Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Garda Operations

Jim O'Callaghan

Question:

5. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if consideration has been given to the establishment of a statutory cross-Border multidisciplinary agency to tackle crime in the Border regions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39986/19]

The recent savage attack on Mr. Kevin Lunney shocked everyone in the country. Unfortunately, it did not come as a complete surprise to the people of the Border region because the company for which the man works, including its executives, has been subjected to a campaign of violence and harassment for years. I regret to say that in the Border region, it seems a certain degree of lawlessness is being accepted. What will the Minister say in response to the Fianna Fáil proposal, put forward by Deputy Micheál Martin and me, that a statutory multidisciplinary agency on both sides of the Border should be established to tackle crime in the region?

I join the Deputy in condemning unequivocally the horrific attack on Mr. Lunney in recent times. It is my hope, as I am sure it is of every Deputy, that those responsible will be brought to justice. Policing in the Border region has always presented particular challenges that necessitate a collaborative approach to policing between law enforcement agencies North and South of the Border. There is close ongoing cooperation between An Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI.

As I outlined in the Seanad yesterday, while I have no objection in principle to the establishment of a statutory cross-Border agency, the existing multi-agency co-operation in place to tackle cross-Border crime is quite structured and successful. The Deputy will be aware that in November 2015, the British and Irish Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive agreed a series of measures in the Fresh Start agreement, as part of a concerted and enhanced effort to tackle organised and cross-jurisdictional crime. The measures included the creation of the joint agency task force, which is led by senior officers from An Garda Síochána, the PSNI, the Revenue Commissioners and the UK's HM Revenue and Customs. A number of other relevant bodies, including the National Crime Agency and the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, are also closely involved.

The objective of the task force is to build on existing law enforcement frameworks and increase the collective effectiveness of operational actions. In this format, the senior management level of the two police services provides strong strategic direction and oversight to front-line operational activities. The task force has had some notable success in tackling cross-Border criminal activity in a range of crime areas. These include not just traditional smuggling activities but also rural and farm crimes, organised burglary and drug crime. The regrettable absence of an Executive in Northern Ireland means that the work of the task force is less visible than it might otherwise be. It was designed to report to justice ministers North and South and it is my hope that the restoration of power sharing in Northern Ireland will allow the task force to reach its full potential.

It is fair to say that wherever there is a border between two separate jurisdictions, there will be increased levels of criminal activity. That has been the case historically on this island since the placement of the Border there in the 1920s. Fortunately, as a result of our membership of the European Union and customs union, and in recent years the Single Market, we have been able to overcome many of the disadvantages of having two jurisdictions on the island. I am sure the Minister will be concerned about any proposal that we would put back some form of customs infrastructure on the island, which would simply add to the problem of lawlessness faced in that part of the island.

We need to recognise that greater co-operation is needed between CAB and the National Crime Agency. All crime is fuelled by one primary issue, namely, the desire to accumulate money. Most crimes are driven by that. In the case of the criminal activity on the Border region, there is no doubt it is fuelled by that desire. Perhaps in this part of the jurisdiction we have been too sympathetic to allowing certain entities along the Border to operate as they did previously but we need to be much more forceful in that regard. What is the Minister's view on establishing a joint statutory agency here and in the UK, involving the co-operation of the British authorities? Perhaps he should raise the idea with the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

While I am not opposed in principle to the establishment of a CAB-style cross-Border agency, I am satisfied the existing co-operative arrangements are effective. Advancing any new proposal would require detailed negotiation and, as the Deputy noted, engagement with the British Government, which has responsibility for some of the agencies involved and would have to be a party to conclude any new international agreement on the issues. Furthermore, the creation of a new multi-agency body would also require the support of the political institutions in Northern Ireland to succeed. In this regard, the Fresh Start agreement was agreed by the British and Irish Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive in 2015. It goes without saying any proposal would need to be discussed in detail with the Garda Commissioner and his counterparts in Northern Ireland and Great Britain and given careful consideration in the context of the UK's withdrawal from the EU.

I am sure the Deputy will join me in welcoming the Garda Commissioner's decision to establish an additional armed support unit, ASU, in County Cavan, which became operational this week. The ASU will complement the work of those based in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, and Dundalk, County Louth, in the northern region.

