Community Safety and Fireworks: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

acknowledges:

— the number of Community Gardaí across the State has fallen from 1,182 in 2010 to 710 in July 2020, with a drop in Community Garda numbers in the Dublin Metropolitan Region decreasing by 45 per cent from 508 in 2010 to 278 in July 2020;

— the number of Gardaí assigned to the Dublin Metropolitan Region in August 2020 at 4,059 remains below 2010 figures at 4,160;

— that the Programme for Government makes a commitment to ‘prioritise visible policing in both rural and urban communities’ and ‘remove Gardaí from administrative, technical and other non-core duties to allow them to focus on policing matters’;

— the fear and anxiety felt throughout communities, particularly in urban areas in the run up to Halloween, caused by early onset of the misuse of fireworks;

— that several serious incidents have been reported, including fireworks being thrown at those attending a vigil for a hit and run victim, fireworks being thrown in letterboxes and pedestrians being targeted by fireworks;

— the threat caused by these actions to public services and community facilities such as local bus services, sports pitches and public parks;

— the impact of the use of illegal fireworks on the resources of emergency services, with over 900 calls to Dublin Fire Brigade on Halloween night 2018, including over 300 ambulance call-outs, and the Dublin Fire Brigade being called out to approximately 180 emergency incidents on Halloween night in 2019;

— the safety risk posed by the use of illegal fireworks and the increasing possibility of serious injuries in the absence of effective measures to prevent the unlicensed import, sale and distribution of illegal fireworks;

— the significant noise pollution and disturbance to the wider community caused by the illegal and frequent use of fireworks, which is particularly distressing for elderly people, young children and animals; and

— that the start date for Operation Tombola, which commenced on 4th September, 2020, is ineffective given that multiple incidents have been reported well in advance of the operations commencement; and

calls on the Government to:

— ensure that the frequency of Garda patrols in communities most affected by these actions is immediately increased and commit to restoring the number of Gardaí assigned to the Dublin Metropolitan Region to a minimum of 2010 levels by 2021;

— immediately increase the recruitment of Garda civilian staff to help facilitate an increased Garda presence in communities;

— commit to a minimum recruitment of 800 Gardaí per annum, with priority deployment in the area of community safety;

— immediately establish a joint taskforce between An Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) under Operation Tombola, to proactively work to combat the distribution, sale and use of illegal fireworks;

— establish a confidential and dedicated telephone line to allow members of the public to report instances of the misuse of fireworks;

— immediately roll out a public and school awareness campaign incorporating Dublin Fire Brigade and the Gardaí, including engagements with schools, community groups and youth organisations, to highlight the dangers of the misuse of fireworks;

— commit to providing a report on Operation Tombola to the Houses of the Oireachtas before 31st December, 2020, identifying areas for improvement in resourcing and making recommendations in respect of same to develop an annual strategy for the effective combating of the importation, sale and use of illegal fireworks;

— immediately commence public consultation to run until after the Halloween period, involving community groups, youth organisations and the wider public, to identify the extent of the impact of the misuse of fireworks and to ensure that resources are effectively targeted in areas most affected and the views of effected communities are incorporated into the annual strategy; and

— commit to the establishment of Operation Tombola on an annual basis to commence no later than 1st July, and ensure that the operation is sufficiently resourced and involves joint co-operation with the PSNI.

I apologise but one should never run while wearing a face mask.

One only has to walk around parts of Clondalkin, Lucan, Palmerston and Rathcoole at night to see the effects that fireworks are having in our communities. This issue not only affects the length and breadth of Dublin but other urban centres across the country. My colleague, Deputy Gould, has highlighted the issue in his area in Cork city.

The use of fireworks began as early as June this year, much earlier than in other years. Our elderly residents are afraid of their use. Business owners have been targeted and have considered closing their shops and premises earlier. Families and workers have had their quality of life impacted. Children on the autism spectrum who are more sensitive to noise and light are terrified.

Fireworks are, however, the symptom of a larger problem. Antisocial behaviour is on the increase, along with open drug dealing and scrambler bikes becoming more prevalent in our areas. A report I received from Dublin Bus showed a 200% increase in bus service curtailments due to antisocial behaviour in July and August this year compared with the same time last year. This includes missiles and fireworks being aimed at buses, putting driver and passenger safety at risk.

Why is this happening? Community Garda numbers have decreased with Dublin seeing 45% fewer community gardaí in 2020 than in 2010. Last March, the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, issued a directive which placed community gardaí on a contingency roster. That meant that there were no community gardaí working in our communities after 7 p.m. Our communities have been abandoned and left vulnerable, as well as unsafe, by this decision.

One does not have to be a rocket scientist to work out the connection between a decreased Garda presence at night and an increase in antisocial behaviour and criminal activity. There is a sense of lawlessness within some of our communities. A Sinn Féin councillor on Dublin City Council, Daithí Doolan, recently tabled an emergency motion calling for a fireworks task force to be formed. This was unanimously supported by all parties and none on Dublin City Council. This motion is calling for a restoration of community Garda numbers to 2010 levels. We are also calling for the Garda Commissioner to immediately reverse his decision and allow community gardaí to work in our communities after 7 p.m.

Operation Tombola, which is launched every year in the run-up to Hallowe'en, did not begin this year until 4 September despite the issues being visible from June and July. Operation Tombola needs to be more flexible and brought forward.

