Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Crime Prevention

Jim O'Callaghan


1. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if the findings of the recent study by the CSO on prison recidivism which found that almost half of prisoners here went on to commit another offence within three years of their release will be addressed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40229/19]

The Minister will be aware that last week the Central Statistics Office published a report on recidivism in the Irish prison sector. It details the number of repeat offences committed by people after their discharge from prison. The results are alarming. What proposals do the Minister and the Government have to address our problem with repeat offenders?

I thank the Deputy for the question.  Public safety is an absolute priority for me as Minister for Justice and Equality.  Working to reduce reoffending and minimising the risk of further harm to victims and society through the implementation of an effective and evidence-based penal policy is a key part of that task. I welcome the CSO's publication of last week's report, which is part of a series dealing with reoffending following imprisonment and probation interventions.  It should be noted that this study shows a significant decrease in prison recidivism and clearly demonstrates that recidivism rates are on a downward trend. 

The report covers a group of 1,000 offenders released from prison in 2011 and 2012 and follows them up to the end of 2014 and 2015, respectively. The recidivism rate stood at 55% in 2007, but the report shows it fell to 45.8% in 2012.  Overall, this represents a decrease of 9.3% over a period of five years.  I was also pleased to note that the CSO study published last June on offenders sentenced to probation also recorded noted significant reductions, with a drop of nearly 8% in reoffending rates recorded between 2008 and 2012.  The report shows that those sentenced to a community service order were less likely to reoffend than those sentenced to a probation order.  

I also particularly welcome the finding that community service continues to show very good outcomes. More than 350,000 hours of community service work were carried out around the country in 2018. This benefits communities nationwide and allows offenders a chance to make amends for their criminal actions in a tangible way. Moreover, the findings of the CSO's work clearly show that such orders can also help reduce reoffending rates among the individuals involved. While there is clearly scope for further improvement, this evidence is very positive overall. It means that more ex-offenders are turning their lives around and fewer are going on to reoffend, with all the negative consequences that brings for our communities.

I expect that future studies in this CSO series are likely to show a continuation of the downward trend.  Since 2015 a range of enhanced prisoner programmes aimed at reducing reoffending behaviour have been introduced by the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service.  These include targeting offenders with high recidivism rates, in particular through the joint agency response to crime, JARC. I wish to acknowledge the work of the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, in that regard. This initiative ensures a multi-agency approach to prolific offenders which prioritises them for targeted interventions in order to reduce crime and victimisation in local communities.  Independent evaluations have found that the JARC pilots are helping to reduce both the frequency and severity of reoffending among their clients groups.

I thank the Minister for his answer. I would not be as positive as he is in my assessment of what is contained in the CSO report. It is important to look at the statistics that were revealed last week. They show that of the prisoners released in 2011, approximately 49% were convicted of another offence within three years. They also showed that 46% of the prisoners released in 2012 were convicted of another crime within three years. The Minister notes that this shows a reduction when compared to the statistics that were released previously, but it is still a very high level of repeat offending.

Looking at particular offences which very much affect communities throughout the country, we can see that the rate of repeat offending is still alarmingly high. We note that of those convicted of robbery and burglary offences who were released in 2011, 69% were convicted of another crime within three years of release. We note in respect of those convicted of robbery and burglary and released in 2012 that 72% were convicted of another crime within three years of release. There is a very significant problem in respect of robbery and burglary, with individuals who are released from prison committing offences again. It is noteworthy that in the area of sexual offences the level of recidivism is not as high as in other offences. The rates there are only 23% and 21%. That is still a significant amount and it still merits attention from the Government.

I would like to know what the Government intends to do about the ongoing levels of repeat offending.

I know it is not an easy task but what are we going to do to try to deter these young men who find themselves imprisoned in their late teens or early 20s? What can we do to get them off the path of criminality at that stage rather than seeing them back in prison again shortly afterwards?