I welcome that. Previously, when there have been issues in places such as County Longford or Drogheda, there has been a concentration of policing attention in the areas. Much of that has to do with the fact there is a great deal of media attention on the difficulties the areas experience. My concern is there is a lot of action in respect of the savage attack on Mr. Lunney, to which the State is responding. We have known for more than two years, however, that such aggression and intimidation against Quinn executives was taking place. We need to ensure that this type of policing continues in the region and that the Garda is fully resourced in order that individuals can be brought to justice. We also need to change the mindset of people living in the Border region in order that they will be aware the type of intimidation to which Mr. Lunney and other company executives have been exposed is unacceptable and that to stamp it out the public will need to co-operate with members of An Garda Síochána.

Nevertheless, there will have to be a statutory, legislative response. I mentioned CAB and the National Crime Agency, but perhaps the Government needs to consider the legislation that was brought forward a number of years ago by Deputy Brendan Smith to deal with issues such as fuel smuggling on the Border. We have tolerated such activity for too long but it now needs to be tackled seriously.

I spent a day on the Border last week in Counties Fermanagh and Cavan. I acknowledge the advice and public contributions of Members such as Deputies Brendan Smith and Niamh Smyth, and my colleague, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, as well as the challenge of Border policing. I reiterate the excellent level of ongoing co-operation between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI, the importance of which has been emphasised in recent weeks following the abhorrent attack on Mr. Lunney, to which the Deputy referred. As all Deputies will be aware, a joint investigation is ongoing, the object of which is to bring those responsible to justice. This is a classic case that will require collaboration. A businessman was abducted in County Fermanagh and abandoned in County Cavan. The joint investigation involves the sharing of information and evidence, which is ongoing between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI and I was pleased to have a first-hand opportunity to observe that at the Garda station in County Cavan under the direction of Chief Superintendent John O'Reilly.

More generally, the two police services work closely together on a broad range of policing responsibilities, such as the joint cross-Border policing strategy operating between the two services. Irrespective of the political outcome of Brexit, the excellent ongoing co-operation between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI must and will continue.

Crime Prevention

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

6. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the steps his Department and An Garda Síochána have taken in response to an upsurge in crime and anti-social behaviour in parts of Dublin 3, 5, 13 and 17 (details supplied) in 2019; the preparations that have been made to ensure that the Halloween festival will not be used as a pretext by miscreants to return to such behaviour; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39750/19]

Yesterday, while the Minister's colleague was taking the debate on the Firearms and Offensive Weapons (Amendment) Bill because the Minister could not attend, I raised again the upsurge in appalling crime that occurred in parts of my constituency earlier this year, with murders in broad daylight and so on, and asked what steps were being taken.

The second matter is the great anxiety people are feeling in the run-up to Hallowe'en that the festival will be used as an excuse for anti-social behaviour and the creation of general mayhem on estates.

Working with communities to tackle public disorder and reduce anti-social behaviour is a key priority for an Garda Síochána whose approach includes a strong focus on quality of life issues and collaboration with local authorities to help address the causes of anti-social behaviour in communities. With specific reference to the forthcoming Hallowe'en period, I am advised that gardaí will put measures in place in every division, in particular in the Dublin metropolitan region and Border divisions, to prevent and detect the organised importation and sale of fireworks. This work will be carried out through a specifically designed operation, namely, Operation Tombola. The operation focuses also on preventing associated public disorder and anti-social behaviour through the incremental deployment of resources, including the Garda public order unit, to augment local plans as appropriate. A number of strong legislative provisions are available to gardaí to combat anti-social behaviour, including the Criminal Damage Act 1991, the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994, the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 2003, and the Intoxicating Liquor Acts 2003 and 2008.

The report of the Commission on the Future of Policing placed a particular emphasis on the importance of community policing, in which front-line gardaí are highly visible and engaged in communities, developing partnerships with other public agencies and services to deliver a multi-agency approach to community safety. The new Garda operating model and revised divisional structure, which was announced recently by the Garda Commissioner, meets a key priority of the future of policing report, namely, the four-year implementation plan to give effect to the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing. In line with the ethos of community policing, the new model is intended to provide more visible gardaí on the front line and devolve more power and decision-making responsibility to chief superintendents leading divisions nationally. That will ensure a more localised and responsive community police service reflecting local needs, including those of Deputy Broughan's constituents. Garda visibility is a key element in tackling anti-social behaviour. In that context, I note the growing numbers joining the Garda in our ongoing recruitment process.