This is a common-sense motion. It is common sense to want safe communities, that the elderly should be protected and that our families and workers have a better quality of life. However, common sense is not very common when it comes to Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party. I am asking all parties and none to put aside political differences and let common sense prevail by passing this motion to allow safety to be restored in our communities.

I thank my colleague and constituency partner, Deputy Ward, for tabling this important motion. We have had lots of discussions in our society about how Covid-19 has impacted various sections of our population but we probably have not discussed enough the very negative impact it has had on our young people. It is really important we do not as a society demonise young people because the past seven months have been exceptionally difficult for many of them. The closure of schools, the temporary loss of youth services, the closure of sporting clubs and the suspension of other activities have put an enormous strain on young people, particularly the younger cohorts. This does not in any way excuse antisocial behaviour, no matter its level of seriousness. However, when we have spoken to hard-working community gardaí and youth workers on the front line, as I am sure other colleagues have, they tell us they have noticed that Covid-19 has had an impact on a wider section of young people than we would often talk about in these debates. The loss of structure and routine in their lives has left many young people vulnerable to forms of activity which would not necessarily be the way they would ordinarily behave. Front-line youth services in particular are chronically underfunded. I see in the House Deputies from a range of Dublin constituencies and in every one of them, from Finglas and Ballymun to the north inner city to the south inner city and to Deputy Ward and me in the west, our front-line services do not have enough funding to provide good quality activity for young people to be involved in. The National Youth Council of Ireland is calling on the Government to increase the youth work services budget in budget 2021 significantly.

We have incredible sports facilities run in the main by voluntary groups. In my constituency there is the Esker boxing club, Clondalkin Celtic FC, Knockmitten United FC and there are all our Gaelic athletic clubs the length and breadth of the country. Again, however, they are chronically under-resourced because our local authorities, one of the main sources of community funding, are themselves underfunded in this area of activity. I wish to make very clear that the very best antidote to antisocial behaviour, particularly for the vast majority of young people who might be tempted to get involved in it, are positive, pro-social activities within their communities, properly resourced with the infrastructure, the full-time staff and the support for volunteers. That needs to be part of the focus.

My colleague, Deputy Ward, is absolutely right that our other problem is the lack of proper investment in community gardaí. What is important about community gardaí is that they are not the heavy hand of the law; they are the soft, proactive, preventative community policing. Young people get to know their community gardaí and engage with them on the streets through inter-league soccer matches etc. to address these problems. I therefore urge Government Deputies to support the spirit and letter of this motion to ensure we get that additional investment.

I wish to make an appeal to young people and their parents. I ask them to be mindful of their neighbours, the pensioners, the children with special needs and people with pets, all of whom are wholly negatively affected by this phenomenon. I ask them to have respect for the people in their communities because if we work together we will ensure a better quality of life for everybody: more investment in youth services, more investment in sports and more investment in community gardaí. Let us look after one another and not make one another's lives more difficult.

My constituency of Dublin Bay North is no different from that of the previous speakers. Since August of this year fireworks, rockets and bangers have been going off morning, noon and night. People are afraid. Our elderly people have had bangers put through their letterboxes. Fireworks have been aimed at people and moving cars. People's property has been damaged and children are afraid to go out to play. This is also causing huge distress to our pets. It needs to stop. Our communities need assistance and supports. It is unfair on everyone living in these areas and they should not have to put up with it. We all know fireworks are illegal, but somehow my community has been flooded with them and those selling them need to cop on. We need the Garda to intervene. On top of this, we have seen an increase in antisocial behaviour, which is reflected in communities all across Dublin that are having problems with drugs and gangs. This has all been well reported on but it remains the same. Is it any wonder when we have 230 fewer community gardaí than we did ten years ago? I raised in June the lack of community gardaí with the Minister's predecessor as well as the lack of community resources and supports for the Garda in my area. In March of this year there were 39 community gardaí assigned to the northern Dublin metropolitan region division, but the latest figures, for July, show a drop of nearly 75% in the number of community gardaí. We now have only 11 assigned to the region. That is disgraceful, but I am not surprised because Governments have neglected our communities for decades when it has come to policing resources.

We need to get a grip on this because we are still a month out from Hallowe'en and I can only imagine this behaviour getting worse as Hallowe'en approaches. People in these communities have been tormented and they have a right to feel safe in their homes and their communities. They need the Garda to be resourced properly so it can respond to this. I know that many people will be watching this and will be hoping the Government will support these communities that are crying out for help. I call on all Deputies across all parties and none to support the motion.

