1. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his latest meeting on the Dublin inner city forum. [45816/19]
1. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his latest meeting on the Dublin inner city forum. [45816/19]
2. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach the role of his Department in the north east inner city initiative. [46345/19]
3. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the Dublin inner city forum. [47362/19]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.
The Mulvey report, Creating a Brighter Future, was commissioned by the Government and published in February 2017. It contains recommendations for the social and economic regeneration of Dublin's north east inner city, NEIC, area.
In June 2017, the Government appointed an independent chair of the NEIC programme implementation board. Other members of the board include representatives of relevant Departments and agencies, business and the local community. The Government is committed to investing in the north east inner city community and ensuring the programme implementation board has the necessary resources to achieve its targets and fulfil its ambition. To this end, the Government made available €6.5 million in funding for the initiative in 2019. The board and its subgroups meet on a monthly basis to oversee and progress the implementation of the Mulvey report. Officials from my Department work closely with the board, the subgroups and the dedicated programme office based in Sean McDermott Street. The chair of the board reports to an oversight group of senior officials chaired by the Secretary General of my Department. This group ensures strong and active participation by all relevant Departments and agencies and deals with any barriers or issues highlighted by the board. The Cabinet sub-committee on social policy and public services provides political oversight of the NEIC initiative.
To date in 2019, the board has delivered several improvements for the area, including an increased Garda presence backed up by the Garda community support van and a focus on community policing, the commencement of a project focused on drug-related intimidation, the establishment of Ireland's first social inclusion hub in the NEIC and the funding of the homeless case management team and a residential stabilisation programme. Funding was also provided to a career local employment action partnership, LEAP, which backs young jobseekers to achieve work placements and employment. Equipment has been provided to three secondary schools participating in the innovative P-TECH initiative. A research project has been undertaken to identify how social enterprise can be supported and encouraged in the area. Funding has been provided to the local early learning initiative and a programme to secure quality work experience placements for students from the six secondary schools in the NEIC has been launched. Funding has been provided for fast-track counselling for young people funded and assistance provided to a men's health and well-being programme. The green ribbon project rolling out environmental clean-up and litter prevention in partnership with local residents has been commenced and there are comprehensive programmes of NEIC local community events, arts projects, sport and well-being activities. Progress continued on the two main public capital projects in the area, namely, Fitzgibbon Street Garda station and the Rutland Street community hub.
In 2019, €1 million of the €6.5 million budget was allocated to the social employment fund through which 55 posts have been filled in community projects providing childcare, youth services, elder care and environmental services. This responsive and innovative initiative has been widely welcomed within the community.
Progress reports on the NEIC initiative are available on www.neic.ie for the years 2017 and 2018. The 2019 NEIC progress report is in preparation and will be published in due course.
Last week or the week before, I asked the Taoiseach for figures on expenditure on the north east inner city to determine how much of the spending is new money rather than existing schemes and projects being provided by central government. How much new money has been provided to existing programmes by central government? The funding announced includes money that was to be spent anyway, as well as money that Dublin City Council and other State agencies reallocated from other community projects. What is not clear is how much of the money being talked about is new money provided by Government and not taken from other projects. I ask the Taoiseach to provide those figures in order that we can properly assess the significance of the investment. He referred to an allocation of €6.5 million in respect of the implementation of the Mulvey report.
Why has housing not been a central focus of the work in the north east inner city? Its omission as a central plank in these initiatives is a serious deficiency.
This is a welcome initiative which brings together various agencies to focus on the needs of the community. If it is making a difference, it should be extended to other areas. Unfortunately, there are communities throughout Dublin and many other parts of the country which must deal with deep disadvantage, poor facilities and crime. It is clear that crime is getting out of control. The rising drugs crisis is making the situation far worse. There was an outbreak of gangland crises in Lucan last week and Coolock at the weekend. Gangland wars in various parts of the city are taking a toll on people's sense of peace and security. These wars are being fuelled by the drugs crisis.
