Community Policing and Rural Crime: Motion

I move:

That Dáil Éireann shall take note of the Report of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality entitled 'Report on Community Policing and Rural Crime', copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 28th March, 2019.

I wish to share time with Deputies Adams and Funchion, if I may. I thank the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, for his attendance here this evening to debate the report on community policing and rural crime. I also thank the members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality for their respective contributions to the report, which was unanimously agreed and formally launched on 28 March 2019.

As I state in my preface to the report, issues relating to Garda oversight and accountability have been a key priority for the current Joint Committee on Justice and Equality but in addressing the issue of community policing, we sought to go beyond that and look at the bigger picture of how a modern policing service should be structured to most effectively address crime and engage with local communities. To assist in its work, the committee held a series of engagements with experts and stakeholders during October 2018, including with representatives from the University of Limerick school of law, Foróige, the Garda youth diversion project, Muintir na Tíre, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, An Garda Síochána, the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, and the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association, ICSA. Notwithstanding the exceptional work undertaken by members of An Garda Síochána, it is essential that public confidence in our policing service is maintained and that local communities feel secure.

There was a strong and shared view among witnesses that the philosophy of community policing should lie at the heart of policing in Ireland. It became abundantly clear in the course of the hearings that the philosophy of community policing has been undervalued in Ireland and needed to be strengthened. While some districts have made efforts to sustain the core values of community policing, under-resourcing has led to a deficiency in this ethos. As a committee, we therefore very much welcome the report and recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, and strongly support the community district policing model set out therein. Promoting community-based strategies would not only address the underlying causes of crime but would also help provide reassurance to those experiencing the very real fear of crime that exists, particularly in rural communities where the closure of Garda stations, consequent on the financial crisis, has had a very negative impact.

The committee recognises the importance of a visible Garda presence in communities and although Garda numbers are now increasing, it is imperative that greater investment and allocation of resources are provided to ensure the adequate assignment of gardaí to front-line district policing roles. A modern and cost-effective method to increase visibility would be greater use of social media, which has proved to be highly effective and efficient in other jurisdictions for engaging with communities in rural or isolated areas.

The role of front-line police is changing, and the overlap of policing and healthcare issues cannot be ignored when developing a modern police service. The lack of provision of primary healthcare and other welfare services outside of regular business hours leaves many front-line police managing non-crime incidents, many involving mental health issues and the welfare of vulnerable individuals. Providing the resources and funding to allow for a multi-agency approach is essential in order to offer local communities the supports and services they need, regardless of the day or time in which they require it. The committee therefore supports a statutory requirement for the establishment of an integrated, structured, multi-agency model such as the multi-agency concern hubs in the North of Ireland in order to provide an effective and cohesive service to address the current gaps in the overall provision.

In order to significantly address crime, the committee believes in a preventative approach that proactively addresses the problems within communities, with greater Garda emphasis on early intervention and assessment of risk, rather than the more traditional reactive approach to crimes committed. In recognising the work of Muintir na Tíre and others in crime prevention, the committee calls for continued support for the community alert and text alert schemes, as well as the proper funding and roll-out of CCTV schemes throughout the country. Finally, in addition to welcoming property marking projects such as the IFA's TheftStop, the committee recommends the expansion of the recently introduced CESAR scheme, a European-wide database used to trace stolen farm equipment through the use of police-held scanners. Community-led schemes such as these are essential to addressing crime in rural areas in particular.

The report contains 20 recommendations, and I would like to thank all those who contributed to the report. In conclusion, I urge the Minister for Justice and Equality and his Government colleagues to give this report detailed consideration and to advise a timeframe for the implementation of its recommendations for the benefit of both the public and the serving members of An Garda Síochána. I thank everyone who contributed to this report, including the members of the committee, all the witnesses who presented at committee hearings and the staff of the committee secretariat, whose support has been invaluable.

I commend the report to the House and urge the Minister to act on the recommendations at the earliest opportunity.

I welcome this debate on the report on community policing and rural crime by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality. I commend the joint committee, especially the Chairman, An Teachta Ó Caoláin, on the report. The report emphasises the importance of building trust and strong relationships between An Garda Síochána and local communities.

I am sure the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, will agree that citizens deserve to feel safe in their homes and communities but there are many citizens in rural areas who feel isolated and vulnerable. Never was there a greater need for policing within the community - the Minister will be aware of the details - with the significance of this being especially evident in recent months in my constituency of Louth. I shall focus my remarks on this.

Several weeks ago the joint policing committee in mid Louth held a public meeting in Dunleer. I thank the joint policing committee and everyone who attended that meeting because they did so in defiance of drug pushers and their associates. The meeting was called to demonstrate solidarity with a local family facing extortion and violence from drug gangs, to discuss the drugs crisis facing families and communities and to hear from An Garda Síochána about its efforts to address the scourge of illegal drugs. It was a great example of the strength and merits of community policing. Local people were united with An Garda Síochána and standing against the law breakers.

Along with councillors Ruairí Ó Murchú and Pearse McGeough I went on to meet with the family. I had met them previously. In making this stand against the threats of drug gangs this family is facing real danger. Their home has been attacked. They live in a relatively isolated area and they are being very brave and courageous. The family has the comfort of knowing they have the support of their neighbours. The family is not just making the stand for themselves: they are making a stand for all of us - for the Minister, for me, for the Acting Chairman and for those people who live in their locale. I appeal to anybody who has any information at all on lawbreakers, especially on the incidents when this family was attacked, and on drug pushers, to give that information to An Garda Síochána.

The most important information we were given at the meeting that evening in Dunleer was from Chief Superintendent Christy Mangan who told the meeting that we do not have enough gardaí. I am aware that additional gardaí have been sent there, which I very much welcome, but the chief superintendent told us that last year he was over budget and this year he will be over budget. He elaborated on why Garda stations are only part time and why some barely open at all. It is clear that if one wants boots on the streets with gardaí on the beat and in the local Garda stations it cannot be done without the capacity or the resources.

The chief superintendent also said that there are not enough resources for the support services for drug addiction. From battling with the Government on the issue I am also aware of this. I commend the organisations, many of which are voluntary, that help those in drug addiction and their families. If one speaks to any of the people at the coalface on this matter, and God forbid it would happen to any of our families, they will say that they do not have the resources. They will say this in Dundalk, in Drogheda, in Dunleer, in Carlingford and other such districts and neighbourhoods across the State. The communities do not have proper mental health resources. Our health service is starved of the means of providing a holistic service.