There are many positive aspects to the report. I am not surprised, nor would I expect anything from Deputy O'Callaghan other than that he would concentrate on the negative aspects. I accept what he says in so far as the report clearly identifies that reoffending is highest among those originally sentenced in respect of robbery and burglary. Rates of recidivism within three years was 72.3% for the 2012 cohort and 68.9% for the 2011 cohort of those convicted of robbery. The corresponding figures for those convicted of burglary were 69.4% and 71.5%. These figures are very concerning.

In the period since then, the Government has taken a range of steps to address the issue, including reforming the law with the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Act 2015 and the denial of bail to repeat offenders. More generally, I point to the scale of Garda activity to tackle burglary and property related crime and to the significant results that flow therefrom. Up to May 2019, Garda action on burglary and property related crime led to 10,000 arrests and more than 11,500 criminal charges, including in the area of burglary, handling stolen property and possession of firearms. I expect these and other steps will lead to further improvement in these statistics.

We need to do more in respect of robbery and burglary in particular to try to deter repeat offenders. In this regard, will the Minister reflect on the proposals put forward by Fianna Fáil in our Bail (Amendment) Bill 2017? In terms of the broader picture, all of us in the House need to recognise that if a young boy is incarcerated in a juvenile detention centre before he is 18 the likelihood is that when he becomes a man he will be incarcerated in a prison for committing criminal offences. We need to target boys and young men to try to deter them from a life and path of criminality. Unfortunately, it is the case that many of these young men come from disadvantaged communities and chaotic family backgrounds with parental addiction. They also get involved in the drugs business at a young age, in terms of distributing and following orders from serious gangland criminals in drug gangs. We need to start a campaign of education and information for young people to make them aware of the downside of being involved in a life of crime. We need to make them aware there are far more opportunities available for them, and that there should be opportunities available for them other than that life and the path of crime.

There are a number of programmes and I acknowledge the work of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, who is sitting beside me. He is working actively on a new youth justice strategy. I want to mention the success of the community return programme and the community support programme. In particular, in respect of youth crime, I acknowledge the importance of the Garda youth diversion programme. This is a statutory programme, amended in 2006, that focuses on the prevention of criminal behaviour as well as diversion from the criminal justice system and the rehabilitation of children between the ages of ten and 18. I acknowledge the work of the Garda Síochána in this regard.

I assure the House that we are seeing a series of positive results and a very positive impact on diverting many young people and children who commit offences and moving them towards a greater level or more positive area of life choices. In 2017, 77% of children in the programme were referred with regard to one incident. I acknowledge the expert steering group, which is developing a new youth justice strategy, including a review of the Children Act. I look forward to continuing to inform the House, along with Deputy Stanton, as we proceed with this most important aspect of the criminal justice programme.

Garda Reorganisation

Martin Kenny


2. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on whether An Garda Síochána has adequate resources to make the new model of policing a success; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40174/19]

Is the Minister confident the Garda Síochána has adequate resources to make the new model of policing a success? Do the new divisional headquarters have their IT systems installed? Is an adequate number of civilian staff in place to make a success of this greatly heralded change? Will the Minister make a statement on this matter?

I very much welcome the roll-out of the new operating model of An Garda Síochána, announced last month by the Garda Commissioner, Mr. Drew Harris. It meets a key commitment in the implementation plan, following publication last year of the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland.

This model has been long recommended by independent policing specialists, including the Garda Síochána Inspectorate, the Policing Authority and the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. While new to Ireland, the model is the norm in other countries and I am confident the new structure will lead to a more responsive policing service nationwide.

In developing the plan, the Garda Commissioner has listened carefully to policing experts as well as to the voices of local communities who have consistently made clear they want to see more gardaí on the ground. Reflecting this, the new model is specifically designed to provide a more positive responsive in respect of localised policing service to communities.