The north east inner city initiative is, effectively, a one-off return to a model which Fine Gael abandoned from 2011 onwards. The Ministers of various states who attended the British-Irish Council two weeks ago came together to state that we need to go back to the tried and trusted model which needs continuous and consistent application. It is an awful pity that it was abandoned in 2011. I refer to the removal of community development as a Cabinet-level responsibility. We have become accustomed to Ministers rolling out marketing campaigns to promote grants which used to operate without fanfare. The decision to remove that responsibility was prompted by the current EU Commissioner for Trade, former Deputy, Phil Hogan, asking how dare a LEADER group or a partnership announce grants. Fine Gael Ministers were fed up with persons other than politicians announcing the allocation of money to initiatives. That is what was behind Fine Gael's abandonment of the model to which I refer. In so doing, it undermined programmes that were working in these communities and that took a multilateral and multidisciplinary approach with local and national involvement.
I listened carefully to the Taoiseach's remarks on the north east inner city initiative. One would think everything is working very well on the ground. He referred to several projects. For example, he stated that work is commencing on Fitzgibbon Street Garda station. How many years has hoarding been up around that station? It has taken years to get it done. When there was an effort and commitment to renovate Leinster House, which is a couple of hundred years old, it was done in jig time. It is clear that such commitment is not present in respect of the north east inner city. That is the belief of the people who live in the area.
Community representatives on the north inner city drug and alcohol task force recently raised serious concerns regarding the lack of a partnership approach to the delivery of the national drugs strategy. I refer to the impending closure of the community participation project, which has played an important role in the objectives of the north east inner city initiative. All of these matters are of serious concern. The problems are not limited to the north inner city. The refusal of State agencies to acknowledge that community participation is crucial to an effective response to the pervasive drugs problem in the north inner city is at the core of many of these issues.
A lack of recognition was expressed through the unilateral decision of the HSE to withdraw funding for projects that played an important role in supporting drug addiction treatment in the area. The HSE pulled money from community organisations that were doing tremendous work and left them with nothing. These community organisations will vanish overnight. Unfortunately, this is repeated all over the country.
It is particularly acute in places like Dublin's north inner city which has tremendous communities - wonderful people doing their best in the face of major hardship. I have difficulty not with Deputy Micheál Martin, but with others who use the word "gangland". These are not ganglands. There may be gangs there, but the lands that exist there have wonderful people.
I did not say that.
I am just-----
The Deputy is making a loaded comment and that is not-----
We see it in the media and everywhere. It sets a dangerous precedent to say that certain parts of any city have a particular problem. While they may have, the people who live there are not the problem; the problem is a scourge on these communities. We need to spell that out.
Go raibh maith agat.
The latest withdrawal of HSE funding will result in the loss of community-participation projects and a successful wrap-around project that was established in recognition of the importance of community engagement in addressing issues of addiction. Core to the problem in many of these places is the high level of addiction.
I call Deputy Howlin. We will not get to the third question.
Further to the comments by a range of Deputies during questions on the Order of Business, it is clear that the Government has failed to address the causes of crime. When one looks at the areas of crime and drug abuse not just in Dublin's inner city but across the country, there is a familiar pattern of economic and social disadvantage in the areas that are suffering the greatest problems. There is a feeling of abandonment, starting with the absence of quality public services, such as childcare, genuinely free education and healthcare, combined with a lack of future employment opportunities which often fuels a young person's pathway to involvement with drugs and criminality. There are role models who indicate that is a lucrative, if very destructive, future for them.
The Government constantly talks about full employment and the unemployment rate is less than 5%. However, Dublin city has seven unemployment black spots where up to 32% of people are without a job. What will the Government do differently to break this cycle of disadvantage and unemployment so that we can eradicate these black spots and take away these role models of a destructive future from young people who see very little else available to them?
Will the Taoiseach listen to the very open-hearted appeal from the nine former Ministers with responsibility for drugs policy, to go back to the drugs partnership model and reinvest in it now that the resources are available again because it was a model that worked?
Deputy Micheál Martin asked about the breakdown between new money and reallocated money for the project in Dublin's north-east inner city. I do not know the details of that; I suspect it is a mix of both. I will endeavour to get the figures broken down properly for him.
The Deputy also spoke about housing. Dublin City Council in partnership with various social housing bodies is working to deliver four main housing regeneration schemes in the north-east inner city area. These schemes are at various stages with 228 units to be delivered as part of them. The refurbishment of St. Mary's Mansions flat complex by Clúid Housing at a cost of €21 million will result in 80 units in a mix of one- to four-bedroom apartments. Building works are on schedule and are expected to be completed in quarter 1 of next year. Dublin City Council is working through the scheme of letting priorities to collate applicants with an expression of interest for housing in this area.
