy to ask his question first. Does the House agree? Agreed. I ask both sides to stick rigidly to the time constraints in order that we can accommodate Deputy Kenny's question afterwards.
I was expecting to ask my question after Deputy Gino Kenny's question. I am very grateful to the Deputy and apologise for my late arrival. I took the chair of the committee to allow Deputy O'Loughlin to go to the Chamber. I did not expect that other Deputies would not be in the Chamber to ask questions. Gabhaim buíochas. I am grateful to the House.
10. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he is satisfied with Garda resources in County Meath. [28904/18]
In light of recent figures which show that burglaries in Meath increased significantly in 2017 compared with 2016, is the Minister satisfied with Garda resources in the county? The Garda district of Ashbourne has the same population as County Westmeath but has less than half - the figure is closer to one third in fact - the number of gardaí County Westmeath has.
As the Deputy will be well aware, the distribution of Garda personnel is exclusively the statutory responsibility of the Garda Commissioner. In this regard, Garda management keeps the distribution of resources under continual review in the context of crime trends and policing priorities so as to ensure that the optimum use is made of these resources. By way of assistance to Deputy Byrne, I am informed by the Commissioner that the strength of the Meath division is 310. There are also 16 Garda reservists and 30 Garda civilian staff attached to the division. When appropriate, the work of local gardaí is supported by a number of Garda national units such as 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.
As I have told Deputy Byrne on other occasions, the Government is committed to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country to maintain and strengthen community engagement, to provide reassurance to citizens and to deter crime in County Meath and throughout the country. To make this a reality, the Government has in place a plan for an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021. This will include 15,000 Garda members. I am informed by the Commissioner that since the reopening of the Garda training college in September 2014, almost 2,000 recruits have attested as members of An Garda Síochána and have been assigned to mainstream duties nationwide. Of this number, 64 members have been assigned to the Meath division. Garda numbers, taking account of retirements, increased to 13,551 at the end of 2017, a net increase of more than 600 since the end of 2016. As Deputy Byrne will be aware, the increase in Garda numbers last year represented the first significant increase since numbers started falling in 2009. This has driven the level of recruitment that has seen the number of gardaí assigned to the Meath division increase from 281 to 310, an increase of 29 or 10% as of 31 May as compared to the end of 2014.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
Funding is in place to ensure that the 2021 vision of an overall workforce of 21,000 remains on track. This year a further 800 new Garda recruits will enter the Garda training college, some 400 of whom have already done so. In total, 800 Garda trainees are scheduled to attest during 2018, 400 of whom have attested to date. Furthermore, Garda numbers, taking account of projected retirements, are on track to reach 14,000 by the end of 2018. Undoubtedly, the investment in resources and the ongoing recruitment process will support all Garda activities and enable the Commissioner to provide additional resources to all Garda divisions, including the Meath division, in the coming years.
County Meath needs significantly more resources because we are vastly under-resourced in terms of Garda man and woman power when compared with other areas that are very close to us. In particular, I refer to County Westmeath which has a similar profile to Meath. It has a much lower population and a similar number of gardaí, which is not fair. There are also other issues with Garda resources. For example, I have heard that the Garda van in the Laytown sub-district, which includes Stamullen, was moved to Tullamore. There are very difficult procedures for gardaí in the district if they want to make arrests in certain cases. That is proving very difficult for them. The lack of a sufficiently suitable Garda headquarters in Meath is also making crime detection more difficult. People on the ground notice the lack of gardaí and resources, the increase in crime and the general absence of a feeling of safety. Another issue arises, which I will raise in my supplementary question.
Deputy Byrne will be aware that it was the Fianna Fáil-led Government that closed the Garda training college in Templemore in its entirety in 2010.
The Minister's Government kept it closed.