The Minister has not answered the question. I asked whether he has confidence because I am certainly not confident. I have spoken to gardaí in recent days and weeks who have told me the new headquarters do not have adequate IT systems in place. The level of new equipment that is supposed to be rolled out with this new plan is central to the new plan working. There is no point in rearranging how management operates unless we ensure the resources are in place to make the arrangements efficient and effective. The impression I am getting, which is a reflection of the reality of what is happening in the real experience of members of An Garda Síochána and community police, is that they do not have access to the level of equipment and structures they need to be in place to deliver this the way they want to deliver it. In fairness, for a long time the case has been made that there needs to be change and I welcome this change. Nobody here is saying we are opposed to it but we must understand that the change must be adequately resourced. For instance, if we go through the streets of Dublin and meet security staff at a doorway they are wearing body cameras. Gardaí do not have these. Gardaí should be leading and on the cutting edge of new technology and not lagging behind. Last week, I spoke to somebody who told me there are four gardaí at a particular Garda station that has one patrol car. When the car is out two of them sit in the station and if a call comes in or they are needed they have no patrol car to go anywhere. This is the reality in many places in rural Ireland, in particular in my very rural constituency where people are very concerned that the level of resources required is not being put in place.

The Deputy asked me two questions, one of which was on headquarters. I assure the House the regional headquarters have been decided by the Garda Commissioner and his team having regard to a number of factors, including population, geography, projected growth, crime trends and the workload in various streams. The Deputy also asked whether I have confidence in the new plan. I very much do have confidence in it. It has the support of the Government and I must acknowledge the support of most parties here in the House. We have been speaking about Garda reform for decades. We now have it and I urge communities and Deputies to embrace the plan and support it. The Government will resource it.

I agree with Deputy Kenny when he says he is from a rural constituency. So am I and so is the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Policing plans and practices in these areas are different from the plans and practices that may be required in Deputy O'Callaghan's constituency. We need to acknowledge this.

I will draw on the remarks made by the Garda Commissioner last week at the joint committee. The plan will involve a greater level of activity on the part of the Garda Síochána at local level.

The Garda Síochána is a growing organisation and it enjoys record levels of funding. I hope the latter will continue to be the case after next week's budget.

While I acknowledge that there are more gardaí and that new recruits are going into Templemore, which was closed for a number of years, officers are also retiring. One of the key commitments within the new model of policing is that there would be greater civilianisation of functions in the Garda Síochána. How much of that will happen?

The Minister mentioned rural areas. He represents a rural constituency. We do not see these civilians in rural Garda stations. They are to be found in the divisional headquarters, not ordinary police stations. If people are to have confidence in this new model, they need to see those resources. The Minister stating that more money than ever is being allocated does not deliver that to ordinary people when they have a problem. I spoke to a person who had difficulty with someone lurking near their property and acting suspiciously. The individual in question rang the Garda but it was almost three hours before somebody arrived. That is the problem we have in many rural areas. They want to have the confidence that when they look for a garda, he or she will be there. While I understand that the Minister is doing his best, somehow his best is not delivering for the people. Perhaps a little more than his best is needed.

The record allocation to the Garda Vote will continue into the future. I have every confidence in the Garda Commissioner and his team to ensure the best use of the funding allocated. The new model means more sergeants and inspectors in communities. It means less bureaucracy and duplication at senior Garda level. It means more decision-making powers at local level. It means a greater level of community engagement. It means more expertise available in addressing forms of crime that we need to address in more innovative ways. For example, we have new laws in respect of domestic violence, sexual violence, economic crime, cybercrime and very sophisticated fraud. We need to allow a level of flexibility on the part of gardaí in local divisions to carry out their duties in accordance with the needs of communities. I have every confidence that will happen. I am sure we will be in a position to debate this further as the plan is rolled out.

Asylum Seeker Accommodation

Jim O'Callaghan


3. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of asylum seekers being housed in emergency accommodation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40230/19]

I am sure the Minister of State will agree that the asylum system is under considerable pressure and that has been added to by events of this week. When people come into the country looking for international protection, we obviously have an obligation to provide them with shelter. We do that through the direct provision system in centres. It appears now that we also need to avail of emergency accommodation. How many asylum seekers are in emergency accommodation at present?