A further 72 units will be delivered as part of the Croke Villas redevelopment. It is intended that the majority of works would be completed in 2019. The redevelopment of Croke Villas is now subject to judicial review. The hearing was held in December 2018 and Dublin City Council is awaiting a decision. Units at Nos. 2 to 6 Ballybough Road are at final-fix stage with allocation set for this month. A further 47 apartments in Railway Street are to be delivered by the Circle Voluntary Housing Association. A planning application was lodged but the decision was appealed to An Bord Pleanála with a decision expected this month. Twenty-nine old persons' units are to be delivered by Oaklee Housing. Work on this site is ongoing with an expected handover by the end of this year. Dublin City Council is working through the scheme of letting priorities for this housing development.
A few Deputies mentioned the spate of murders linked to drug gangs in recent weeks. They have caused enormous concern on the ground. People in many communities are worried about their safety. We need to take those concerns very seriously. It is also important to acknowledge that the number of murders, manslaughters and death threats is down by 40% on this time last year. The number of burglaries is also down. The Garda is having significant success in combating these most serious forms of crime.
The Government is committed to reopening Fitzgibbon Street Garda station. The Office of Public Works, OPW, has responsibility for the provision and maintenance of Garda stations. As a result, the refurbishment of the Garda station, like all works in the Garda estate, is being progressed through close co-operation between the OPW and Garda authorities. I am pleased to confirm that enabling works at Fitzgibbon Street have already been completed and the procurement process for the main works is under way. The main refurbishment is expected to take about a year from the point at which construction begins.
It is essential to remember that it is not primarily the opening of Garda stations, but rather the visible presence of gardaí on the streets that reassures the public and deters crime. With the provision of unprecedented Government investment in a Garda budget of €1.88 billion for next year, the Garda Síochána is once again a growing and an expanding organisation. The allocation of resources, including the distribution of personnel, is a matter for the Garda Commissioner under law. Garda deployment in all areas of the country, including in Dublin city centre, has benefited from the increased recruitment, with another 200 to be allocated on Friday.
In the Dublin metropolitan region's north central division, the number of gardaí has increased from 590 at the end of 2015 to 695 at the end of August 2019, representing an 18% increase in the division over the past four years. At the same time the number of Garda civilian staff has increased from 39 to 55. Taken together the increases in gardaí and Garda civilian staff means a very significant increase in the operational policing hours in the Dublin north central division.
Deputy Howlin is absolutely correct in reminding us of the connection between economic and educational disadvantage, and crime, but I do not accept that the Government is failing on it. Unemployment is down by two thirds to below 5%. Even in the black spots it is down significantly. The level of poverty has fallen for four years in a row, with about 100,000 children lifted out of child poverty in the last few years. Deprivation is falling and incomes are rising. There is unprecedented investment in childcare, early childhood education, school education and higher education. More people from non-traditional backgrounds are attending higher education than ever before, but that does not result in lower crime levels in just a few years. The strong economic performance and strong investment in communities needs to continue for a generation or certainly for many years before it is reflected in lower crime levels.
4. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he has responded to the open letter addressed to him from a group (details supplied). [46346/19]
5. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he has responded to the open letter seeking dialogue on the constitutional future of island of Ireland. [47363/19]
6. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he has responded to the open letter seeking dialogue on the constitutional future of the island of Ireland. [48846/19]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 to 6, inclusive, together.
On Friday, 1 November an open letter was received in my office signed by citizens North and South as an initiative of the Ireland’s Future group. I became aware of the letter when it was published in the media the following Monday.
The letter raises extremely important matters which naturally require very careful and serious consideration and the Government will engage and reflect on the contents of the letter.
I welcome the initiative taken by this group and the Government has had ongoing and constructive engagement with it, since its formation in 2017. The Tánaiste and I have met representatives and the Minister, Deputy McHugh, participated for the Government in its conference at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast in January this year.
We look forward to continuing this constructive engagement on these important matters and I see the open letter as part of the debate that the group wishes to foster.