I commend the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, for turning up for this debate because I raised this earlier as a Topical Issue matter but for the second time the Minister for Health did not bother turning up.

Chief Superintendent Mangan made a striking point at the meeting. He said that if we fail to tackle the drugs crisis effectively we will lose a generation of our young people. There is an old saying in Irish, mol an óige is tiocfaidh sí, praise the youth and they will flourish. I urge the Minister to adopt the recommendations in the joint committee report. I ask that the Minister listens to Chief Superintendent Mangan and to the family who are taking this stand against these criminals, but especially to adopt the recommendations in the joint committee report, which the Acting Chairman has pointed out was done in consultation with so many people who are the backbone of rural Ireland. It addresses many of the issues including the reopening of rural Garda stations, the need for additional Garda numbers and increased resources for An Garda Síochána. Negotiations for the next budget will commence shortly. Will the Minister commit to providing a significant increase in additional gardaí and financial budgets in the next financial year? Will the Minister commit to adopting the recommendations of this report, making sure that we do not let down those who make a stand against the drug pushers and those who, for many reasons, cannot make a stand?

I welcome the report and the opportunity to speak on it. Most of my constituency is quite rural and over the last number of years, like everywhere throughout the State, we have seen a massive increase in crime. Some of this is what might be termed "small crimes" such as garden tools being stolen and oil being taken. Many people live in that reality every single day and are targeted time and again because the criminals can go after the same people. We do not have enough gardaí on the ground. Years ago there was a visible presence but now a lot of Garda stations have been closed and when they are open it may be for limited hours. Many stations have opening times on their doors which almost informs criminals that if they are going to commit a crime in the area these are not the hours during which to do it. We really need to see an increase in resources for gardaí on the ground and for community policing.

I want to focus on the Garda youth diversion project, which is an excellent programme. Part of tackling the problem is about a more visible presence of gardaí but part is also to get to the root cause of the issues. We must ask why it is the same people time and again who constantly victimise people who may be their neighbours and others living in the same community. Prevention is better than cure and we need to look at that. One way to do this is through the Garda youth diversion projects. These projects are totally understaffed and their resources are stretched. This must be addressed if we want to prevent these kinds of crimes. People are terrified in their homes in rural Ireland. A range of different crimes are constantly being perpetrated against people. It needs to be looked at in two ways, part of which is prevention, especially around young people and identifying why exactly they are going down this road and how we can prevent that. Much of it has to do with lack of resources and things for people to do in an area. People can go down the wrong path or fall in with the wrong line of life. This would affect them for the rest of their lives. It makes sense to try to prevent this from happening in the first place.

The other part of addressing the problem is to have a visible presence of gardaí. We all remember growing up in our local communities when one would see gardaí regularly. That presence deters crime. I constantly say in this House that this problem requires a common sense approach. If we want to tackle the issue then we need to put the resources and the investment into it.

On behalf of the Government, I express appreciation and thanks to the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, and especially to its Chairman, Deputy Ó Caoláin, for its work on this comprehensive report. I have taken very careful note of the recommendations.

I am aware that the committee held numerous hearings as outlined by Deputy Ó Caoláin and during its deliberations considered a wide range of opinion when examining how a modem police service should be structured to address crime most effectively and engage actively with communities. The report emphasises the importance of community policing and the building of trust and strong relationships between gardaí and people in the community.

This is also a key focus of the reforms recommended by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, the implementation of which is under way. In December 2018, the Government endorsed the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, accepting all 157 recommendations. At that time a four-year high level implementation plan was also published with progress being overseen by a dedicated programme office in the Department of the Taoiseach. There is a considerable amount of work to be done, including drafting new policing legislation which will ensure that the broader concept of community safety will be embedded in statute. Key to this is policing in partnership with communities, and with other Departments and agencies which provide essential services and supports to communities and individuals at risk. The recommendations contained in this report from the Oireachtas joint committee, along with those of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, are key in charting the way forward for An Garda Síochána, and for criminal justice policy, into the future. The House will appreciate that, with the limited amount of time available to me today, I will not be able to address each recommendation contained in the report, although I am grateful for the opportunity to address the important issues raised by the committee.

Recommendations 1, 2 and 3 relate to community policing and advocate for a more visible Garda organisation working closely and collaboratively with communities and other agencies to keep communities safe and to prevent harm to vulnerable people, exactly the issues outlined by Deputy Adams in respect of his constituency of County Louth. District or local policing is described in the future of policing report as the backbone of police work. I am sure we all in this House agree with that. In this model, all police service personnel should be considered community police. All personnel will be part of a single district policing team working to keep communities safe, and all should see their overarching collective function as solving problems affecting community safety in their district. Garda management is developing a new model of community policing based on delivering localised policing services to meet the differing needs of communities. Most importantly, local front-line policing will be placed at the core of our police service, ensuring that gardaí are more active, visible and available in communities, along the lines suggested by Deputy Funchion whose constituency neighbours mine. Their profiles are broadly similar, they are large constituencies with rural areas, urban areas of significance in the towns of Portlaoise, Tullamore in mine and Kilkenny and Carlow in Deputy Funchion's.

Since February of this year, An Garda Síochána has been piloting the new local policing model in four divisions, Mayo, Galway, Cork and the Dublin metropolitan region, DMR, south. The model has been designed to deliver more visible front-line policing and to ensure that Garda resources are deployed to best effect. The new model will also provide for a dedicated community engagement hub to also ensure stronger co-ordination of resources and operations across Garda divisions which will have a positive impact on how front-line policing services are delivered. To support the roll-out of this new model, Garda members and staff have been assigned to their new roles, including the redeployment of approximately 40 gardaí to front-line policing duties across the four pilot divisions. An Garda Síochána is engaging at local level with community groups, business and local representatives via the joint policing committees to help communities understand the new model and to embed it effectively. I am glad Deputy Adams has acknowledged the important role of the joint policing committee and I agree with what he had to say.

The committee raises the important issue of visibility of police in communities. The recommendations in the report reflect those from the future of policing report which prioritises the civilianisation of certain roles and redeployment of gardaí to front-line roles. Work on these priorities is progressing and I am informed that in the first three months of 2019, 75 gardaí were redeployed to front-line policing duties. This builds on the approximately 260 gardaí redeployed to front-line policing duties at the end of 2018. Since the beginning of 2017, some 480 civilian posts have also been sanctioned to support the delivery of reform of An Garda Síochána. The bulk of these posts have been used to address critical skills gaps in the organisation, with a proportion sanctioned to facilitate the redeployment of gardaí to policing duties. The allocation for An Garda Síochána in budget 2019 fully reflects the Government's continuing support for the Commissioner in delivering a modern, effective and visible policing for our communities. In that context it is positive that the number of sworn Garda members is now in excess of 14,000, with 200 more gardaí having attested on 7 June. A further 200 will attest before the end of this year. The budget also provided for an increase in the permitted number of sergeants in An Garda Síochána of 110, and an increase in the number of inspectors by 81 which will provide greater support to front-line uniformed personnel.