Regrettably, despite considerable progress, it will take some time to recover from the legacy of the decision to close the college in 2010. I am pleased to inform the House that funding is in place to ensure the 2021 vision of an overall workforce of 21,000 remains firmly on track. This year, a further 800 new Garda recruits will enter the Garda training college, some 400 of whom have already done so. In total, 800 Garda trainees are scheduled to attest during this year, 400 of whom have already attested. Taking account of projected retirements, Garda numbers are on track to reach 14,000 by the end of 2018. I assure Deputy Byrne that many of these gardaí will be posted to stations in County Meath.
I did not ask this question as an opportunity to take a political potshot at the Government. I asked it as an advocate for, and representative of, my constituency. It does not serve the case well for the Minister to respond by taking a potshot at me. What I will say is that the confidence and supply agreement ensures that this Government, which has been in power since 2011, will increase Garda numbers. That is a key point in the agreement. This is not simply about increasing Garda numbers but about making a decision in Garda headquarters, influenced by the Minister for Justice and Equality although I know he has no direct role in the matter, to ensure gardaí are allocated on a proportionate basis to the places they are needed around the country.
An issue particular to County Meath is the significant number of large towns on our doorstep which have Garda stations that do not have any jurisdiction in our county. I refer specifically to Drogheda, Balbriggan, Maynooth, Kilcock and Kingscourt. Some of these are smaller stations and some are larger, but none has jurisdiction within County Meath. That issue will have to be addressed because the county boundary solution was not always available for Garda services and policing.
It is causing a problem, particularly in my county.
As I said earlier, it is a matter for the Garda Commissioner to distribute the resources available to him, both in terms of personnel and equipment. I am pleased, however, to record unprecedented funding for An Garda Síochána, in excess of €1.6 billion. I am also pleased the recruitment programme is firmly on track. I recently had the privilege of attending Templemore Garda Training College to see almost 200 new, ambitious, energetic, well-trained and well educated gardaí attest and graduate. All of them were posted to their stations, some to County Meath, within two weeks following their attestation from Templemore.
It is my intention to ensure we will proceed with another recruitment programme to ensure that by the end of 2021 my target and the Government's ambition of having an overall Garda workforce of 15,000 sworn gardaí, who will be ably assisted and backed up by 4,000 civilian members and 2,000 members of the Garda Reserve, a total of 21,000 personnel, will be achieved.
12. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on the call for a new inquest into the deaths of 48 persons in the Stardust fire on 14 February 1981; his further views on the victims' families' long campaign for justice for their loved ones; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29596/18]
Will the Minister support the call for a new inquest into the deaths of 48 persons in the Stardust fire on 14 February 1981?
My office was recently informed by legal representatives acting on behalf of the families that the Stardust campaign has formally petitioned the Attorney General to order a second inquest under the provisions of section 24 of the Coroners Act 1962.
I have no role in the ordering of a second inquest under this provision and it would not be appropriate for me to make any comment in regard to the application to the Attorney General.
The Stardust fire was undoubtedly one of the greatest tragedies in the country’s history. I sympathise greatly with the families of the people tragically killed 37 years ago, for the terrible loss they suffered and for their ongoing search for answers.
A motion was passed by the House on 26 January 2017 which called on the Government:
...to meet with the Stardust Relatives and Victims Committee regarding the new and updated evidence they have uncovered since reviewing Judge Keane’s report of the tribunal of inquiry on the fire at the Stardust, Artane, Dublin, in 2006, to have that new and updated evidence assessed urgently by an independent person who has the trust of the families.
The Stardust Victims Committee identified retired judge, Mr. Pat McCartan, to assess its evidence and furnished a formal written submission to Judge McCartan in that regard. The scope of the assessment process was set out in the Dáil motion. As such, it was conducted independently of the Government. It was not open to me as Minister nor my Department to influence, interfere or intervene unduly with that process.
Having carefully considered all material made available to him by the committee, in conjunction with the two previous independent reports on the Stardust tragedy, Judge McCartan concluded that no further new inquiry was warranted. However, I acknowledge the terrible pain and loss of the relatives of the victims and the fact that the report does not come to the conclusion for which they would have wished.