The Government respects everyone’s right on this island to make the case for the constitutional future they wish to see for Northern Ireland and Ireland as a whole, whether that is nationalist, unionist or neither.
As I said in the House on 6 November, I do not rule out a citizens' assembly on the future constitutional arrangements in Ireland, but the Government is already committed to a pipeline of citizens' assemblies which is under way, including some voted on by the House. The Citizens’ Assembly on gender equality is about to start. It will run for approximately six months. After that, we will have the one on local government in the Dublin area. There are several suggestions about other citizens' assemblies that also have merit, including one on biodiversity on which the Dáil has passed a motion.
We recognise that the course of Brexit has led to more civic discussion and engagement, North and South, about constitutional change, as provided for under the Good Friday Agreement. The Government will continue to listen to and engage with the views of everyone on this island both on rights issues and on the constitutional future they wish to see for Northern Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement explicitly recognises and validates the legitimacy of both constitutional positions, which are deeply held. The Tánaiste and I will continue to engage on these matters in the spirit of ongoing positive debate.
In the near term, the Government is focused on securing ratification and implementation of the withdrawal agreement to allow for an orderly Brexit, including a smooth transition period; preparing for the next phase of Brexit negotiations dealing with the future EU-UK relationship; restoring the effective functioning of the devolved institutions and the North South Ministerial Council; and ensuring the protection of the Good Friday Agreement and the achievements of the peace process as the UK leaves the EU.
Earlier this month, over 1,000 Irish citizens published an open letter calling on the Taoiseach to establish a citizens' assembly to discuss the island's shared future. The signatories noted the Government's responsibility to ensure the democratic wishes and rights of Irish citizens are respected and protected regardless of where they live on the island. The essence of the letter is a modest ask that the Taoiseach acknowledge the debate that is already taking place and play his role in facilitating the discussion on Ireland's future. Deputy Micheál Martin and Fianna Fáil have followed the line followed by the Taoiseach, which is that now is not the time for citizens North and South to discuss Irish unity. This is very disappointing. Recent referenda on women's healthcare, marriage equality and other issues are proof that politicians are often years behind public opinion when it comes to matters of national importance and public interest.
Latest opinion polls tell us that a majority of people in this State would like a referendum on Irish unity in the next five years. A poll conducted in September in the North produced a similar result. The reality is that the Taoiseach and people in Fianna Fáil are simply out of step with public debate on Irish unity. They both continue to frame the debate in terms of what will be lost instead of what is to be gained. A major event calling for a citizens' assembly to shape Ireland's constitutional future will be held in Croke Park this Thursday. Over 1,500 people took part in a similar event in Belfast in January 2019. The debate on Irish unit is taking place in towns and villages across Ireland just as the Good Friday Agreement anticipated. Has the Taoiseach responded to the letter from Ireland's Future and will he consider the establishment of a citizens' assembly?
Earlier this month, the civic nationalist group known as Ireland's Future wrote yet another open letter calling on the Government to establish a citizens' assembly to look at building broad support for a united Ireland. I have raised this issue since I became leader of the Labour Party because I believe it is important that we have a mechanism akin to the New Ireland Forum that does not set an end location for the journey but opens up a journey of discussion. To put that in the context of yet another topic, important and all as the other topics are, in a queue for a citizens' assembly is to fundamentally miss the point. If there is a variety of lessons to be learned from the Brexit debate, one is the lack of preparedness for a decision put to the UK electorate. Nobody really knew what the actual outcome was and they have spent more than three years trying to make up what the outcome of that journey in the UK is to be. It is incumbent on democratic nationalist parties and others to be invited to reimagine what the constitutional future of this island would be and for all of us, and I say this with a real open mind to all the democratic parties in this House, to approach this with an open agenda and mind - not to see that there is to be an end destination that is presumed because we will not have the broad participation in that dialogue.
When I last asked about this, the Taoiseach's response was that the time is not right. The problem with that is that if we wait and wait until somebody determines the time is right, it will be too late. We will be in a Brexit-style situation where there will be pressure to make a decision without knowing the context and outcome of that decision. I ask the Taoiseach to sit down with the leaders of the parties in this House to see if we can create the possibility of a forum, be it a New Ireland Forum mark two or a citizens' assembly, to see how we can reach out to the broadest possible strands of opinion across the island of Ireland to contemplate what the future constitutional arrangement might look like in a changing Ireland. I ask the Taoiseach not to dismiss that but to give some consideration to it, possibly come back to it after Christmas and invite a quiet discussion with all the party leaders to see if we can work together on that.