A Garda recruitment campaign is under way which will ensure that An Garda Síochána remains on target to reach the target of 15,000 sworn Garda members by 2021. I also very much welcome the strong focus the committee has placed on the multi-agency approach to tackling crime and ensuring community safety in recommendations 7 to 11. This is also a core focus of the future of policing recommendations which envisage a Garda organisation working closely and collaboratively with communities and other agencies to keep communities safe and to prevent harm to vulnerable people. As we are all aware, significant Garda time is spent trying to protect the most vulnerable in society, the elderly, those with substance addictions, with mental health conditions or persons who are homeless. When something goes wrong, An Garda Síochána is usually the first port of call, often times outside of regular business hours. In their separate reports both the Oireachtas committee and the commission recognise the role played by An Garda Síochána in protecting the most vulnerable in our society. I entirely agree that there is a shared responsibility to supporting and maintaining community safety.

The Policing and Community Safety Bill being drafted in my Department recognises this too, and is placing a duty on all State agencies involved to work together to provide joined-up services to our communities. In addition, a range of actions are to be advanced by An Garda Síochána in conjunction with relevant stakeholders during 2019. These include the identification of joint operations and training opportunities and the development of a cross-agency approach to strategic planning. Specifically in relation to mental health issues, a real and serious challenge, and in respect of recommendation 11 of the committee's report, I am aware that An Garda Síochána has in place an interagency response to assist people with mental health issues. There is a memorandum of understanding between the Health Service Executive, HSE, and An Garda Síochána which sets out a procedure for gardaí in dealing with mental health incidents. This morning I had the privilege as Minister for Justice and Equality to launch the annual report of the Mental Health Commission, not directly reporting to my Department but to the Minister for Health. I felt it appropriate that I should engage actively having regard to the whole of government response which we are now seeing. I am also informed by the Commissioner that during phase one of their training in Templemore, new recruits learn about the various types of mental illness and Garda powers and procedures for dealing with a vulnerable person suffering from a mental illness.

I would like to address recommendation 17 of the committee's report regarding the provision of CCTV schemes. As Deputies will be aware, a grant aid scheme has been available through my Department for a number of years to assist groups in setting up community-based CCTV systems. While there has been some considerable public comment on this topic, it is important to note that the Data Protection Commission has recently confirmed that there is a sound legal basis for community-based CCTV, and that the General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR, does not introduce new obstacles or barriers in that regard. The Data Protection Commission has circulated broad guidance for data controllers on CCTV recently, which I am confident will be of interest and assistance to all stakeholders. I expect in the near future to make some adjustments to the grant aid scheme in response to feedback I have received. I must emphasise, however, that these steps concern grant funding and not the legal requirements for CCTV - the establishment and maintenance of a CCTV system is a serious matter and it is important that appropriate arrangements and safeguards are in place in all cases.

Recommendation 20 of the committee's report calls for greater cross-Border co-operation.

I acknowledge the experience that Deputy Ó Caoláin, as Cathaoirleach of the committee, brings to this aspect of policing, having regard to his constituency engagement and I acknowledge the experience of Deputies Adams and Martin Kenny on either side of him. They have knowledge that I find useful from time to time by way of feedback.

The report calls for greater inter-agency and cross-Border cooperation between Government bodies and Northern Ireland agencies. Only this afternoon, I had the privilege of meeting the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, here in Dublin, and I acknowledged the work he has done in the furtherance of close co-operation over his years as Chief Constable. By coincidence, I also met the Garda Commissioner today and again I acknowledged the importance of a joint meeting in my Department between officials from the justice Department in Northern Ireland and my Department. I look forward to progress being made on the restoration of the institutions in Northern Ireland, which will assist in ensuring cross-Border co-operation of an unprecedented nature.

The House will be aware that there is close and ongoing co-operation between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI in respect of all aspects of policing. While focus tends to be on security co-operation in response to the ongoing threat posed by paramilitary groups, the two police services work very closely together in respect of the broader range of policing responsibilities, notably in combatting organised crime, ensuring road safety and in resource and capacity-sharing.

In November 2015, the British and Irish Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive agreed a series of measures, included the creation of a joint agency taskforce, in the agreement A Fresh Start, The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan. The joint agency taskforce has made strong progress in tackling cross-Border criminal activity across a range of crime areas, not just the traditional smuggling activities, but also rural and farm crimes, organised burglary and drug crime. I particularly welcome the call by Deputy Adams for those engaged in criminal activity along the Border areas to provide full and detailed information at the disposal of An Garda Síochána.

We have many examples of the extensive North-South co-operation between the police and customs services, and other law enforcement agencies, aimed at tackling crime and enhancing the safety of all communities on both sides of the Border. It is also an example of An Garda Síochána working as part of multi-disciplinary and multi-agency bodies, and delivering results in terms of tackling the scourge of cross-Border crime and ensuring communities are kept safe north and south of the Border. I am sure we will have further opportunities in the near future to discuss the changing landscape along the Border areas in the context of the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union and the challenges that will bring in ensuring adequate and proper policing.

I thank all of the members of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, in particular its Chairman, Deputy Ó Caoláin, as well as the organisations which contributed to the work of the committee in compiling what I have to say is a most valuable and detailed report. As I have said, many of the recommendations happen to dovetail with the work and conclusions of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. That said, it does make an important contribution and I am sure we can revert to it from time to time in the context of implementing the recommendations. I look forward to hearing further from Deputies who wish to make a contribution because we are all on the one page on this issue, with a common goal of achieving a model policing service that works collaboratively with communities and other agencies to keep our communities safe, to keep our constituents and communities safe and to prevent harm, particularly to the most vulnerable in society.

The title of the report is Report on Community Policing and Rural Crime. It has been a welcome report but looking at the title, I am not sure if it is helpful to distinguish between rural and urban crime because crime is crime. I read today that the armed response unit is on the streets of Longford and the north inner city of Dublin has seen the armed response unit on our streets quite a number of times in recent years. The point can be made about the vulnerability and isolation of those living in isolated rural areas but isolation and vulnerability are also found in towns and cities and response times can also vary in towns and cities.