I thank the Deputy for his question. My Department is responsible for offering accommodation and related services to international protection applicants while their claim for protection is being examined. These services are demand led and generally it is difficult to predict demand far in advance. Due to an unexpected rise in applications - figures have increased by 53% in the first nine months of this year - existing direct provision centres, which offer accommodation, food, utilities and a suite of State services, have reached capacity.

There are ongoing tendering processes for new accommodation centres. Pending the opening of such new centres and in order to ensure that we continue to provide accommodation for all applicants who require it, the International Protection Accommodation Services, IPAS, formerly the Reception and Integration Agency, RIA, has been accommodating applicants in emergency accommodation in hotels and guest houses.

As of 26 September, there are 1,389 applicants residing in 34 emergency accommodation locations around the country. My Department does not disclose the specific location of emergency accommodation centres in order to protect the identity of international protection applicants.

It is important to note that there is no obligation on any applicant to accept the offer of accommodation. Applicants may source their own private accommodation or choose to stay with friends or family and some do.

Every effort is being made to reaccommodate applicants, who are in emergency locations, to a dedicated accommodation centre as soon as possible. My Department is actively working on securing additional capacity, both in existing centres and through sourcing new centres. IPAS has sought expressions of interest from parties interested in providing accommodation and related services to people in the international protection process and has also launched a nationwide, regional tendering process to secure new accommodation centres.

I am concerned that 1,389 people are staying in hotels and guest houses while their applications for international protection are being processed. We have a problem in the direct provision centres with people who have been granted international protection not moving on because of the shortage in the housing system. What is the Government's plan to provide further accommodation for the increasing number of people coming and seeking asylum? We have obviously had difficulties in establishing direct provision centres as we saw in Oughterard this week. We need to be careful. We have generally dealt well with the issue of immigration. It is apparent that some people from outside the country are opportunistically going to places such as Oughterard for the purposes of drumming up a racist agenda. We need to be careful that we do not allow their populist and racist appeal to spread in the country. One way to ensure that does not happen is by the Government having a clear plan in place to ensure people seeking asylum are accommodated in the future.

The Deputy is correct. As I stated, we have had a very large increase on the number of people looking for international protection this year. We have sought expressions of interest from parties interested in providing accommodation and related services. A combination of factors have led to this, including the rising demand for bed spaces and the high volume of residents who have status who continue to live in accommodation centres. There are 855 persons with permission to remain residing in accommodations as of 25 September. The State has a legal obligation to provide reception conditions to applicants for international protection, including bed and full board. The use of emergency accommodation is an interim measure while we seek to assist those with status in accessing mainstream housing. We work in partnership with agencies such as Depaul, the Peter McVerry Trust and others to secure permanent accommodation for people who have status here. They are working very hard in that regard. They are very reputable agencies with expertise in this area.

We need to look at other options because the system is creaking at the edges. We need to look at using State-owned accommodation. We have a considerable number of State properties that could be converted into a centre where people could be housed. We should also look at a system of fostering. Many well-intentioned people want to help those who are seeking asylum. If we had a system in place similar to the fostering of children we could get some uptake in respect of it. People could be paid for taking in and putting up a small family or individuals who are seeking asylum for a limited period. Obviously, they would need to be very carefully vetted. It is an option that we need to consider. Unless we get a hold of this issue, it will be manipulated and people from the far right will take advantage of it. Fortunately, we have avoided the worst excesses of far-right politics. Just because we have avoided that in the past it does not mean we will always be able to avoid it in the future. Opportunistic people are trying to use this issue for their own right-wing political agenda.