The facts show that today, the entire peace settlement is in crisis. Brexit has been incredibly destabilising but nobody can seriously deny that the crisis in the peace process began well before the Brexit referendum so we need some real talking and a bit of reality here. The core issue is a sense of people retreating from trying to find a shared approach, which was the essence of the Good Friday Agreement. Instead we have a return to communal sniping. That is what is happening right now. The entire point of the Good Friday Agreement was to stop an endless focus on a binary constitutional choice from destabilising society. The agreement provided assurances for all and an opportunity to focus on shared interests. At a point where it looks like there is a majority for permanent constitutional change, a process is provided for in the Good Friday Agreement which takes it out of the day-to-day business of party politics. The evolution to a pathway was already there in the Good Friday Agreement and it still is there.
We have been referenced by the Sinn Féin spokesman today. It is surprising to say the least that at the conference in Derry, Sinn Féin announced that it would set as a precondition for entering Government in the Republic being given cast-iron assurances about the holding of a unity poll. When one takes that in tandem with the book Burned: The Inside Story of the 'Cash-for-Ash' Scandal and Northern Ireland's Secretive New Elite, the definitive work on the cash for ash scandal in the North, and its revelation that the Sinn Féin Minister for Finance in the North had to seek the authority of non-elected Ard Chomhairle officials of Sinn Féin - Ted Howell and Pádraic Wilson - before he could cease the scheme, it reinforces the fact that Sinn Féin is unfit to be in government established under Bunreacht na hÉireann because its own party demands take the place of engagement and persuasion. I would put it to the Taoiseach that for Sinn Féin, it is a legitimate tactic to collapse democratic institutions until it gets its own way. I ask people to read Burned: The Inside Story of the 'Cash-for-Ash' Scandal and Northern Ireland's Secretive New Elite and also to look at the fact that in a recent election within Sinn Féin, the challenger was disappeared from public view and was not allowed to make his case. That is not democratic. Anyone genuinely interested in the unity of the people of this island should be trying to get the agreed institutions of the peace settlement to work and to show those opposed to Irish unity that they share a community of interest. How does collapsing the Assembly and Executive advance Irish unity? It was deliberately collapsed by Sinn Féin.
Why did the Deputy called for it to be collapsed?
I did not at any stage call for it to be collapsed. Does the Taoiseach agree that what we need today is an end to the politics of collapsing democratic institutions and a return of the democratic Assembly and Executive in Northern Ireland? I met people in Newry recently who cannot understand why it has been collapsed. Only when this is done can we return to engagement, without which the union of peoples on this island is impossible. It is about persuasion, not dividing people.
Deputy Micheál Martin and I disagree on a lot and clash a lot but I very much agree with his analysis and comments on this matter. We should not forget what the Good Friday Agreement settlement is all about. It is about acknowledging that Northern Ireland has a unique history and geography and, therefore, has special arrangements - power sharing in Northern Ireland, North-South co-operation structured through the North South Ministerial Council and east-west co-operation through the British Irish Council and the British–Irish Intergovernmental Conference.
It is a good model and while it may not be functioning at the moment, it is still the best model for our generation, rather than dividing people and forcing them to choose between territorial unity or reincorporation into the UK.
When it comes to the whole issue of a citizens' assembly, as I have said before, it is certainly not something that I rule out and is something to which I will give consideration. At the right point in time, as Deputy Howlin suggested, perhaps I will call the party leaders together about the matter. It is a sensitive time now, however, because we are only two weeks or so from Westminster elections, which are happening in Northern Ireland as well as in Great Britain. The Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive are not functioning and the Brexit withdrawal agreement is in the balance. We might find ourselves in a very different place in two or three months' time, in a more stable situation and a better political environment to progress these kinds of ideas.