What is common to both rural and urban crime? We know it is violence, assault - general and domestic, robbery, public order offences and drug dealing, which, until recent times, had been confined to cities and to a certain part of Dublin city. Now, there is not a town or village in Ireland that is not experiencing the drugs trade, whether through people being in addiction, through the dealing of drugs or through intimidation and violence.

I want to refer to a programme we have had in the north inner city for 20 years, which I believe has been very effective, namely the community policing forum, CPF. It came from the community and from the very serious drug-related and anti-social issues the community in the north-east inner city faced. It is aligned with proposals in the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, and it is also recommended in the Mulvey report, which is specific to the north inner city, on the delivery of community and Garda engagement. While crime is a matter for the Garda, there is a role for the community and what we found was that a partnership between the community and the Garda was very important.

While the CPF was specific to drug dealing, there were other drug-related issues such as violence and intimidation with which it engaged. The philosophy of the CPF was twofold. First, the philosophy was that the community would have a role, both in identifying and in resolving the drug-related problems which come to its attention and second, an inter-agency approach to be adopted in attempts to overcome those drug-related problems. It was a model of good practice in building relations between the community, the Garda and the local authority on issues.

All of this was exacerbated in recent years because of feud-related incidents and violence. Those involved in the CPF knew first-hand, the value of a positive role which delivered solutions to the problems being faced by residents on a daily basis. Key to that was the relationship between the Garda and the community. Part of the process was accessibility at local level, with CPF meetings in the various communities, where the residents could address the Garda in an open forum. The Garda would attend and it would be anyone from the community garda, the sergeant, the inspector to the superintendent, even the chief superintendent on occasions.

I know that joint policing committees, JPCs, are presented as a way forward but from my personal experience from both JPCs and the CPF meetings, I have no doubt in my mind that the CPF is much more valuable in addressing the issues in a prompt and open way. It is that accountability, where gardaí come in and face the community, take questions, comments and criticisms from the community, that led to a confidence in the Garda and a trust, whereby the residents, through the confidentiality of the CPF, brought information to the Garda. We know how important that sort of information and knowledge is in addressing this crime. The Garda was also involved in what was called the small area policing programme in the north inner city, where small areas would have a designated community garda, who would be contactable and be known to the community in that particular area and with whom the community would have a relationship.

Intimidation is a major factor in drug-related crime and we have had many examples of intimidation of individuals and families over drug debt. This debt builds up and then those who are in debt are made to do so-called jobs, whether it is setting a car on fire, setting a house on fire or carrying out assault and even murder. Our experience was that a model such as the CPF can be effective, especially for those in a difficult situation so that they can have somebody with whom they can communicate in that confidential way, work with the Garda and find solutions.

I make these points in contribution to this debate on community policing and crime based on our experience in the north inner city. Even though our CPF was in existence for 20 years, regrettably, because of a need for a different funding stream, we have had to close it but I have no doubt of the value of that model and I would hope its successor will broaden that engagement. In broadening the engagement, it is important that it commits to working with young people. Like areas that are caught up with drugs, communities lose very wonderful young people with great potential to the drug trade, either by getting involved in addiction themselves or through dealing.

There must be engagement with new communities. In some parts of Dublin, more than 50% of the residents comprise new communities.

I note what the Minister said about the Stormont House Agreement. Earlier this afternoon, I attended a meeting of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, at which there was an interesting address on legacy issues. Much depends on the Stormont House Agreement for those who have been waiting. The Minister knows how long they have waited, having spoken in Talbot Street to commemorate the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. The British Government has utterly ignored Dáil motions and has blocked several initiatives. Much depends on cross-Border co-operation. There is a frustration in the Police Service of Northern Ireland at the slowness of responses from the Garda on certain issues. That has been brought to our attention through the committee and the ombudsman for Northern Ireland.

I welcome what the Minister said about training for gardaí in mental health issues because it is necessary. I make another plea, on animal welfare, which is another cause of mine. Sometimes, gardaí in certain areas are not well up on aspects of the law on animal welfare.

I acknowledge the work of the justice committee under Deputy Ó Caoláin's chairmanship. The report will be very good for the relationships between communities and the Garda.

I welcome the report and congratulate the justice committee on its work. The issue of community policing and rural crime affects most constituencies and counties. In the rural constituency of Sligo-Leitrim, we are all conscious of the fear that often exists in isolated rural communities, not least in respect of crime against older people, farm theft and so on. Sometimes, we can quote statistics and say crime is at a low level, which it may well be, but that does not remove the sense of fear and trepidation, particularly in the case of older people who feel isolated in the knowledge that the Garda station in their local town is no longer open. They do not see gardaí as often as they once did. People have told me that 20 or 30 years ago, when they drove through rural Ireland, they would often be stopped at a checkpoint if they had a bald tyre, for example, but they seldom see that happen now. While it may have been a problem then, they wish they met checkpoints more often now. They wish more gardaí were seen doing that sort of work and that they were a greater part of the community.

Unfortunately, in many rural towns, including in my area, crime is caused by small groups of individuals, some of whom are from outside the area. Mohill, a small town in County Leitrim, has been an example in recent weeks, when there has been much intimidation. Shots have been fired and petrol bombs have been thrown at houses. It is being carried out by a small number of people who, we understand, are involved in the drugs trade. The victims, on the other hand, are innocent people in the community who have nothing to do with any of it. It creates a great sense of anger and resentment among people in many rural towns when they see people threatening and intimidating others. They may have a long list of convictions behind them, yet they seem to be able to carry on in this manner, with little or no impact from An Garda Síochána, which I know and understand is doing its best in the circumstances. Mohill is just one example but similar behaviour happens in many other towns throughout the country. It was mentioned earlier that the emergency response unit is currently deployed in County Longford. It is part of a trend. Crime that, unfortunately, was mainly visited on the capital city has become more common in many rural towns throughout the country. We need resources to ensure that it is brought to an end, and a renewed focus on the source of such crime. Often, they are the same criminals and groups of people engaged in rural crime and exploiting older people and so on.

I welcome the part of the report that mentions restorative justice measures and, in particular, the youth diversion programme. The latter, where intervention is made early if children, for whatever reason, get into bad company and so on, needs to be given greater focus. I have come across cases, however, where the programme has been inappropriately used, particularly where sexual crime is involved. It is not appropriate in such situations and its use needs to be revised. In some cases, it is not the correct route to go down.