We are grateful for Operation Tombola and the work of An Garda Síochána, Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council and, indeed, all of the local community groups and volunteers who work so hard at this period to make the festival of Hallowe'en safe and enjoyable. There is obviously a special responsibility on business to ensure materials such as pallets and tyres do not end up in the wrong hands. The Minister listed the legislation available to An Garda Síochána, but he told me before the summer that there were no Garda members in the north division of the Dublin metropolitan region who are assigned to full-time public order duties. He told me that the north Dublin division received ten new inspectors and 20 sergeants but there appears to remain a major gap in that area. The Minister told me also that €15.3 million had been allocated for the youth diversion programme in 2019 and referred me to 106 related schemes. However, he has an action research project at the University of Limerick and we are wondering if the experience of that project comes down to our area on Dublin's north side. I refer finally to behaviour warnings issued to children for the period 2007 to 2019. There has been almost no activity in that area. While there was such activity approximately a decade ago, it seems to have lapsed entirely as a way to address problems with children in the area.

I had the opportunity to visit the Deputy's constituency a few months ago. I assure him of the full support of my Department and others in ensuring that there is a community response to the issues involved. I was pleased to engage in collaboration with ministerial colleagues and I refer to the contribution in that regard of Deputy Broughan and, from the Government, the Minister, Deputy Bruton, and the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, as local public representatives. Community policing remains at the heart of Garda work. It provides a means to recognise that every community, including those in the Deputy's constituency, has its own concerns and expectations. Gardaí have a role to play in community policing. In practical terms, the new model which is being rolled out will mean less duplication, less bureaucracy at senior level and greater decision-making power locally for superintendents. That is because, as I said earlier, a policing plan in my constituency or that of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle should be very different from a plan for Deputy Broughan's constituency. That is what we need to get from the new plan and I am confident we will do so.

The reality is sometimes very disappointing. We all walk around and visit all areas of our constituency constantly. I was very disappointed last Friday, for example, to visit an open space amenity area in my constituency, which Dublin City Council tries to look after, and to see a burnt out vehicle in the very middle of it. There was debris and other evidence of the mayhem which had taken place the night before. That took place five weeks before Hallowe'en. There are clear issues to address. As the Minister knows, there is a long-standing demand for a new divisional Garda headquarters in the burgeoning north fringe of the city. I might raise the issue later today in another debate. There is a massive population of perhaps 25,000 to 50,000 people with no Garda station. While it is the Commissioner's call ultimately, it is a matter we will have to address. I note also that the quarter 1 crime figures were disappointing. We heard recently of increases in the numbers of attempted murders and threats to murder, assault, harassment and related offences, sexual offences, damage to property and so on. There have been disturbing increases in crime. For example, our journalist colleague, Conor Lally, has drawn attention to the series of wanton assaults that has been taking place across the city and in other parts of the country and which has left people with serious injuries.

The Deputy raised a number of issues, one of which he has raised with me previously, namely, the matter of a Garda station for the Clongriffin-Coolock area. I am advised that An Garda Síochána has had preliminary discussions with Dublin City Council on the possible provision of a site for the development of new facilities in north Dublin. My Department has been informed by Garda management that the question of developing a Garda station in the Clongriffin area will be the subject of further consideration. It is an issue to which we can return as matters develop. Another issue that has previously been raised with me by the Deputy is the need to tackle anti-social behaviour on our rail network. In that regard, I acknowledge the establishment of Operation Twintrack, which sees An Garda Síochána involvement in a new community engagement and rail safety initiative. It involves gardaí travelling on DART, Luas and commuter rail services in the greater Dublin area, in particular in Deputy Broughan's constituency, to ensure there is a Garda presence at major and busy train stations from time to time. I welcome the initiative, which is one I am sure we will have an opportunity to engage on further as we continue the Garda recruitment drive into next year on foot of the forthcoming budget.