One thing we need to bear in mind and ask ourselves is whether unionists would participate in a citizens' assembly. One million unionists make up half the population of Northern Ireland and a significant minority on this island. Would British citizens living in Northern Ireland participate in such a citizens' assembly? If not, that would fundamentally change the nature of the assembly because it would seek to discuss the constitutional future of this island absent the representatives of those 1 million people. It would then be a pan-nationalist assembly and not an assembly of all the citizens of Ireland. It would have a very different nature to that which many of us would like to see.
7. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the policing reform implementation programme office in his Department. [46453/19]
8. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the policing reform implementation programme office within his Department. [47359/19]
9. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the policing reform implementation programme office in his Department. [47390/19]
10. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach the status of the work of the policing reform implementation programme office of his Department. [47641/19]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 to 10, inclusive, together.
In December of last year, the Government published A Policing Service for the Future. This is a four-year plan running from 2019 to 2022 to implement the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland.
The plan was developed in co-operation with stakeholders, in particular the Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána.
The plan is set out across four key phases: building blocks, launching, scaling and consolidation. The first year of implementation, 2019, comprised the building blocks and launching phases. Both phases are six months in duration and were necessarily short to ensure momentum and show progress at an early stage.
As recommended in the commission's report, implementation of the plan is being overseen by a dedicated programme office in the Department of the Taoiseach. The programme office is resourced with appropriate expertise in the areas of project management, policing, justice and public service reform.
The plan is a living document and throughout the implementation process, the policing reform implementation programme office will be reviewing and updating the plan as required on a biannual basis and maintaining ambitious but realistic commitments, timeframes and milestones.
As the transformation programme progresses, detailed actions and key milestones for future years will be agreed and documented. The programme office is currently working on detailing actions for the scaling phase of implementation.
An implementation group on policing reform has been established with a former member of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland as its independent chair. The group has collective responsibility for the delivery of the plan.
Its core membership comprises senior officials from the organisations most closely involved in driving the transformation programme. These are An Garda Síochána and the Departments of Justice and Equality, the Taoiseach and Public Expenditure and Reform. Senior representatives of other relevant Departments and agencies are also involved in this group's work.
A high-level steering board, chaired by the Secretary General to the Government, is in place to help guide the work of the implementation group on policing reform.
Political oversight of the implementation of the plan is provided by the Cabinet committee on security.
Much has been achieved to date in 2019 under the plan. For example, a human rights unit has been established and the strategic human rights committee re-established in An Garda Síochána. An organisational census of An Garda Síochána has been completed. Phase 1 of the investigation management system has been implemented. Computer-aided dispatch has been deployed in the western and northern regions. The senior management team of An Garda Síochána has been trained on governance responsibilities. The director of the national security analysis centre has been appointed and the centre itself established. The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2019 has been enacted. The Government has given approval for legislation to be drafted to underpin the use of recording devices, including body-worn cameras, and for codification of legislation defining police powers of arrest, search and detention.
Two infographics on the progress made under A Policing Service for the Future have been published by the policing reform implementation programme office and are available on the policing reform portal on gov.ie.
At the beginning of this year, it was reported that Ireland had one of the lowest police-to-population ratios in Europe. The average ratio across the EU 28 was 318 police officers per 100,000 inhabitants while in Ireland, that figure was 278 gardaí per 100,000 inhabitants. This definition does not take account the number of civilian staff who are not directly involved in police work and vast numbers of civilian staff are involved in supporting police organisations in other EU states. Ireland has consistently lagged behind in the recruitment of civilian staff and that has been a consistent drain on front-line policing, as we have acknowledged for a number of years.
Both front-line policing and the civilianisation of the force were set to improve with 15,000 gardaí and 4,000 civilians to be recruited between the time of the announcement last year and 2021. We have already seen some signs of stalling. For instance, 800 new Garda recruits were set for next year but I understand the number provided in the most recent budget was 700 despite a greater-than-expected number of indicated resignations and retirements next year.
Can the Taoiseach provide a clear update on the programme of recruitment of those 4,000 civilian staff members, who are vital to free up front-line gardaí for duty? Can he further clarify whether the target that was set out for 2021 will actually be met?
As the Taoiseach knows, the establishment of the divisional protective services units is one of the reforms provided for in the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland report. These units were established to provide a consistent and professional approach to the investigation of sexual crime, human trafficking, child abuse and domestic abuse. Last week, the Minister for Justice and Equality admitted that just 13 divisional protective service units have been rolled out to date. This falls far short of what has been committed to in successive policing plans since 2016. The roll-out of the units was to have been completed across all divisions by the end of 2019, yet we are coming to the end of the year with only 65% of these protective service units delivered.