Mental health issues were also mentioned. Social and mental health issues in many rural communities are often part of a problem with poverty, or due to a sense of hopelessness or of not being given the opportunities that may exist in other places. Wider social issues have an impact and drugs crime is one typical example. In general, it happens mainly in more deprived communities. We must build a greater social network to ensure that people will not fall into that trap or way of life, through providing better resources and capacity in rural communities and small rural towns to defend against it.

The issue of Garda numbers will always be raised but we understand it. I have some sympathy for the Minister, given that there cannot always be the number of gardaí who are needed on the day they are needed, where they are needed. That is understandable. Deputy Adams referred to issues in County Louth. We all understand that gardaí cannot be everywhere all the time. The great difficulty, however, is that in many cases, people cannot find a garda when they seek one. From experience, they believe that there is a lack of resources. Greater efforts must be made, not least in areas where we know there is an element of dangerous crime, and a renewed focus is needed.

Another area where a renewed focus is needed in many rural towns is crimes of exploitation. I refer particularly to sexual exploitation and brothels, which are jumping up all over the place in many rural towns. It needs to be dealt with but is not being dealt with. Young women, many of whom have been trafficked, are being exploited. It needs to be addressed urgently because it has a knock-on effect. While it may be a part of the culture of some parts of Europe, we do not need it in this country. Although it is an illegal activity, the experience to date is that it does not seem to receive the kind of attention it deserves. It needs attention, however, because it has a knock-on effect leading to further crime and dangerous activity. In particular, for the young women being abused and exploited, it is utterly wrong and deplorable that it continues to happen. The Garda needs to be given whatever resources are required to stamp it out wherever it happens.

I thank the Chair of the committee for the report and the committee for the hard work it did to compile it. I always look forward to speaking about community policing, having been a member of the joint policing committee in County Galway, as the Minister will be aware. It gives me an opportunity to address a few parochial issues. I note that the committee acknowledged the excellent work done throughout the country in the Garda youth diversion programme. Deputy Funchion has addressed some of the matter. I have only just received figures on how many gardaí are in the programme. There are 115 gardaí, compared with 109 in 2008. There is no junior liaison officer in four important areas - Carlow-Kildare, Longford-Westmeath, Waterford-Kilkenny or Roscommon-Galway East. In the light of what is happening in County Longford, the growth in the population, the use of scramblers throughout Dublin, youth crime, my "Fagin's law" Bill and everything else, the role of junior liaison officers is important in preventing children from descending into more serious crime.

I welcomed the point in the Minister's speech where he talked about the large role gardaí play in supporting people with mental health issues. Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, in his report on section 12 cases, referred to children who need support at the weekends when Tusla would not have been available. I am glad to say a pilot project is happening for that in Galway, which is welcome. We need more of that to support community gardaí. When gardaí have to assist with a section 39 incident, they are taken away from their day-to-day work, such as if they have to attend to a hospital, which happened on a particular bank holiday weekend in Galway and left the Garda numbers on the ground depleted. That sort of thing happens far too regularly. It results in other services being dropped, whether in primary care or Tusla, and puts pressure back on community gardaí.

I want to address the issue of CCTV. I am glad to hear we now have clarity about this and I will push for the gardaí to be more involved with CCTV. I have spoken before about bridge crossings and motorways, for which we need to have Garda CCTV feeding into the local Garda station. Rat-runs have developed from Cork and Dublin to Galway, with people going across the bridges at Portumna, Killaloe or Banagher, and then they are gone again. They come down the motorway from Limerick, exit at Gort, and then they are into the midlands - our hidden heartlands. They raid us at whatever hour, rob a few places along the way, then they are gone again - they come in one way and go out by another. We need that Garda CCTV. If the Minister wants to pilot it to see how it works, the bridge in Portumna would welcome the intervention.

This is a matter of having boots on the ground. In a parliamentary question, I asked how many gardaí are on maternity leave. At present, between 94 and 97 gardaí are on maternity leave. It is different from when one goes on maternity leave from the Department of Education and Skills in that they are not replaced. We need to look at it because it is another void in the community. How we can work with that or have a reserve to cover for that duty should be explored, because it leaves gaps across the country. They play an invaluable role and we need to ensure they are covered.

The gardaí in the Galway division do phenomenal work to support youth discos but more needs to be done. There are so few youth discos nowadays that large numbers show up. We should never curtail young children, who are not used to going out, from going out, but we need to ensure we have gardaí available to support that.

I record my gratitude to the Chairman, Deputy Ó Caoláin, and the committee for bringing forward a very insightful report and a set of recommendations that I feel are based on common sense, are very pragmatic and should be easily implementable. Arising from those recommendations, I acknowledge the contribution the Police Service of Northern Ireland made to the committee in respect of some of the initiatives in which it is involved, particularly in respect of the use of social media. There are approximately 900,000 followers of the PSNI and it is used as a very good mechanism for communication. Given the times we live in, and notwithstanding the good work of Muintir na Tíre, which is also acknowledged in the report - the text message alerts are very useful and should be retained and resourced - there are also the other forms of social media that present an opportunity for gardaí and the population to engage in a proactive and preventative way where incidents occur.

I was struck today by the intervention of the representative of the Garda Representative Association on "Morning Ireland" in respect of issues in Longford. He mentioned that the force there was operating on a fire brigade basis, which is how he put it. The import was that gardaí are reacting and that they are providing all-to-call service. If nothing else, this report and its recommendations seek to move us away from that towards a more reflective type of policing mechanism, where gardaí are on the ground, gathering intelligence on a day-to-day basis, and they can engage with people actively in a way that prevents crime from happening. If we can take the recommendations in this report and inculcate them into the policing model that is evolving, and let us acknowledge how it is evolving, and if we can achieve that in a pragmatic and sensible way, we could do a lot to prevent what is happening in the towns and cities of the State, and prevent a lot of crime.

We acknowledge there are increasing resources and the magic number is 15,000, if I am not mistaken. However, while seeking to reach that point, we have to try to prevent incidents such as those that are happening in Longford and other parts of the State. If the local GRA representatives are saying we are operating a fire brigade service where we are reacting to incidents and it is very hard to keep on top of that because there is a lack of resources and a need for a stronger Garda presence, then we need to look carefully at what is being said and react positively to it.

I welcome what is a very progressive report. The proposals and recommendations in regard to the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 warrant further investigation and attention. The report states: "The Committee believes that, whilst some collaboration does exist between An Garda Síochána and other organisations to provide community-based services in Ireland, much more needs to be done to implement a properly structured and effective multi-agency model." It also states:

The Crime and Disorder Act (1998) defines the core group of agencies involved in these partnerships, as well as their functions and role at the local level. The Committee recommends that serious consideration be given to introducing similar legislation in Ireland.