Garda Reorganisation

Bernard Durkan

Question:

7. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the extent to which it is anticipated that the new Garda operational structures and divisions will improve policing in general with particular reference to bringing the operation of the force here into line with best practice in other countries, making adequate provision for community policing, juvenile liaison personnel and the rapid response in both urban and rural areas and incorporating the maximum use of technology; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40165/19]

My question seeks to ascertain the extent to which the recently announced operational restructuring will impact on the services provided by An Garda Síochána, with particular reference to quick response, local and community policing and the need to ensure rapid deployment to areas in which anti-social behaviour is taking place.

I welcome Deputy Durkan's support for the new Garda plan which, I reiterate, is not a ministerial, Government or political plan but is rather a Garda plan designed and drawn up by the Garda Commissioner and his team. I support it, as does the Government, and I ask for support for the plan from every Member of the House in circumstances in which the functional model now proposed has long been recommended by independent policing specialists, including the Garda Síochána Inspectorate and in report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. The roll-out of this model meets a key commitment in A Policing Service for the Future, which is the four-year implementation plan giving effect to the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland.

While new to Ireland, the model is the norm in other countries. It is designed to reduce bureaucracy and will shift real decision-making power from Garda headquarters to chief superintendents.

It will ensure that decisions are made closer to the communities that they serve and will result in significantly more sergeants and inspectors on the ground where leadership, supervision and mentoring are crucial.

The Deputy asked about the impact of the model in making adequate provision for community policing, juvenile liaison and rapid response. The new model is specifically designed to provide a more responsive, localised policing service. It reorganises resources around the delivery of front-line policing, placing an increased emphasis on engaging with communities and supporting victims of crime. There will be much greater community engagement in the new model, including a dedicated superintendent leading the community engagement team in the new divisions. By contrast, in the old district model, superintendents would have been balancing this important work with competing priorities such as the investigation of major crime. In terms of that engagement and speed of Garda response, the bottom line is that there will be more gardaí on the front line, more sergeants and more inspectors will be on the ground and more streamlined administrative structures will allow Garda senior management to focus more directly on policing tasks. Overall, this new model will mean a more responsive, visible policing presence on the ground in communities.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Can I further inquire as to the extent to which it is anticipated that patrols will be mobilised and increased throughout urban and rural areas? We have experienced significant instances of repeat crime committed by people on bail. To what degree will the new structures be able to intervene in a positive way from the point of view of the general public?

I am sure they will intervene positively. The Garda Commissioner and his team are willing to meet joint policing committees across the country to further discuss the issues raised by Deputy Durkan, all of which are important, and address any other questions about the implementation. It is important to note that these changes are being introduced and this is the nub of the Deputy's question when he speaks about ensuring the availability of, and need to ensure, ongoing resources. Current investment in An Garda Síochána is €1.76 billion as well as capital investment amounting to €92 million this year. Capital investment in ICT will amount to €342 million between 2016 and 2021. A wide range of ICT projects are being pursued. Deputy Durkan may be particularly interested to note that a new computer aided dispatch programme is one of these projects and will provide a modern integrated system for Garda command and control. Investment of €46 million is also being made in the Garda fleet between 2016 and 2021 to enable gardaí to be mobile and responsive in line with operational demand. As we come towards the end of the year, I advise the Deputy that, by the end of the year, 300 new Garda vehicles will have been deployed on our roads and in our communities this year. I am confident that this ongoing investment in Garda resources, together with the ongoing reform process, will result in improved policing services in Kildare and beyond for all communities.

I welcome the changes and wish the Garda administration well in the operation of those changes. Will the deployment of gardaí to trouble spots in rapid response to calls become a feature of the new system? I ask that question in light of recent events that all of us in this House have spoken about and everyone in the country has read about. Will modern technology be utilised to the extent that it is required in the pursuit of criminality? To what extent will there be ongoing review throughout a given year whereby cognisance may be taken of issues that arise that require attention and a response?

The common theme in all of this programme of reform is a greater level of community engagement and a more responsive and localised policing service. The model reorganises resources around the delivery of front-line policing. That will involve the level of investment in ICT that I mentioned earlier. We are coming from a pretty low level in An Garda Síochána. The Garda service was constricted and constrained during the financial crisis of some years ago but we are now rebuilding through investment and greater recruitment. Side by side with that, we have the programme of reform which will result in a greater level of community engagement, including a dedicated superintendent specifically engaged in community relations tasks. The bottom line will be more gardaí on the front line, more sergeants and inspectors and more streamlined administrative structures for An Garda Síochána. All of this is predicated on the need to continue with the type of investment we are seeing in the Garda fleet and infrastructure, for example, the hand-held devices that are being rolled out to aid with road traffic policing. Every division will have a Garda inspector available 24-7 which is not the case currently. There will be more available expertise in specific, new types of crime, including cybercrime and other fraudulent activity, which will meet the needs of communities.