Community safety is not just an empty concept. The Government has to look at it and invest in it. It needs to invest in community gardaí and I will come back to that. It needs to invest not only in youth services and community facilities but also in CCTV cameras and the courts. As Deputy Ó Broin said, this motion is not aimed at demonising young people, but there is a responsibility on many people, the youth included. The main responsibility, however, lies with the State to ensure that it properly invests in, helps and encourages the youth to go about their activities safely in order that they enjoy themselves. Facilities must be available to them in order that we do not end up as we do year on year coming up to Hallowe'en with absolute chaos in some parts of this city. This year the chaos started a lot earlier and comes on top of the issue of scramblers, the open drug dealing, attacks on people along the canals in my area and elsewhere and damage to playgrounds. Every single day since the middle of August, I have had constituents writing to me asking me to get the Garda to react to the targeting of their houses, their cars and other properties. Buses have been targeted with fireworks, which are very loud and very damaging. There has not seemed to be a proportionate response, or any response some nights, to any of these activities. People, especially the elderly, are in absolute fear and anxiety. Their dogs are fretting. Panic sets in. It is unbearable for many. In some cases people are targeted as they walk down the street because they have had the decency to ring and ask for help from An Garda Síochána. Still there is no response when they come under attack. Sometimes the roads are taken up with people firing fireworks at one another. In other cases people are targeted with bangers thrown at them and their children as they watch football matches. That is not good enough and the State has to act and defend the citizens who feel they are under attack. They do not just fear being under attack; in many cases they are under attack.

There is a reason this is happening. The cuts in Dublin South-Central had a consequence. Once there were 99 community gardaí. That dropped to a low of 28 two years ago. A police service cannot be run with such a low number of community gardaí. I therefore appeal to the Minister not just to support this motion but to act on it quickly in order that we do not end up seeing this problem escalate.

I have a copy of the Minister of State's speech. I think there is general agreement that this is happening earlier and earlier each year. I do not know why it is happening particularly early this year. Deputy Ward said that in his constituency it started in June or July this year. It was July or August in my area.

The explosive noise of the bangers seems to be louder than in previous years and I do not remember them ever starting this early. There seems to be greater availability of them. I do not have answers as to why this is happening and in the Minister of State's script, I noted there were no real answers as to why it is a particular problem this year. Some say it is a response to Covid and people are tired and so on.

It is getting earlier and earlier each night. Last night in my area, the first blast I heard was at 4.50 p.m. and it continued through the night. I have talked to people in different communities. One man said a blast went off at about 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. It set off alarms, dogs were barking and it terrified people. People talked of the impact it has on the elderly. In one area, the playground was used as a launching pad and the remnants of the rockets landed on the houses of the senior citizens in the area. One can imagine lying in bed and this stuff hitting the roof. In another area, I know of a man who is seriously ill and rockets hit the back window of his house. One can imagine the terror in that house and this man is terminally ill. There is all that evidence out there.

We are asking for a different response. The Minister launched a campaign today but this has been going on for months in our communities. People are looking for answers and the idea for tonight's debate is to have the Government focus on it and to look for action that will come as a response from the Garda. I appeal to the Minister of State to perhaps go off his script and address some of the issues affecting our communities. This is not an anti-Garda motion. We want to work with our communities and the Garda and we believe we can do better.

There has been an unprecedented increase in the use of illegal fireworks across communities in Dublin. In my constituency of Dublin North-West, we have been plagued by individuals letting off bangers and rockets on a continual basis during the day, in the evening and at night for nearly three months. People are at the end of their tether with these incessant and at times deafening daily explosions. They are causing a great amount of distress to residents, animals, pets and the elderly.

What surprises me most is there seems to be an endless supply of these fireworks. If the past three months are any indication, there does not seem to be any obstacle to people's ability to get their hands on them. I am aware there is an increasing number of incidents where individuals have used them in a dangerous manner by targeting people's homes, shops and transport. Fireworks have also been aimed recklessly at people, children and animals and as a result some have had serious injuries. This places an additional and unnecessary burden on our already hard-pressed emergency and hospital services at a time when resources should be focused on combating this pandemic.

With such large quantities of fireworks available, I fear for what will happen at Hallowe'en and in the build-up to it. I expect a serious escalation in the use of these illegal fireworks to the detriment of our community. We need a strong Garda response to this issue now. The Garda needs the resources to tackle this antisocial activity, which has gone far beyond being a nuisance and is a daily torment for our community. The reality on the ground is that community gardaí are being released from duty each evening at 7 p.m., at a time when this sort of activity more likely to occur. More members of the Garda should be made available to safeguard communities from this scourge. This can happen more readily if the Garda overtime ban is removed, particularly from those areas most affected by this problem. I have spoken previously in the Dáil about the effect of the illegal use of fireworks, particularly on those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, or on those with sensory sensitivity issues such as children with autism. They, like older residents of our communities, are feeling terrorised on a daily basis with these fireworks. They feel trapped in their homes and the noise levels are so high at times that it is impossible to drown out the noise of this latest generation of bangers and rockets. Our communities are now feeling the effects of cuts to policing, which plays a vital role in combating antisocial activity. Until these cuts are reversed and real recruitment begins, this antisocial behaviour will continue.

Every year, Finglas and Ballymun have their own fireworks display and Dublin City Council has done a marvellous job in bringing communities with them and in reducing the number of fireworks in the area. I shudder to think what will happen this year because what has already happened will affect forthcoming decisions by Dublin City Council.