I share the Deputy's concerns about the right-wing agenda. We have avoided that and do not want it to take hold. We have 38 centres working very well and the local communities have welcomed people looking for international protection in those centres. They have acknowledged that the people who have come to live in their areas have added positively to their areas. They have got involved, have integrated and have worked with the community in tidy towns and other such ventures. Their children are going to school. People can work after nine months and we may soon reduce that further.

It will improve the diversity and wealth in areas in a big way. We have 38 centres working very well. If people around the country are interested in assisting and supporting us please contact us. We have considered what the Deputy has suggested, State-owned property, and we have improved standards enormously in these centres. They are unrecognisable now. Almost half of the people have self-catering accommodation. Many also have own-door accommodation. I have recently launched a new set of standards that these centres will have to adhere to under law. We have improved the conditions. The Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children can also visit these centres and have an oversight role. I thank the Deputy for his support in this matter and we continue to work as hard as we can to improve the situation.

Garda Reorganisation

Mattie McGrath


4. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he is satisfied that sufficient consultation with members of an association (details supplied) occurred prior to the Garda restructuring proposals being published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40299/19]

Is the Minister satisfied that sufficient consultation with members of the Garda representative associations occurred prior to the Garda restructuring proposals being published and will he make a statement on the matter? I am told by the organisations that there was no consultation with them.

As the Deputy will be aware, the new Garda operating model, announced last month by the Garda Commissioner, has been long recommended by independent policing specialists, including the Garda Síochána Inspectorate and in the expert Commission on the Future of Policing report published last year.

I very much welcome and support the roll-out by the Commissioner, Mr. Drew Harris, and his team of the new operating model. It has the support of Government. It is not my plan, it is a Garda plan. It meets a key commitment in the four year implementation plan which is giving effect to the commission's recommendations.

As the Commissioner has said, the new operating model is specifically designed to reduce bureaucracy and devolve power and decision making from Garda headquarters to the local level. Streamlining administration and bureaucracy in this way, alongside the ongoing process of civilianisation, will result in more front-line gardaí in Tipperary and elsewhere. This also involves the deployment of more Garda sergeants and inspectors to the front line, where they can lead and supervise their teams.

I understand that, while developing the new model, the Commissioner engaged widely within the organisation, holding 67 workshops which captured the views of over 400 Garda personnel from a cross-section of urban, suburban and rural divisions, as well as all specialist and support sections and their respective chief superintendents. I am informed that the Commissioner also met the GRA and other representative bodies which were of course also consulted by the commission which developed the proposals.

These changes have been welcomed by the Garda Inspectorate, the Policing Authority, members of the Commission on the Future of Policing and many others, including people from the Deputy's constituency and the Irish Farmers Association. The Commissioner has also made clear that he and his team are willing to meet joint policing committees all over Ireland, including in Tipperary, in the weeks ahead for detailed local engagement. 

My clear view is that, in delivering this new model, the Commissioner has listened carefully to policing experts and, crucially, also to the voices of communities in Tipperary and beyond who have consistently made clear they want to see more gardaí available on the ground and I assure Deputy McGrath in that regard.

I heard the Minister speaking earlier about Garda reform. Garda reform without Garda support is a nonsense and he must know that. I will cite a statement issued by the Garda Representative Association, GRA. It stated that Government appears to be oblivious to the right of the gardaí and the communities they police to have been consulted about the location of new divisional headquarters, HQs. In case the Minister thinks I am making that up, that was in a letter from the GRA president Mr. Jim Mulligan. It said it had no confidence in Government commitment to policing reform after the announcement of the HQ downgrades. There has been no regard whatsoever for workers who found out through the media that they could soon have a new workplace 100 miles away from home. Parts of my county are 120 miles from Ennis. "Members are also hugely concerned that the lion's share of resources will be allocated to HQs." We have a huge and excellent HQ in Thurles with great staff. Where are they going to go? We will lose between ten and 20 jobs there. GRA members fear that places furthest away will be under-resourced. We will be, because Shannon will draw the gardaí from Tipperary to police Shannon in times of war all over the world.