Traveller Community

Joan Collins

Question:

8. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on a report (details supplied); and the way in which he plans to implement it. [37708/19]

The original question I submitted to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government noted that the report of the task force on the Travelling community of July 1995 featured 340 recommendations, of which few, if any, have been implemented. There has been no review or statutory oversight to ensure the report was implemented. What is the Minister's view on the report and how does he plan to implement it?

I thank the Deputy for her question and her interest in this area. The report of the task force on the Travelling community, published in 1995, was a ground-breaking analysis of the needs of the Traveller community and made some valuable recommendations in a range of areas designed to improve the status of Travellers in Irish society. In 1998, a monitoring and co-ordination committee was established and it produced two reports, in December 2000 and December 2005, respectively, on the implementation of the recommendations. Thereafter, the then Government pursued other approaches to address Traveller disadvantage through the high level group on Traveller issues and the National Traveller Monitoring and Advisory Committee.

However, we cannot revert to 24 years ago and we must take our frame of reference from the present day. Much has happened since 1995. In 2011, the national Traveller and Roma integration strategy was drawn up and this has been followed by the national Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy which runs from 2017 to 2021. This latter strategy represents a whole-of-Government approach to bringing about meaningful change and progress for the Traveller and Roma communities in Ireland and is a development of the approach taken in the task force on the Travelling community report and its aftermath. The strategy contains 149 actions grouped under ten themes, including cultural identity, education, employment, health and accommodation. The strategy is a living document which will be reviewed and adjusted as required. Traveller and Roma interests were involved in its development and are members of the committee monitoring its implementation which is chaired by me. This is the framework within which we can continue progress for Travellers and Roma to the end of 2021. This type of strategic approach with Traveller and Roma representatives at its centre is the one that will pay dividends in the longer term.

In addition to the strategic framework, the Department of Justice and Equality provides significant amounts of funding to Traveller projects. Projects funded this year include additional funding to the Traveller and Roma initiatives of €500,000, of which €391,210 was prepaid in 2018. The budget supplies funding to seven Traveller projects, six non-governmental organisations, NGOs, including the Traveller counselling service and the education pilot. The Traveller mediation service was approved funding of €250,000 for 2019 from the Dormant Accounts Fund. Some €25,000 was allocated from the budget to fund the Traveller Pride awards and concert event. The education pilot received €350,000 funding for 2019. The special initiative for Travellers has seven locations around Ireland and overall funding for these projects in 2019 is €410,000.

I acknowledge that the report dates from 1995. I am a member of the Committee on Key Issues affecting the Travelling Community.

Our first meeting was attended by cultural Traveller awareness trainees who told us that the 1995 task force report was probably the most progressive piece of analysis on Traveller issues. They made the point that it had not been implemented. I accept that matters have moved on but are we saying that task force report is no longer relevant and that it has been superseded by all other Traveller and Roma inclusion reports? The trainees are concerned because, since the 1995 report, there have been measures such as the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2002, which was effectively anti-trespass legislation that made it illegal for Travellers to go on land, as well as other subsequent legislation.

I agree that the task force report was a major accomplishment at the time. It differed from similar reports in preceding decades, which tended to see the issue as one of adapting Travellers to settled norms, and focused instead on the need to make specific provision for Travellers and target their requirements. I fully accept the report. It is the philosophy that continues to guide us today. With respect, however, I do not think that we can go back to 1995. Things have moved on, as the Deputy has acknowledged, and we must take our frame of reference from the present day. Much has happened in the interim. I see the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy, NTRIS, as the starting point. I am concerned with how we can progress its actions and whether we can add to or change them. The strategy is a living document. The Traveller community and its representative bodies are very much part of that and are playing a very strong role in making it work.