I move amendment No. 2:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

“notes:

— the commitment in the Programme for Government to close engagement between An Garda Síochána and local communities;

— the Government’s commitment to implement the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland entitled ‘A Policing Service for the Future’, including the key action for the redeployment of members of An Garda Síochána away from noncore duties and into communities;

— the new Garda Operating Model which will reorganise resources around the delivery of frontline policing, emphasising engagement with communities and supporting victims of crime;

— the commitment of Government to continue recruitment to An Garda Síochána;

— the recruitment of more than 3,500 additional Gardaí since 2014, amounting to 14,648 Garda members at the end of August 2020, with an additional 3,344 civilian staff;

— that in addition to the 4,059 Gardaí assigned to the Dublin Metropolitan Region at the end of August 2020, 429 Garda civilian staff were also assigned to this region, which is an increase of 184 on the figure in 2010, supporting the release of Garda members from noncore duties to front line policing duties;

— that Gardaí in all regions are also supported by national specialist units such as the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, the Criminal Assets Bureau, the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and the Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau;

— that in 2020 to date, 520 Garda trainees have been attested as sworn members of An Garda Síochána;

— the Government’s commitment to combatting the use of unlicensed fireworks in the State, by restricting the availability of all hazardous fireworks to the general public;

— that the penalties for offences related to unlicensed fireworks are severe, such as fines of up to €10,000 or up to five years imprisonment;

— that licences under the Explosives Act, 1875, are issued by the Department of Justice and Equality only for the importation of fireworks to be used in organised displays conducted by professional and competent operators;

— that throughout the Dublin Metropolitan Region, Community Gardaí together with the Divisional Crime Prevention Officer, working in conjunction with Dublin Fire

Brigade, will promote the awareness of the dangers associated with fireworks;

— that in response to a noted increase in concerns relating to unlicensed fireworks the Garda Operation Tombola commenced on 4th September, which is one month earlier than in previous years;

— that under Operation Tombola, Gardaí have put in place local operational plans to tackle the sale of fireworks, including through high visibility policing and utilising the Divisional Public Order Units as appropriate;

— that since 16th August, 2020, An Garda Síochána have seized a significant number of fireworks, in some instances resulting in prosecutions;

— the Department of Justice and Equality’s annual safety campaign, aimed at ensuring the public is aware of the dangers of illegal fireworks and bonfires;

— An Garda Síochána’s partnership approach to problem solving with the community and other agencies in the policing of the Halloween period and the importance of

local Gardaí continuing to receive information directly from communities; and

— the very strong cooperation between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and An Garda Síochána, which takes place via a range of measures including a crossborder policing strategy, an annual crossborder seminar on organised crime, the Joint Agency Task Force and through parallel investigations and Joint Investigation Teams;

recognises:

— that despite the Government’s policy on the matter, the use of unlicensed fireworks continues to be a problem and presents a significant safety risk, particularly in the weeks leading up to Halloween;

— the disturbance and distress caused by the unregulated and illegal use of fireworks in the lead up to Halloween and the impact on quality of life;

— the risk to health and safety of persons, animals, businesses and property by the illegal and unsupervised use of fireworks;

— the risk of injury, in particular to young children who are exposed to, or use illegal fireworks;

— the fear that can be experienced, in particular by elderly people in our communities and the impact on household pets and agricultural livestock; and

— the particular importance this year, given the impact of Covid19, that all steps are taken to prevent any additional strain on the public health system which could result from firework related injuries;

supports the Government’s:

— commitment to prioritise visible policing in communities and to redeploy Gardaí from noncore duties to enable an enhanced focus on policing matters, including community policing;

— plan to extend the powers of An Garda Síochána to use closed-circuit television (CCTV) to help prevent crime and prosecute those involved;

— commitment to establish an expert forum on antisocial behaviour;

— intention to introduce a national community safety policy and to develop community safety partnerships in every local electoral area which will bring together communities, An Garda Síochána, local authorities and essential services from across Government to jointly tackle community safety issues;

— commitment to introduce a new Youth Justice Strategy in the coming months which will bring together the full range of communitybased youth justice interventions to be tailored for the needs of local communities; and

— commitment to keep under review the start date for Operation Tombola each year to ensure a timely response; and

reaffirms:

— its ongoing support for An Garda Síochána and the work the Gardaí do every day on behalf of communities across the country;

— its support of the Government’s commitment to support communities and take all necessary steps to reduce incidence of antisocial behaviour, including the illegal use of fireworks; and

— its support of the Government’s commitment to work with communities and support them in accessing the right services and empowering them to be involved in issues affecting their quality of life.”

While it is not possible for the Government to support the Private Members’ motion tabled by Sinn Féin, I welcome the opportunity to update the Dáil on the ongoing proactive work the Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána are doing to both raise awareness of the dangers and illegality of fireworks and to combat their importation, sale and use. An amendment setting out the current and future work of the Government in this regard has been tabled and moved and I will, with the agreement of the House, take it as read.

At the outset, I assure Members that the Government is committed to ensuring Ireland is a safe and secure place for all. The well-being of our communities is a priority and we want members of the public to be confident and secure in going about their lives at all times of the year. I share the concerns raised about the misuse of fireworks. Deputies will appreciate that at this time of year, combating the abuse of fireworks presents additional challenges for authorities. But I can assure Deputies that these challenges are factored into annual work plans and appropriate resources are in place to address them. That said, the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and I are all too conscious of the numerous incidents and, sadly, some serious accidents arising from the use of illegal fireworks.

Every year in the run up to Hallowe'en, my Department and An Garda Síochána, together with local authorities and the emergency services, engage in additional work to try to keep everyone safe and to raise awareness of the dangers associated with improper use of fireworks. Just today, the Minister, Deputy McEntee, launched the Department of Justice and Equality’s annual fireworks awareness campaign. We are asking people thinking about using and buying fireworks to think again and not to add to the problems already faced by so many in our communities during this pandemic.