Every Member will acknowledge that after 37 years of pain, the relatives of those who died that night still have not had closure or justice. When one looks back to what happened in Hillsborough in 1989, nobody can run from justice. Only a few days ago, some of those policing the stadium that day had charges of manslaughter made against them.
The Stardust families are looking for a new inquest into the deaths of their relatives. Antoinette Keegan, who lost two sisters in the fire that night, put a freedom of information request in for documentation and submissions to the McCartan report in November 2017. Almost eight months after this request, she still has not received those papers which would be crucial to a new inquest. Can the Minister comment on that?
I was pleased to have the opportunity to meet with the Stardust Victims Committee and Ms Keegan on several occasions. However, I wish to stress again the independence of the role and function of Judge McCartan. The former judge was the choice of the committee which had been consulted in order to ensure its assistance, advice and guidance was taken on board.
Judge McCartan’s report of the assessment process was accepted by the Government and furnished to the committee immediately afterwards, prior to its publication on 7 November 2017.
I assure Deputy Gino Kenny of my interest in this matter. I met with the committee and had an open discussion on historical outstanding matters. In parallel with last year's independent assessment process, my Department met with the committee and its legal advisers on several occasions. My Department remains committed to engaging constructively with a view towards achieving a positive resolution of the process regarding historical outstanding costs.
There is enormous public support for a new inquest and to get to the truth of this matter. That manifested itself at the recent Leinster football final between Laois and Dublin when, on the 48th minute for the 48 victims, there was a round of applause in support for a new inquest.
The relatives will say that the McCartan report was narrow in its remit. They have further information and submissions to another inquest. The families at least deserve a new inquest into the deaths of their brothers, sisters and loved ones on that night. After all, no justice was done to those who managed that facility in any way. The families are calling for a new inquest. That is what they deserve after 37 years of terrible pain.
There are a number of elements which were not properly pursued. I want to put on record my and my party's support for a second inquest.
I do not have any role in the ordering, or otherwise, of a second inquest under the provisions of section 24 of the Coroners Act. This is exclusively and solely a matter for the Attorney General. My expectation would be that the Attorney General will be in contact with the lawyers acting on behalf of the families.
As regards the independent report, the Government was pleased with the nomination of retired Judge McCartan, which had the support of the Stardust Victims Committee. It was an independent process of the Government and produced findings. I accepted those findings on behalf of the Government, as did my Government colleagues.
14. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of community gardaí in the Dublin metropolitan region, DMR, west division in each of the past ten years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28900/18]
The number of community gardaí has been drastically reduced in the Dublin west division over the past several years. It has led to significant public safety concerns due to a massive increase in crime and anti-social behaviour with people feeling unsafe to go outside their homes. I hosted a public meeting on Tuesday this week which was attended by a large number of people. There is a Garda visibility crisis and a law and order issue which the Government is not addressing, despite its rhetoric around recruitment. Gardaí in Blanchardstown have said they do not have enough manpower to answer the phones at particular times of the day. How is the Minister going to address this problem?
The distribution of Garda personnel is exclusively the statutory responsibility of the Garda Commissioner. Garda management keeps this distribution of resources under continual review in the context of crime trends and policing priorities to ensure the optimum use is made of these resources.
As I have stated at committee and in the House, community policing is at the heart of An Garda Síochána. It provides a means of recognising that every community, urban and rural, has its own concerns and expectations. That is why it is important to recognise that community garda is not a specialist role in An Garda Síochána but, rather, that all gardaí have a role to play in community policing in carrying out their duties. The official categorisation as a community garda simply refers to gardaí exclusively assigned to building relationships with local communities and civil society, including giving talks to schools and engaging with community groups, residents associations and others across communities. It is a matter for the divisional chief superintendent to determine the optimum distribution of duties among the personnel available to him or her, having regard to the profile of the area and its specific needs.
I am informed by the Commissioner that the strength of Dublin metropolitan region west division on 31 May 2018, the latest date for which information is readily available, was 671, of whom 68 are designated as community gardaí.