On housing, an expert group was appointed in 2019 to review the "effectiveness, implementation and operation of the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998, with a view to examining whether it provides a robust legislative basis for meeting the current and future accommodation needs of the Traveller community which takes effective implementation into account in the context of the recognition of Traveller ethnicity in 2017." The report completed by the expert group is currently being reviewed. It was made available to the Minister in September and is under consideration. The report is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government.

Many matters have moved on. Having heard from the Traveller cultural awareness trainees to whom I refer, it seems that the community has gone backwards a great deal over the intervening 24 years. They are concerned about both culture and accommodation. Even when I was a councillor in 2004, over ten years ago, moneys allocated for Traveller accommodation were not used. That is why the 2019 report was commissioned. I am very interested to see that Traveller accommodation report because it will be crucial in progressing Travellers' rights. I do not think things have progressed in the Traveller community in the past 24 years. There is great concern regarding problems with drug use and in the context of accommodation, culture and the survival of the Traveller community. I hope the committee will be able to feed into and support legislation on this.

I share the Deputy's concerns on these matters. I emphasise that the strategy is a living document. NTRIS is an inclusion strategy. It is not an integration strategy. There is a subtle difference. It runs until 2021 and includes 149 recommendations. Cultural identity is a big part of that, along with education, employment, health and accommodation. Those are the most important themes but there are others. I do not know if the Deputy has had the opportunity to review the strategy but I invite her to do so and would be interested in hearing her views. The Traveller organisations were every much involved in drawing up the report and are heavily involved with the monitoring committee. They are having a major impact and we value it greatly. They are very much part of what is happening.

The Deputy mentioned cultural heritage. In July, two elements of Traveller culture were inscribed in Ireland's national inventory of intangible cultural heritage, specifically the Cant-Gammon language and tinsmithing. This is evidence of a Government commitment to protect, promote and celebrate these living cultural heritage practices, customs, crafts and traditions. The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is responsible for the delivery of funding to practices recognised on this list, through its cultural projects funding. The specifics of the allocation of funding however, is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, and her Department.

I welcome the Deputy's interest in this matter. We are working very hard with the Traveller organisations to progress all the actions in the strategy.

Question No. 9 replied to with Written Answers.

Traveller Culture

Joan Burton

Question:

10. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to establish funding for artists, projects and institutions dedicated to highlighting the place of Traveller culture and history in Irish society; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37909/19]

In his final reply to the previous question, the Minister of State noted that the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is responsible for the budget relating to Travellers and Traveller culture. I tabled a question to the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in which I inquired about her plans to establish funding for artists, projects and institutions dedicated to highlighting the place of Traveller culture and history in Irish society. The Minister refused to take the question and transferred it to the Department of Justice and Equality. That tells us what some people in this Government think. The Minister, Deputy Madigan, has form when it comes to objecting to Traveller housing. Is she also objecting to Traveller culture? I do not know if the Minister and the Minister of State opposite are aware of this. I tabled my question out of respect for the Traveller community and addressed it specifically to the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

I support the highlighting of the place of Traveller and Roma culture and history in Irish society. The primary mechanism for this is Traveller and Roma Pride Week. I recently opened the Traveller Pride Awards, a wonderful event that celebrates Traveller and Roma culture. This event marked the beginning of Traveller Pride Week.

Action 1 of the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021 states "The Department of Justice and Equality will support, strengthen and expand Traveller Pride Week and increase national awareness of the event."

Funding is made available to a range of organisations, in grants of up to €2,000, through an open call for proposals to assist the Traveller and Roma communities to mark Traveller and Roma Pride Week. Applications for funding are granted for activities satisfying the following criteria: that they involve the active participation of members of the Traveller and-or Roma community at all stages of the project, planning, implementation, etc.; celebrate and promote Traveller and-or Roma culture; promote a positive image of Traveller and-or Roma Culture to the wider settled community; members of the settled community must be included and invited to the event; and that the event must be accessible to an open public audience where possible.

Funding has also been provided for a number of horse projects throughout the country. These projects are reflective of the Government’s acknowledgement of the importance of the horse culture for the health and wellbeing of the Traveller community and for the horses in their care.

In 2019, some 39 projects were approved to receive support from my Department as part of Traveller Pride Week. These include Galway Traveller Movement, Blanchardstown Traveller Development, Meath Travellers Workshops and Foróige Ballyhaunis Youth Service.