Our emergency services are battling Covid-19. We owe it to them this Hallowe'en not to unnecessarily increase the pressure they are facing by filling emergency rooms with preventable injuries caused by the use of illegal fireworks. Our elderly neighbours, who already are worried about the pandemic and who have cocooned and restricted their movements, do not need the extra worry of fireworks going off near their homes. When it comes to fireworks, we are asking people to not add to the problem.

Nobody disagrees with the fact that fireworks are explosives which can maim and even kill. Nor will anyone contest the fact that fireworks are dangerous in untrained and unlicensed hands. They also cause serious distress for pets and livestock. What we cannot agree with is the suggestion that the Government and An Garda Síochána are not proactively addressing these issues. It is not correct to infer that the increased use of fireworks is as a result of lacking resources or action on the part of Garda authorities or that members of the Garda are not working closely with local communities to deal with this in an appropriate way. We have strong legislation dealing with the importation, sale and use of illegal fireworks. An Garda Síochána already has launched its Hallowe'en policing plan, Operation Tombola. This year, it was launched a month early in Dublin in recognition of the increased use of fireworks.

The sale or use of fireworks by unlicensed people is not only incredibly dangerous, it is illegal. Government policy restricts the availability of all hazardous fireworks to the public. Licences under the Explosives Act are issued by the Department of Justice and Equality only for the importation of fireworks to be used in organised displays conducted by professional and competent people. The penalties for misusing fireworks go right up to fines of €10,000 and five years in prison. The penalties are high because the dangers are real.

In addition to the power to make arrests for the possession of unlicensed fireworks, the Garda has available several strong legislative provisions to combat antisocial behaviour more generally. These include 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.

Deputies should acknowledge the significant efforts made all year, but redoubled at this time, by An Garda Síochána to combat the importation, sale and use of illegal fireworks. Operation Tombola runs across the country until the end of October. It focuses on combating the illegal importation, sale and use of fireworks and ensures appropriate policing plans are in place over this period. Each district has its own plan, focusing on preventing public disorder and antisocial behaviour through the deployment of resources, including Garda public order units to augment local plans, as appropriate and necessary.

As well as recognising this work, I ask the House to also recognise the close and ongoing co-operation between the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, and An Garda Síochána. Mechanisms are in place that provide a good overarching framework for co-operation between the two forces, support law enforcement efforts and allow the policing services to identify the appropriate and most effective response in all matters, including the movement of illegal fireworks across the Border. In fact, the Minister, Deputy McEntee, was informed by the Commissioner that this specific issue will be discussed at a strategic level at a forthcoming meeting of the cross-border joint agency task force strategic oversight group in the coming days.

Regarding Garda resources, it is important to note that the Commissioner is responsible for managing and controlling An Garda Síochána and for the allocation and efficient use of Garda resources. This includes decisions regarding the allocation and deployment of Garda personnel nationwide. The Commissioner and his management team are best placed to make the expert judgments necessary about where to place Garda resources. It would not be appropriate to substitute our judgment for that of the Commissioner and his management team. That said, I assure Deputies that the Government is committed to continuing to train and induct new recruits into An Garda Síochána annually. Funding has been provided to An Garda Síochána in budget 2020 for the recruitment of up to 700 gardaí, and additional Garda staff, the balance of which will be for the Commissioner to decide, based on identified operational demands.

The programme for Government gives priority to more visible policing in rural and urban communities and the removal of Garda members from administrative, technical and other non-core duties to allow them focus on core policing matters. A key commitment in the policing reform plan, A Policing Service for the Future, is the roll-out of An Garda Síochána's new operating model, which reorganises resources around the delivery of front-line policing, placing an increased emphasis on engaging with communities and supporting the victims of crime. This will strengthen further community policing and engagement and will provide a more localised, responsive policing service for each division nationwide.

I also draw attention to the Government's plan to bring the full range of community-based youth justice interventions together in a way that allows for them to be tailored to the needs of local communities and the specific challenges posed by young people in those communities. The youth justice strategy will set out specific commitments, and it is intended that it will be brought to Government before the end of the year.

We all agree that fireworks present more dangers than many seem to realise. These include dangers associated with explosion, which can injure, main or even kill, not to mention the negative impacts on the well-being of our communities. In light of Covid-19, the Government is aware that now, more than ever, it is particularly important that all steps are taken to prevent additional strain on the resources of hospitals, such as those which could result from preventable firework-related injuries.

The Government and An Garda Síochána are committed to combating the sale and use of unlicensed fireworks and to addressing related antisocial behaviour. We are working proactively together to do this - this year more than ever - and I ask the House to support the Government's amendment moved to reflect this intention. My colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy McEntee, will address the issues raised by the Deputies in her closing remarks later this evening.

I will be supporting the Government's amendment to the motion, and I urge the Opposition to do the same, in order that we can send a strong message from this House that the type of activity taking place in Dublin in recent months is unacceptable and this House rejects it. I agree with other Deputies who described the problem, which dates back to July, of people with pets, people with children with special needs and older people being terrorised in their own communities. The difficulty is that in communities such as mine, people often look out the window and see scrambler bikes and open drug dealing going unchecked by the powers that be. Then they hear the bangs of fireworks and do not even bother reporting them.