The GRA went on to say that Garda management has also failed to follow the requirement for engagement contained in the policing reform plan of which the Minister speaks. This is what the GRA has put in its statement. For instance, the effect of the changes on the integration of policing with public and community services cannot have been subject to consultation.

I hope I was mistaken when I heard Deputy McGrath on his local radio station last week say that the people of Tipperary and his constituents would have to go to Ennis to report crime.

That is not true.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Garda stations in Tipperary will continue to be supported, augmented and strengthened as a result of this plan. An Garda Síochána is a growing organisation. There are 14,200 gardaí nationwide supported by over 2,700 Garda staff. Since the reopening of the Garda training college in Templemore, in the Deputy's constituency, approximately 2,800 new Garda members have attested and have been assigned to front-line policing duties. Garda deployments in all areas of the country have benefited from this increased recruitment, including the Tipperary division where gardaí increased from 359 at the end of 2014 to 385 at the end of August this year. This represents a 7% increase in the Tipperary area over the past five years. At the same time Garda civilian staff in Tipperary have almost doubled from 32 at the end of 2015 to a total of 62 today, which further supports the redeployment of operational Garda members from administrative and desk duties to operational policing duties where their training and expertise can be used to best effect. This model, which results from listening on the part of the Garda Commissioner and his team, will serve Ireland well by providing more agile, more responsive and more localised service in Tipperary and around the country.

That is all wishful thinking. The Minister supposedly had five categories for making this decision: population - we are double the size of Clare; geography - I have told him that Ennis is 120 miles away; crime levels - they are way higher in Tipperary than in Clare; future growth - there is a huge expansion in Tipperary; and workload - the Minister read out numbers of gardaí but he did not account for the number out sick or those who have left the service. The decision to remove the Garda HQ from Thurles is a travesty of justice for the people of Tipperary. The Minister has neglected to support them. He will not give them a new Garda station in Clonmel. The one that is there is a Dickensian kip. We have no numbers in Carrick-on-Suir, Roscrea or many other areas. The proud history of dedication of the Tipperary gardaí has been dismissed in the pursuit of a restructuring model that will only escalate the crisis we already have in Tipperary for appropriate and timely access to gardaí.

I never said people will have to go to Ennis to report a crime. The Minister is trying to twist the story. I am saying this is a retrograde step. I have given the Minister the five categories. The GRA and the gardaí on the ground do not want this. Will there be two joint policing committees, one in Tipperary and one in Shannon or does the Minister expect the councillors to travel to Ennis for meetings as well? This is a disgrace, a travesty and an insult to the proud history of the Garda service in Tipperary.

The Minister is not administratively responsible for the new operating model. He is responsible for resourcing the Garda Síochána adequately. Locations are not the Minister's brief.

I will use the example which the Deputy has repeatedly referred to in the House and beyond, since the Garda Commissioner announced the new model. Under the new model the existing Tipperary and Clare divisions will be merged and will form part of the new southern region. The Commissioner has decided that the divisional HQ will be in Ennis, County Clare. This is an operational issue. I assure the Deputy that policing services and superintendents will continue to be deployed across Tipperary and Clare and will not be centralised only in the new HQ in Ennis. Each division nationwide, including the new division of Tipperary and Clare, will have up to 800 garda members. There will be less and less bureaucracy at senior level.

The chief superintendent leading the division will have greater decision-making powers for County Tipperary. In support of the people of County Tipperary, I ask the Deputy to reflect on the positives in the plan-----

I ask the Minister to consult gardaí. He might also consult the Garda Representative Association, rather than insulting it.

-----and to continue to support me in my endeavours to fund adequately the Garda service in County Tipperary-----

The service is starved of funds.

-----and throughout the country.

The service is starved of funds. We need 20 additional gardaí in Clonmel.

I look forward to seeing him in Templemore, where 200 new gardaí will be attested.