In July 2019, two elements of Traveller culture were inscribed on Ireland’s National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage, specifically the Cant-Gammon language and tinsmithing. This represents a Government commitment to protect, promote and celebrate these living cultural heritage practices, customs, crafts and traditions. The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is responsible for the delivery of funding to practices recognised on this list, through its cultural projects funding. However, the allocation of funding is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, and her Department.

The pride week is amazing. I am sure that the Deputy has attended pride week events and will join with me in acknowledging that.

This is a question of principle. I served as Tánaiste in the Government that recognised and acknowledged the ethnicity of Travellers. That was celebrated by all parties in the House. As Deputy Joan Collins mentioned, the all-party Joint Committee on Key Issues affecting the Traveller Community has been established. It is a matter of recognising the significance of Travellers in Irish culture. The Minister of State just indicated that the Minister for Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht is responsible for the the budget. Will the Ministers, on behalf of the Government, apologise to Travellers for the fact that their colleague did this? She has form when it comes to Traveller housing and objected to such housing being provide in Mount Anville some time ago because the land in the area was too valuable to allow people such as Travellers to be housed on it. Will the Minister of State and the Minister for Justice and Equality apologise for this? This is what apartness and separation mean. Traveller artists are treated differently from other artists. I will not provide a list of such artists' names, I will simply draw attention to the achievements of Travellers in music, painting, art and the theatre in particular. Why did the Minister with responsibility for culture refuse to answer a perfectly valid question about Travellers and their culture when she is responsible for the budget relating to both?

This is a perfectly valid question about Travellers and Traveller culture. The Minister is responsible for that budget. I want an apology on behalf of the Traveller community.

I call Minister of State, Deputy Stanton.

Nobody has a better record than the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton.

I recognise fully the record of Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, and I do not associate the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, with any negativity that I am aware of in respect of Travellers.

The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, will clarify the issue.

I am talking about his colleague, who sits at the Cabinet table.

There are other Deputies waiting and they have been here for some time.

As I said earlier, the national Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy is the current strategy we are implementing, in partnership and in conjunction with representatives of the Traveller community who sit on the steering committee that I chair. They are doing amazing work and part of that work is identifying how we can recognise, strengthen and engage with the history, culture and heritage of the Traveller community. It is really exciting work in many ways. What they are bringing to the table is very important not only in this area but in the area of education, housing, health, mental health and so on, right across the board. The officials from all Departments represented on it are really engaged. We recently had a report on accommodation, which the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government was very anxious to receive, and it is being considered by him at the moment. He received it in September and we are expecting positive results from the implementation of that report.

The Minister for Health has been doing a lot of work in this area. I am particularly interested in education and ensuring children can go to school and celebrate their culture in school. The Minister for Education and Skills has been doing work that area, as the Deputy knows.

The Minister for Education and Skills, in fairness to him, has been willing to answer questions on Traveller children and education. Why is the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, who holds a very honoured title in the Government, nationally and internationally, refusing to answer a question about Travellers and culture. It is a very simple question. It is an insult that she would refuse to take it. I have no problem with Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, who is dedicated to the work he does for Travellers, but this House, as a collective, recognised Travellers as a separate ethnic group in March 2017. It was one of the proudest days in this House and the Visitors Gallery was filled with people from the Traveller community. A significant member of the Cabinet refuses to take a question, notwithstanding the fact the Minister of State said twice or three times that she is responsible for the budget in respect of Travellers and culture.

The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, can only speak for himself and maybe the Deputy will get an opportunity at a later stage to speak with the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and I will be guided what he just said. I acknowledge that the Deputy opposite recognised the important work being done by the Minister for Education and Skills and the former Minister, Deputy Bruton, on Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill 2018, which was produced by Senator Kelleher. That tries to recognise Traveller culture in our schools. That Bill has gone through Second Stage in the Seanad and it is being progressed.

The Deputy cannot come in again.

Can I take this issue to the Ceann Comhairle's office-----

This issue possibly concerns the Minister.

-----because it was wrong of the Minister to have done what she did?

We have a policy of an open door.

I call on Deputy Kenny to introduce his question.