It was in that context that I wrote to the Garda Commissioner. When he was appointed, he said "Crime is not like rain, it does not fall evenly on us all". Community policing in my area is being undermined by this activity. Deputy Seán Crowe said that this motion provided us with a focus with which to deal with this issue. I suggest that the Deputy is late to the party. I have been dealing with this matter with the Minister and the Garda Commissioner since August. I was pleased last week to receive correspondence from the assistant commissioner stating that Operation Tombola has been brought forward by a month. That will be a necessary intervention.

I also welcomed the public safety campaign on fireworks also being brought forward by one month. I had the great pleasure to launch it last year when I was the Lord Mayor. This year's campaign was launched today by the Minister, one month earlier than last year. The Commissioner has assured the new Government that these measures are already having an impact on the ground. I am not sure people in my area believe that yet, but we have time. We must deliver before Hallowe'en, because if we do not life will be unbearable in communities such as mine.

I am not sure which Deputy from Sinn Féin is speaking, but he or she has ten minutes. Deputy O'Reilly is mentioned first in the list I have, but it is Deputies Andrews, Paul Donnelly and Martin Browne. I call Deputy Andrews.

I welcome this motion put forward by my colleague, Deputy Ward. Two weeks ago, a young woman in the park in Ringsend was hit in the forehead by rocket. When I say there was a hole in her head, I am not exaggerating. It was horrendous. It was an image that could not be unseen and was hard to get out of one's mind. It was traumatic, I imagine, for the poor woman.

This year, the community development section in Dublin City Council has not been able to plan community activities around Hallowe'en, as it has done in recent years. The fireworks seem to be particularly bad this year. They seem stronger in their power, the people using them are being more reckless and they started to let off these fireworks in June and July. I do not think it is a coincidence that we have a particular problem this year. The Garda used to have a community schools programme but that is no longer running. That would be an effective way of addressing this issue, although it might not be as trendy or fashionable as looking for social media influencers.

Dublin City Council community development section has developed amazing projects in recent years. Those projects have effectively turned what in many ways were no-go areas around Hallowe'en into locations with really exciting and enjoyable activities, in which there was major engagement by local communities. It is also important to recognise and acknowledge the positive work community gardaí do. I mentioned the schools programme but I know that the Cabbage Garden, not too far from here, at Kevin Street, was a no-go area for years, especially in the run-up to and during Hallowe'en. The work of the community development team in Dublin City Council and the community gardaí, however, made last year a real success, turned around all the antisocial behaviour, drug dealing and trouble for residents and made Hallowe'en a very enjoyable experience. The same goes for Ringsend, where Dublin City Council developed a great community project that really made a difference to everyone in the area.

To offer something positive and a possible solution, therefore, I believe that if Dublin City Council's community development team had the funding, it would be possible to ensure that more great projects could happen and that problems, such as the events we have been experiencing this year, would not be so prevalent. The community projects developed by Dublin City Council must be resourced. The inner city has been forgotten about for long enough and we must provide proper resources to that area.

Three speakers remain and just six and a half minutes. I call Deputy Paul Donnelly. He will be followed by Deputies Martin Browne and Louise O'Reilly.

I thank my colleague, Deputy Ward, for bringing forward this motion. The Minister has heard that our communities sound like war zones because of the number of fireworks that have been going off for the past number of months and their power. Dozens of messages and videos about this issue have been sent to me through Facebook by people from across Dublin West, from the Navan Road, through Tyrrelstown and down to Ongar. I was walking my dog in the Millennium Park, next to where I live, and I could turn 360 degrees and see fireworks going off in every direction. They were everywhere and the sound of them was deafening.

Sadly, a number of young people have been injured, some by accident and others because fireworks were fired at them. There is no doubt that the pandemic and the situation we are in have led to an increase in the number of young people on the streets. They would usually have supports available to them, including schools, community services, Foróige, youth services and community gardaí. Those kinds of people would ordinarily have been around and engaging with young people but they have not been around as much recently. They are doing much of their work through Zoom and that is not effective. Young people need a one-to-one connection and I hope we can start to return to that in the coming weeks.

There are two major issues with Garda resources. The first is that we do not have enough of them. There were 88 community gardaí in Dublin West in 2010 and today there are 79. The loss of nine gardaí may not sound like a lot but, in the context of Dublin West, that is a huge resource.

The second issue is that community gardaí do not feel as valued as other members of the Garda because when a crime takes place, whether a shooting, a robbery or another incident, and the Garda needs somebody to conduct door-to-door inquiries, community gardaí are the first group to be pulled away from their duties to do that type of work. That stops them from engaging with local communities and young people. That needs to stop. We need community gardaí to be completely valued like every other unit in the force.

Before I let my colleagues in, I wish to strike a good note. Every year in Fingal and Dublin 15, Foróige, the Blanchardstown community policing forum, Fingal County Council, the Garda and the community have all come together to provide wonderful community projects. I hope they can be resourced even better this year. We need these projects even more this year because of the events of recent months. I hope the Minister listens and we get those extra resources for communities, youth services and the Garda to deal with this matter. It can be done.

The remaining Sinn Féin speakers have a minute and a half each.