My party leader, Deputy McDonald, has regularly raised these delays with the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Garda Commissioner over the past two years. So slow has been the pace of delivery that the Garda Representative Association told delegates at its annual conference in May that the protective service unit in Cork, established in 2017, had been unable to take on any new cases since late last year.
We have also raised the missed deadlines on the domestic violence risk assessment tool first committed to in the policing plan of 2016. Garda management committed to developing and implementing a risk assessment matrix for all victims of domestic violence and sexual crime by the end of 2016. No revised date for the completion of this project has been provided and perhaps the Taoiseach can advise on that.
Yesterday marked the beginning of the annual 16-day campaign opposing violence against women. These policing reforms, already the norm in other countries, are critical to the protection of women and children, yet there is no sense of urgency from the Garda Commissioner or from the Minister for delivering on these existing commitments. What attention has the policing reform implementation programme office within the Department of the Taoiseach given to domestic and gender-based violence and policing commitments? Can we now expect a roll-out of the protective service units being completed?
Like many people in the Oireachtas, I have been out canvassing and campaigning on the north and south sides of Dublin in advance of the upcoming by-elections. In Dublin Mid-West, since campaigning for the by-elections began less than four weeks ago, a man was killed in horrific circumstances and the car in which he was found was blown up in a fireball. This happened in Lucan. The Taoiseach knows as well as I do what the situation is in Lucan. It is a lovely suburb and yet it is being visited by this kind of heinous crime.
A young man, only 22 years old, was shot down in cold blood on the north side of Dublin on Sunday night.
In addition to housing, the question I am asked about all the time is the issue of crime. Does the Government intend to do anything to give relief to communities that are beset by crime? In all of the policing documents, not least the current one, we are told that community policing will be at the heart of policing strategy to ensure that young people can walk around without fear of knife crime, being accosted in a public park, their phones being taken from them and, even worse, physical violence being done to them. We know that much of that is related to drugs and in particular to cocaine. Notwithstanding the lipservice to community policing, across Dublin, and I would say throughout the country, we do not have community policing in our streets and communities. We need that, particularly for young people, children, schoolgoers and students because they are the people who are living through this crime. It is very difficult for them not to be disturbed by the constant reports of really violent crime, most of which is inspired by the enormous profits to be made out of dealing in cocaine and other drugs. Has this group in the Taoiseach's Department walked the mean streets to see what is happening and the way communities are being put in fear in respect of crime or is it all about reports and relatively little action?
In the past few years, every time a Deputy raised an issue about serious crime and anti-social behaviour, the response has tended to be that everything is being attended to but there is no doubt that people have a growing sense of unease about crime. The habitual use of drugs in society, in campuses, on streets and so on, is causing major concern. The work of the National Crime Council and others on the large gap between certain statistics and the reality of crime on the ground, particularly in terms of people feeling intimidated in communities, is an issue the Government should take on board. The last survey of the National Crime Council showed that one in five people believe their lives have been affected by a fear of crime or a sense that there is a crime in their local community which could impact on them at any moment.
We know that many communities across the country are experiencing a rising sense of fear. That is true all across the country. People believe the State is losing control; that is the perception. The Taoiseach may argue with that perception but without question it is the case. It is impacted by the story of the use of serious drugs. The policing response needed is more than the deployment of resources, important as that is now. Can the Taoiseach give an assurance that he has raised that issue with the Commissioner? Can he give an indication of his response, particularly in terms of the spread of serious drug use across the community?
I raised with the Taoiseach previously the recent incident in Cork where 100 youths descended on the city, through social media incitement, wearing balaclavas and so on. The message was, "You only have 1 minute to yam that shop". It referred to a particular sports shop and was a copycat of what went on in London, Belgium and elsewhere. I see from the joint policing forum in Cork that 22 bikes are stolen in Cork city every month. That is now the norm. Cork did not benefit from any Garda deployment out of recent recruitments. The Taoiseach undertook to raise these concerns about street crime in Cork with the Commissioner. Has he had that conversation and what was the outcome?