There is a lot of common sense in that. It could be that this thinking is already taking place within the Department and with the Garda Commissioner. If that is put on some sort of a statutory footing and formalised, it would have a massive impact in terms of how policing is done on this island.

I welcome the report, which is a very good template to work from. The Minister has welcomed the report. I congratulate the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, in particular its Chairman, Deputy Ó Caoláin, for a very positive intervention.

I compliment the Chairman, Deputy Ó Caoláin, and committee members on an excellent report. Well done. It is something we have all been waiting for. The findings of the report are very timely in terms of ongoing work that has been happening in regard to reform and in regard to highlighting a number of areas that are very important to all of us, as well as areas that need urgent action.

Community policing is very much focused on the prevention of crime by building trust and strong relationships between gardaí and the community by engaging in different partnership groups and projects in terms of co-operating to improve the area. In that light, we have great leadership in Kildare from Superintendent Martin Walker. Last year, when there was a particular incident in Kildare town, Superintendent Walker started community coffee mornings with members of the community who may feel alienated in regard to going into a Garda station.

It gives older members of the community an opportunity to meet and talk to Garda about their concerns. It has been successful to the extent that it has been piloted in another area as well. Where there is a lack of visible Garda presence, it is a problem. The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, mentioned areas in his county. Four and a half miles from where he lives in the town of Portarlington, which is the second biggest town in Laois with a population of 10,500, the Garda station operates on a part-time basis. Portarlington needs a fully operational Garda station. The Minister will be aware of the many ongoing problems in that area, which I believe could be dealt with through a stronger Garda presence. The Garda stations in Ballitore and Ballymore Eustace have been closed a number of years, with no sign of them being re-opened. It is important that in areas where Garda stations cannot be re-opened for whatever reason, there is a strong Garda presence and that community centres are used as drop-in centres where people can engage with the Garda, including to have forms stamped etc because people without private transport may not be able to travel to a Garda station in a neighbouring town if they need to have forms stamped and their identity verified.

A number of actions can be taken on foot of the findings of this report, with the main action being an increase in the number of Garda on the ground in communities. The establishment of a rural crime task force within An Garda Síochána is important. Time and again there are reports in the national and local newspapers about rural crime. This is particularly difficult for people who are socially isolated. It leads to an extra fear for them.

The CCTV element is important. I welcome the Minister's clarification in that regard. CCTV can play an important role in crime prevention and in providing reassurance. I acknowledge Deputy Rabbitte's point in regard to having CCTV on motorway bridges because criminals travel the motorways to places like Kildare and Laois that are close to the motorways to commit crime. That is important. Many small towns such as Athy and Kilcullen have made applications for CCTV systems. Other areas such as Newbridge and Rathangan also need it. While I welcome the Minister's clarification that there is now legal certainty in regard to CCTV, the scheme has been stymied by a number of factors, including the initial start-up cost to communities and complexities and delays in the application process. There have been administrative disputes between local authorities and the Garda Síochána in regard to who will be responsible for the operation of the CCTV and data management. Roll out of CCTV is important but it requires greater funding up-front and a streamlining of the grant application process. CCTV would also be of assistance in addressing fly-tipping that is happening in particular areas.

I welcome Deputy Martin Kenny's remarks in regard to sexual exploitation. I did not believe the extent to which brothels were operating in our rural towns until I came across it as close to first-hand as possible. I was completely shocked when I learned of the number of operations here, the length of time they stay in particular areas and of the vulnerable girls, many of them not from Ireland, they move from place to place. We probably would not be aware of these operations but for the businesses located close to them which witnessed what was going on and which reported it to the Garda. In fairness to the Garda, they have taken action. Sometimes it takes a while to gather the evidence in order to be able to take that action. Where we are conscious of these operations we have to work with the local communities to eradicate them but we also have to be patient because the Garda have to gather the proper information before they can act.

Another area that is really important, which I appreciate does not come under community policing and rural crime, is that of domestic violence. It is an area that I feel the Garda is not fully equipped to deal with. I am a member of a local joint policing committee, JPC, which is a role I value. I also value the leadership that is shown by the Garda in the JPC in terms of working with the community. Up to last year, the area of domestic violence was not reported on as a specific statistic. We all know from the horrific statistics that we hear about domestic violence from the organisations that deal with the vulnerable women in this situation, that we need to do more. The Garda needs to be better resourced to deal with it.

My final point is in regard to the large proportion of crime that is being carried out by those on bail for other offences or people with previous convictions for similar offences. We have to respond to this issue by introducing deterrents to re-offending. It is important that we introduce tougher bail laws and legislation to make electronic monitoring a condition of bail for anyone convicted of a serious offence in the previous ten years. Restorative justice was mentioned. It too is important. I had a meeting recently with academics in this area, based in Maynooth University, and gardaí who are experts in this area as well. We need to do more work in terms of the development of stronger policy in this area and to work with those who have committed crime to help them to see the error of their ways and become better citizens of the State. We need to work with young people in particular. My colleague, Deputy Rabbitte, spoke about the juvenile liaison officers, JLOs, who are extremely important. Teenage involvement in petty crime and anti-social behaviour is ever increasing. It is a crime. The reason, in part, there is not more action in this area is because it is sometimes hard to define anti-social behaviour. Anti-social behaviour is not viewed as a real crime, but it is. Where a person's quality of life is impacted by anti-social behaviour it is a crime. We have to be stronger in tackling it. We have to do more to prevent this type of behaviour.

I thank the Minister for being here and I thank the committee and its Chairman for their sterling work on the report.

I thank Deputy Ó Caoláin and the committee for an excellent report. A lot of research was presented verbally and in other ways to the committee that helped to make this report what it is. I commend everyone involved in that regard.

All of us can recite incidents of types of crime in our communities, much of it similar but some of it more aggressive and violent than others. I have been involved in a lot of communities over the years, particularly communities in which there is a lot of poverty and unemployment. These are areas where people find it very difficult to get employment and areas where there are a lot of single parent families etc. I want to raise an issue that I do not think has been raised this evening, namely, illegal moneylenders.

This has been brought home to me in stark terms in recent weeks. I have met a number of very vulnerable people who have been living in fear for a number of years because of these thugs who act as illegal moneylenders. I have spoken to one person who borrowed €2,000 and who has had her hand broken and was beaten in her own house. She has paid back almost €30,000. That is the reality and her immediate family have suffered the consequences by living in poverty in their own home. I have met another family, in which a vulnerable woman borrowed €8,000 from two moneylenders. To date, she has repaid more than €60,000. I know of others who, when they collect their allowances weekly, have illegal moneylenders waiting to take money from them. The people concerned are so vulnerable and fearful that they are not confident or strong enough, because of the fear factor, to alert the authorities to what is happening. They have nobody to turn to. If they make a statement, they are threatened with having their houses burned down or, worse, having their children attacked. This happens across the island, where vulnerable women, in particular, caught in a poverty trap, find themselves in such situations.