I will keep my contribution short. At this time of year, everyone in this House receives a stream of phone calls from their communities with reports of fireworks, bangers and bonfires. It is nothing new, but I have noticed that reports are coming in earlier every year. It has now got to a stage where fireworks are being let off all year round and not just at Hallowe'en. They are disruptive, dangerous and being purchased and used illegally. The problem persists, so clearly there is something wrong with the efforts to combat it.

One of the problems is the lack of significant numbers of community gardaí. This antisocial behaviour is happening at a time when the number of community gardaí in the State has fallen from 1,182 in 2010 to 710 in July 2020. In the Tipperary division alone, the number has fallen from 108 to 79 in the same period.

I am conscious that I am running out of time. Something needs to be done. Families with elderly members, young children or children with special needs are affected at this time of the year. I ask the House to support Deputy Ward's motion, which is sensible and straight to the point.

I apologise for being a bit tardy in my attendance this evening. I heard the Minister's backbench colleague tell us that we need to send a strong message and indeed we do. I also heard him say that he has been dealing with this matter for years, which highlights the effectiveness of the measures taken to counter this problem. Everywhere we go, the skies are lit up at night and pets, children with special needs and elderly people are terrified. People are afraid to go out.

The Minister said we have strong and robust laws in place to deal with this issue but, with the greatest of respect, we must not be using them because if they were strong, robust and effective, people would not have unlicensed fireworks. Fireworks would not be going off in the Ballast Pit, beside where I live, or in Balbriggan, Swords, Lusk, Rush and right across my constituency if the law was being applied. Part of the problem is that we do not have sufficient numbers of community gardaí. Due to reassignments, there are only 11 community gardaí in my area in north Dublin. That is the crux of this matter.

We must be careful not to demonise young people because they have been left without services and with nothing to do. Their schools were closed for a long time. It is important that, instead of focusing on the trauma, damage and everything else, we focus on enforcing the law that is in place and resourcing the Garda to ensure it can do that. With the greatest of respect to the Minister's colleague, if the House wants to send a strong message, Deputies will back the motion. That will send a clear message that gardaí must be resourced and our young people can be on the street and have the kind of fun they should have but not in a way that causes torture and torment to other people, including the elderly and other neighbours.

I will be sharing time with my colleague, Deputy Duncan Smith. The Labour Party will support Deputy Ward's motion.

I have sympathy with what the previous speaker said about not demonising young people and, indeed, particular areas. There is an area in my constituency which is having a particular issue at the moment. The Minister knows that because I wrote to her, the Garda Commissioner and the local Garda station about it. I do not want to name the park in question but I met residents of the area on Friday evening to discuss the issue. Concerns about fireworks and antisocial behaviour are so serious that local residents, who are proud of their area, feel they cannot go into the park after lunchtime. That is a particularly distressing message to get as a public representative. The park has been well resourced and people feel proud of it but it has now come to a stage that residents feel they cannot go into it after lunchtime. We are still in September and, as other speakers have said, this problem is only going to get worse.

A Garda station has been promised for Dublin 13 and Dublin 17. It was announced by the assistant Garda commissioner in May 2019. I raised a Topical Issue matter about it only last week and was not encouraged by the response I got. Every time we speak about antisocial behaviour or policing, I am going to raise this issue.

A crime task force was also promised for the north side of Dublin during the general election campaign on the basis that, as is the case in the north inner city, we cannot police one's way out of crime. We must speak to young people and talk about youth development, oral language, literacy, employment and health. A wide range of issues must be considered when we speak about crime, disadvantage and antisocial behaviour. The Government cannot police its way out of the problem. I have made this case every time there has been a shooting, gun crime or murder. I have said that we need a Mulvey-style commission or task force on the north side of Dublin and another in Drogheda. That was agreed when the general election was called. I want delivery of those task forces and I do not accept that we must wait for the Covid-19 emergency to pass before we can start to move on it. We can see that antisocial behaviour, disconnection and disengagement are still issues. The incidence of firework crime and antisocial behaviour has increased in September and is likely to increase further in October.

I mean what I will say next with the greatest of respect to all speakers and am not in any way questioning the bona fides of anyone who has spoken on this motion from Government or Opposition parties. It is really not good enough to come into this Chamber and speak of resources that Dublin City Council needs for its work in community development and estate management and to adequately secure parks when members of parties in government and opposition last night joined together to cut €12 million of Dublin City Council funding which could have been used to tackle the very issues we are talking about.

Politics can be difficult and means making hard choices. With the greatest of respect to those who have spoken about resources, development and investing in communities, I ask them to speak to their councillors because yesterday at a Dublin City Council meeting, a number of parties in government and opposition voted to rob my city of €12 million that could have gone a long way towards addressing the issues that we are talking about today.

That is taxpayers' money, not yours.

While the Minister is here I will recap-----

Let the Deputy speak.

I did not interrupt Deputy Donnelly.

Be truthful about it.

I am being truthful.

Through the Chair.

To recap the points I have made, I have written to the Minister regarding the particular park I have a concern about. The crime commission on the northside is important. The Garda station is important. The funding of local communities is important. Members cannot come to the House and speak about a lack of funding when they are voting, through their parties, to cut it at a local level.

I would like to echo our support for the motion. It is really good, and could and should have gone unamended. I welcome the Minister to the Chamber.