In respect of Garda numbers, An Garda Síochána is once again a growing organisation. There are more than 14,200 gardaí now, aided by 2,900 Garda staff nationwide. These numbers continue to increase. The Government's aim is to reach a total workforce of 21,000 by 2020, and we are confident that target will be met. An additional 200 new gardaí will be sworn on Friday in Templemore. As a result of this Garda deployment, all areas of the country have benefited from this increased recruitment. Garda management keeps the distribution of resources under continual review, in the context of crime trends and policing priorities, to ensure their optimal use.
In respect of Cork, and I have raised this with the Garda Commissioner and will do so again when I see him on Friday, I am told by the Garda Commissioner that at the end of 2016, a total of 644 gardaí were assigned to the Cork city division, aided by 59 Garda staff. As of the end of October, that has increased to 700 gardaí. That is an increase from 644 to 700. The number of Garda staff has increased from 59 to 92. There are also 33 members of the Garda Reserve in Cork city. The significant increase in Garda staff numbers in Cork city means that as well as new gardaí assigned to the division, additional gardaí can be redeployed from administrative to operational policing duties where their training and policing expertise can be used to best effect. Taken together, it can be expected that this increase in Garda members and staff numbers means a real increase in the operational policing hours in the Cork city division. Nationally, since 2018, 500 gardaí have been redeployed from administrative duties to front-line visible policing.
It is also worth saying that divisions in County Cork have similarly benefited from the additional resources in these years. Three hundred gardaí and 28 staff were assigned to the Cork north division in December 2016 but now there are 335 gardaí, aided by 31 staff. In the west division, there were 281 gardaí. That figure is now 304, and the Garda staff figure has increased from 24 to 31.
The establishment of the divisional protective services units, DPSUs, which are the Irish equivalent of the special victims units the Deputy mentioned, is a commitment under A Policing Service for the Future. There is a four-year implementation plan giving effect to that. I am informed by the Garda authorities that the DPSU in Cork city is now operational. The roll-out of these units nationwide was always intended to be on a phased basis. So far, 13 have been established. It can take time to make the necessary arrangements for each new DPSU. They require appropriate accommodation and staffing, and other arrangements need to be made to ensure that the unit, when operational, is effective and can meet the needs of victims and vulnerable witnesses. I am informed by Garda management that the remaining DPSUs will be phased in by the end of the first quarter of next year. While we all look forward to seeing those units being operational, there is a reasonable and realistic timeframe, and this is it. It is also necessary to respect the fact that the Commissioner and Garda management have responsibility for Garda resources and deployment of its personnel. I have been informed that internal competitions for selection of personnel for these units is now complete in some cases and progression is expected to commence shortly on others.
On the issue of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, particularly violence against women, the national strategy was launched in January 2016 and is a whole-of-government response to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. So far, there has been a national awareness campaign, which hopes to raise awareness and change attitudes to support the prevention of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, particularly against women. There has been a range of legislative changes, including the enactment of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 and the Domestic Violence Act 2018, which made it easier to access a barring order and created new offences of coercive control and forced marriage.
I have mentioned already the establishment of DPSUs, with 13 now established. A system of victim offender mediation for victims of sexual violence has been established by the Probation Service. A domestic violence perpetrator programme is being developed and I refer to the establishment of a postgraduate research network on domestic violence and sexual violence, as well as improved data collection. Research and data are very important in this area, and other areas also. There is also the development of an awareness and education programme for primary and second level schools in respect of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.
The strategy also contained actions which were required to enable Ireland ratify the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women, which is known as the Istanbul Convention. That included creating a new offence of forced marriage and a new criminal offence of coercive control. As a result of that, we were able to ratify the Istanbul Convention on 8 March, which was International Women's Day. It came into force on 1 July.
Regarding the murder in Clonshaugh and the murder in Lucan, the Garda is investigating both of those appalling crimes. As a result, I am limited in my comments. We need to support the Garda and give it time and space to investigate these crimes, gather evidence and secure prosecutions.
Local patrols are being supplemented now by armed support units, and there is ongoing liaison support being provided by relevant sections within the serious crime operations security and intelligence section. The Minister for Justice and Equality has sought an urgent report from the Commissioner seeking details of the actions in Lucan, Clonshaugh and Coolock.