I have always been a great believer in the community garda service. I have worked with community gardaí in areas where victims of anti-social activity have had violence inflicted on them. The work of community gardaí because of the relationship built with residents, with whom they are on first-name terms, has resulted in a remarkable change over time. Families might have a young lad who is going astray. The community garda is available to speak to that young person and his or her parents, to support them in making sure he attends school regularly. This is a substantial contributory factor in shaping the future of young people who may be headed down that road.

Whatever needs to be done to protect vulnerable women, in particular, from unscrupulous, vicious thugs who are acting as illegal money-lenders must be done. I am going to the Garda superintendent in my constituency with the names of people I know and the evidence I have been given by their victims. The fear I have is that the people who have given me this information will become targets if their names become known. They have to be protected. I will stress this point when I meet the Garda superintendent.

I will address the issue of rural crime, crimes committed against elderly people living in isolated rural areas, including those living on their own. They are the victims of roaming gangs that know that they are vulnerable and that there is no Garda station in the area, which is the case in most areas in rural Ireland now. The nearest Garda station might be 16 or 18 miles away. As a consequence, the people concerned find themselves at risk from this type of criminality and are living in permanent fear. Most are elderly and need protection and security. In the past there was a Garda station in practically every village in the country. It was not a nine-to-five but a 24-hour job for the garda in the area who was personally acquainted with everyone and knew everything about the lives of the people living in it.

Another aspect of the issue which has been raised, certainly by some of the Deputies for County Kerry, concerns those who go out hunting at night with lurchers. I am not talking about people who hunt with the permission of landowners and so on. The people to whom I am referring have no permission to go onto anybody's property. If anybody confronts or challenges them, he or she is threatened. The threats include having his or her house or car burned, or worse. There is a fear factor and it is difficult to get anybody to make a statement because if a person does makes one, he or she will become a target.

Deputies O'Loughlin and Martin Kenny mentioned domestic violence. People who have been the victims of domestic violence have found themselves in a protected environment, but the perpetrator of the domestic violence has even violated it. Addressing that issue requires someone to go into court to give evidence. There is then the fear factor because pressure is exerted on the person who makes the complaint.

I wish Deputy Ó Caoláin and his team well. They have done a fantastic job. The implementation of their recommendations must be paramount. I have no doubt that the committee will push to ensure that will be the case. The deployment of community gardaí on a small scale has had a substantial effect on the communities to which they have been deployed.

I commend the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, of which I am a member, on the publication of this important report. We held a number of meetings at which we invited delegates to give evidence on the issues of community policing and rural crime. I thank all those who gave of their knowledge, expertise and assistance to the committee. I thank the Chairman, Deputy Ó Caoláin, and commend him on the excellent work he did in chairing the hearings. I thank all members of the committee for their contributions. I have only been a member of one Oireachtas committee, but the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality has worked very effectively. Oireachtas committees sometimes receive negative coverage in the press which on many occasions is well justified, but those who appear before the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality are treated respectfully and its members discuss issues collaboratively to try to identify the best solutions. There will obviously always be party allegiances, but committee members work as a collective, rather than as members of separate political parties.

On community policing and rural crime, as Fianna Fáil justice spokesperson, I know from travelling around the country that it is a source of great concern for many people in rural as well as urban communities. One thing stands out with reference to the meetings I have attended. Every local community wants to see more members of An Garda Síochána in their area and on the streets. It is slightly unusual compared to the situation in many countries where the police force is seen as a law enforcement agency which locals find oppressive, but that is not the case with An Garda Síochána. That is the positive basis on which we can build policy on An Garda Síochána.

Notwithstanding the scandals that existed in respect of the force, there is still very significant confidence in the community in An Garda Síochána and members of the community want to see gardaí out on the streets. That is not just something one hears from people at grassroots level; we know that many reports have been done on the Garda, including by Mr. Justice Charleton in the tribunal in Dublin Castle or by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. All the reports indicated that there is a desire in that regard and that there should be an objective to ensure that we get more gardaí out on the street so that they are much more visible than usual.

In terms of community policing, we need to recognise that we can do more than simply put further gardaí on the street. The Garda need to improve its reliance upon technology. Where there are CCTV cameras there is a greater sense of security among local communities because they feel as though people cannot go onto the streets in the area and engage in unlawful or anti-social behaviour without the risk of being apprehended. I am aware the Government introduced a CCTV scheme and everybody recognises that we need to try to make it more user-friendly so that people in local communities can avail of the scheme without it being too complicated for them.

People must recognise, as they increasingly do, that the public has an important role to play in assisting An Garda Síochána. No matter how many criminals there are in the country, there are many more decent, law-abiding people who want to ensure that the law is upheld. We know that people have WhatsApp groups for their local area, neighbourhood, village or even road or street. They are very effective in sharing information among members of the local community. We must ensure that the Garda take a collaborative approach in respect of that so the information is provided to An Garda Síochána if there are threats or dangers in an area.

Rural Garda stations constitute a controversial political issue. We can agree on one thing in that regard, namely, that people want their local Garda station to remain in their locality. One could have an individual looking at a spreadsheet who says there is no need for a Garda station in a certain area as there is another one close by, but that has a big impact on the confidence of people in the local community and in An Garda Síochána. People want to see more gardaí on the streets and they want to preserve rural Garda stations.

I do not intend to spend too much time speaking on this important issue but I hope the Minister will give consideration to the report. Much effort went into it and it does not contain knee-jerk recommendations. All of them have been considered carefully. It would be appropriate if the Minister and the Government reflected on them and continued what I believe is the objective of all Members of this House, namely, to ensure that we have more community gardaí out on the streets and that people in rural areas, and urban areas, feel a greater sense of confidence and security.

Once again I acknowledge the importance of this report. It makes a very valuable contribution to policing and the fight against crime. I acknowledge the presentation of the report here this afternoon. I also wish to inform Deputies that I have taken careful note of many of the points raised, all of which I regard as making a valuable contribution not only towards the recommendations in the report but also in terms of informing me of the order of importance in which Members wish to rank issues.