Domestic Violence

Martin Kenny

Question:

11. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to address the issues raised in a report by an organisation (details supplied) particularly the call for an urgent audit of the criminal and family law systems to develop a better process to deliver justice, safety and a consistent experience for victims of domestic violence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40128/19]

How does the Minister intend to address the issues raised in the Women's Aid report, Unheard and Uncounted, and in particular the call for an urgent audit of the criminal and family law system to better develop a process to deliver safety and a consistent experience for domestic violence victims. One of the key aspects of the report is that each case is taken on its own in the criminal justice system. A person may be a perpetrator of domestic violence and have numerous convictions but each case is considered separately.

Criminal behaviour is not taken account in the family law court. A person may have a conviction for attacking and beating a woman and may end up in the family law court and be given access to the children without any note being taken of the fact that the person has a criminal record. This is putting women in danger and many of the issues raised in this report need to be addressed urgently.

I welcome the publication of the latest Women's Aid report referred to by the Deputy Kenny. I am familiar with the very good work done by Women’s Aid to highlight, as it does on a regular basis, the impact of domestic violence. The report referred to provides important first-hand accounts of the abuse suffered by victims of domestic abuse. Understanding such victims is important to me, as Minister, and it greatly assists in the development of Government policy in this important area. My Department will study the report carefully in that context.

As Deputies will be aware, the Government has already considerably strengthened the law and structures which target domestic violence, as part of the second National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence 2016-2021.

Central to this is the landmark Domestic Violence Act 2018, which came into force on 1 January of this year. Other developments in this area include the enactment of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017, which introduced a statutory definition of consent, and the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017, which provides a wide range of measures and services to protect and inform victims during the progress of their case through the criminal justice system.

Moreover, An Garda Síochána is continuously improving its specialist services. Responding to the needs of victims has seen the roll-out of divisional protective services units, DPSU, with specifically and specially trained officers responsible for investigations, including engagement with victims. These units will support the delivery of a consistent and professional approach to the investigation of sexual and domestic crime.

The introduction of these measures last year and early this year supported Ireland’s ratification earlier this year of the Istanbul Convention, the Council of Europe Convention on the prevention and combating of violence against women and domestic violence, which I announced on International Women's Day last March.

I note that the report refers to sentencing in this field. Deputy Kenny will appreciate that the Judiciary is independent in matters of sentencing. However, the recently enacted Judicial Council Act 2019 will provide for the development of sentencing guidelines by the Judiciary itself.

I recognise the work being done by the Garda, often in very difficult circumstances, and that needs to be acknowledged. The difficulty is not really about legislation or the work of An Garda Síochána but is about the court process and how this very often lets the victim down. The Minister would acknowledge that there are difficulties in respect of that.

In other jurisdictions, there is a one court system for domestic violence, where family law court and criminal law court come together, recognising that there is a serious connection between the two. It would be very worthwhile for the Department to look at that and see how it can be addressed. This is one of the key recommendations in this report. It talks about legal and procedural defragmentation of the court process in dealing with domestic violence.

The issue is that there is not sufficient communication between the criminal and family law courts and we need to see that happen. This cannot simply happen through a scheme, where both communicate with each other better. I think one would have to have the one court and one system. That needs to happen as quickly as possible.

One of the most disconcerting aspects of this report which causes me considerable concern is the fact that it states that women said that they did not feel justice was carried out and that they would not go through the justice system again. That militates against the reporting of often serious crime.

In the earlier part of my reply I set out the wide range of legislative steps. There are practical steps also being taken to ensure that the system is as supportive as possible for victims of domestic and sexual crime. I encourage all victims - women, in particular, as the vast majority of victims in these cases are women - to come forward and to contact the An Garda to ask for help.

I acknowledge, as I did earlier, the training by and expertise of An Garda Síochána. By the end of this year, there will be a divisional protective services unit of specifically and specially trained gardaí in each of the new divisions, as recently outlined by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris.

I initiated a review of the protections for vulnerable witnesses in the investigation and prosecution of sex offences through the courts. That group is chaired by Professor Tom O'Malley in NUI Galway who, I believe everyone will agree, is a leading expert in this area. A significant number of submissions were received by Professor O'Malley and it is taking some time to complete this sensitive report. It is a complex report and it will be a comprehensive report. I expect to have it by the end of the year. This will inform further on the very valid points raised by Deputy Kenny.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.