I will not repeat any of the references I made earlier to the recommendations. However, I will add to what I said earlier about the importance of recommendation 6 on Garda youth diversion, which was raised by Deputy Martin Kenny and others. I acknowledge the work of the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, in particular in that regard. I agree with what Deputy Martin Kenny said about early intervention and prevention, which is a priority theme in the new youth justice strategy currently being developed. The key issue is how best to ensure that there is an integrated approach. I acknowledge the setting up of the interdepartmental and inter-agency steering group involving Garda youth diversion projects and schools with the aim of ensuring a more sustained but also a more holistic approach. It should be noted that I expect that the new youth justice strategy will be finalised next year.

Reference was made to recommendation 12 and the concept of restorative justice, which is again something to which this House has devoted considerable time in recent years. There is a strong recommendation in the report identifying the need to continue with a sense of collaboration with other criminal justice agencies, in particular An Garda Síochána, the Irish Prison Service, victims’ groups, advocacy groups and the Probation Service.

Deputy O’Callaghan and rural Deputies in particular made reference to rural Garda stations, which was addressed in recommendation 13. They acknowledged the importance of the role of the Garda Commissioner in that regard in terms of the effective and efficient use of Garda resources. The House will be aware that 139 Garda stations were closed under the Garda station rationalisation programme. However, I take issue with Deputies who repeatedly said that the sole reason for the closure of the stations was due to a shortage of funding. That is not necessarily the case, although the Chair of the committee is indicating that it perhaps was the case. The reason was to provide for a greater concentration on what might be described as smart policing. I met the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, today. Deputies Ó Caoláin and Martin Kenny will be more familiar than most with the situation north of the Border in terms of the dispersal of police officers and rural police stations across Northern Ireland. Again, the focus is on a different type of policing service to communities meaning much more than just bricks and mortar in terms of the existence of a police station. We have, however, seen in this jurisdiction closures of Garda stations resulting in front-line gardaí being managed and deployed with a greater level of mobility and flexibility and in a more focused fashion. That said, I assure Deputies that the OPW and An Garda Síochána and officials in my Department continue to work to ensure positive attention is given to the priorities of the Garda Commissioner and his management team in that regard.

I spoke earlier about the investment of significant resources in increasing the number of gardaí, which was repeated by everybody. I dare say that every member of the committee fully agreed with the need to ensure adequate numbers of police officers. In addition to the implementation plan in the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, specific action in respect of An Garda Síochána to ensure that not only do we have increased numbers but also that those numbers we do have actively engaged across the country are properly resourced by way of equipment, fleet and vehicles. Before the end of this year, we will see the deployment of 2,000 mobile devices for front-line policing. We will also see at the same time this year the acquisition and use of up to 300 new Garda vehicles.

Recommendation 14, increasing the use of social media, reflects a more modern approach to policing in the 21st century. I also welcome recommendations 18 and 19 on crime prevention, issues such as marking a property in rural areas and the text alert schemes. I agree with Deputies about the apparent cumbersome nature of the current CCTV scheme. I am working with officials to ensure that we can perhaps, as Deputy O’Callaghan said, make the scheme more user friendly and attractive to community groups to make applications.

Deputy Ferris has left but he mentioned a specific issue in respect of illegal moneylending which is not, I think, referred to in the report but which has been brought to my attention in my constituency. I will commit to making further contact with the Deputy on the basis of a note that I have taken. I agree that this is an issue that requires attention. I am happy to engage further, perhaps directly with the Deputy or others if they have experienced the same reports as have been put before the House. I express my appreciation, and that of the Government, to the members of the committee and the organisations that made contributions. I assure the House that I will continue to work on delivering a modern police service, working closely with communities. I acknowledge a study undertaken by The Irish Times that shows a high degree of trust and confidence on the part of the people in An Garda Síochána as a police service, acknowledging a difference between the police service here and those in other jurisdictions because, since its foundation almost 100 years ago, it has been firmly rooted in the community and that is what makes it unique among police services. It is important that we continue to make proper and adequate resources available to An Garda Síochána so that it can remain firmly rooted in communities and, at the same time, be equipped with the modern technological advances needed to meet, head on, the changing challenges in respect of criminal activity while ensuring that we have a police service that works with communities and other agencies to keep communities safe, prevent harm and protect the most vulnerable members of society. I thank the committee and I will have further opportunity of engaging with the Chairman about specific action on many of the recommendations.

I will close this debate with a few brief remarks, having made all the salient points I intended making in my opening contribution. I thank all Members who have contributed to the debate, not least the Minister for his attendance and participation. Go raibh míle maith agaibh uilig.

Despite the fact that we are all elected to what is, very often, a highly charged political chamber and atmosphere, the members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality have jointly produced, and unanimously adopted, a report and recommendations that also have the endorsement of those who came before us in our series of hearings, including the many rural Ireland representative organisations that presented and made submissions. Now, this evening, they have the welcome of colleagues, both from Government benches and Opposition voices across the board.

Community policing requires high Garda visibility which, in turn, encourages public confidence and helps secure real engagement and support in what needs to be a shared response to the threat that crime and criminals present. The almost heretofore absolute dependency on members of An Garda Síochána responding to a range of situations that are not of their primary range of functions, at so-called "out-of-hours" periods of the day and at weekends, is no longer acceptable. Having a multi-agency, 24-7 response on standby, to meet the many situations that can and do arise, is imperative. The key health and child and welfare services together with others must be an integral part of this multi-agency, 365-day response.

The Minister is correct that the committee was of one shared mind on the importance of increased numbers of sworn members of An Garda Síochána in active service. I emphasise the importance of adequate resourcing of our policing service if we, the elected voices of the people of this State, are to succeed collectively as we have given a commitment to do.

I encourage the Minister to address speedily and implement the recommendations in our report, in conjunction with the recommendations in the report of the Commission of the Future of Policing, which we unanimously supported and which I wish to record, on behalf of the committee, we endorse and commend to the Minister. There is work to be done. There are two complementary reports that together I hope will help chart a course to a new era of policing to which we can look forward with the confidence that we and the Irish people deserve.

While I would have to go back over the record of this debate, the Minister did not, I certainly did not and most Members I listened to did not reference a phraseology that once applied to An Garda Síochána, which was to talk of a police force, and that is wonderful. I commend the Minister and all those who contributed, quite rightly referencing An Garda Síochána as our police service. There is a massive difference and it is critically important. Language is important and it is part of building that confidence and trust within our communities. I thank the Acting Chairman, Deputy Durkan, and the Members of the House for their attendance at this late hour on a Thursday evening. Go raibh míle maith agaibh arís.

Question put and agreed to.