The Minister of State, Deputy Browne, who made the opening statement, referred to the awareness campaign that has been launched. A number of Deputies and Ministers in the Chamber are of my generation or are a few years younger or older than me. The Minister of State and Deputies Gannon and Ward all grew up with awareness campaigns in the newspapers or on television. Growing up, the message about the dangers of fireworks was hammered home for decades, including the fact they are illegal, etc. To have this stated at the beginning and end of the opening remarks does not carry much weight in tackling this issue.

I want to point to a reply to a parliamentary question received by my colleague, Deputy Sean Sherlock. It refers to the amount that has been spent on these campaigns over the past four years. It puts in context the lack of real effort and urgency that has been put into this issue over the past number of years. In 2016, €34,680 was spent while in 2017, €36,676 was spent. In 2018, the figure dropped to €29,090. In 2019, just €17,000 was spent, less than half of what was spent in 2017. The money was mainly spent on newspaper ads, and in the past couple of years the spend moved towards social media. Every Deputy will have experience of taking out newspaper ads and knows the cost of a quarter, half or even full-page advertisement in a local newspaper in their town or constituency. I am not sure how far €36,000 would have gone in spreading awareness about the danger of illegal fireworks. I am not convinced in any way, shape or form that there has been a shift in urgency, despite the very impassioned contribution by Deputy McAuliffe who I know feels strongly about this. He is a Government backbencher and has done work locally on this.

The work locally is not being reflected in any kind of increase in Government action or funding on this issue. We have never had an August or September like this in north county Dublin in terms of fireworks, and the same has been reflected all over the city and county of Dublin. Fireworks were an issue when I was growing up. They were around, but they were not easy to get. They were not everywhere. They would always make an appearance very close to Hallowe'en.

All of the work that local authorities are doing, including the fireworks displays, organised events and costume events, do a great job in terms of reducing the number of illegal bonfires and other activities leading up to Hallowe'en. That is now all being undone. Other Deputies referred to community Garda resources, which we have discussed in previous debates and will discuss again. The proof will be in the pudding in five weeks in the budget. We will see how much the Government really values increasing resources for gardaí and getting our gardaí where they need to be.

This is about more than just gardaí; it is about our customs. It is about stopping the importation of fireworks at source. Where are they coming from? Are they coming from Europe or the UK? We need more detail on where they are coming from so that we can stop them from coming into the country. It cannot just be down to community gardaí to deal with this issue. What has been a problem for years has become a crisis. I again thank Deputy Ward for bringing the motion forward. I look forward to supporting it in the vote tomorrow.

The Social Democrats will support the motion and commend the Sinn Féin Deputy for bringing it to the floor. It is an eminently sensible motion and does not lend itself to a grandiose speech.

Most of us who live and operate within the city are brought to our senses several dozen times a day with the reverberations of fireworks and all that that entails. We can feel lucky we are not those with sensory issues who have been really impacted by them. As has been said several times, while fireworks have always been a feature of life in cities, this year they have appeared earlier and they are louder and more prevalent. That suggests there is an underlying problem.

I would like to touch on some of the positive initiatives I know of that could be used to counter this but that have been eroded over the past couple of years. I refer to policing in the north inner city and across Dublin as a whole. Democracy is a forum and works best when State agencies, community leaders and the community that is impacted sit around a table to have discussions and look for solutions. That has worked very well at times in Dublin, through the community policing initiatives and meetings that happened over the past couple of years. They were running out of steam because things were getting more angry before now. Covid is being used as an excuse not to have such meetings.

Community policing meetings came to a complete stop during the Covid pandemic. There has been no attempt to use innovation or hold Zoom meetings. In the south inner city, for example, the latest community policing meeting was held in October 2019. In my constituency, Dublin Central, the community policing forum was one of the first of its kind in Europe and had good intentions at the start. I was critical of how it developed, but its original intent was fantastic in the sense that it had an office in the heart of a constituency, which had an often troubled relationship with the gardaí. It was designed so that community leaders could be an interface between a community that was distrustful of the gardaí and the gardaí themselves. It worked very well for a time. Last year, for no apparent reason, it was defunded. It closed up shop and was not replaced.

The meetings that were held in schools around the area where communities could get together with gardaí and thrash out problems simply stopped. The pandemic exists, but if community leaders were organising Zoom meetings in residential areas to get together with the community gardaí, some of these issues would be dealt with. It was never the case that young people attended the meetings, but community leaders, such as leaders of local boxing clubs, youth clubs and those who organised pool sessions and talked to young people, would attend.

People would be able to rely the fact that when some people had a bit of craic and let off a banger that affected children with autism or sensory issues or increased anxiety in a woman whose dogs were going berserk, they could be spoken to. We no longer have such meetings. We need to demonstrate a little leadership in getting those structures back because they have been lost.

There has also been a breakdown in the relationship between the gardaí in my constituency and, I am sure, the rest of Dublin. We had community policing, which was about engaging with young people. When that was at its best, gardaí knew the names of Johnny or whomever and could have a conversation with him or her. As we have eroded community policing to the detriment of those relationships, those relationships are gone. Fireworks are now going off and nobody knows the names of the young people who are doing it. That is a recent departure because there was a time where if young people were at risk of getting into trouble and were engaging in some sort of deviant behaviour, there was always somebody who knew their names and could call and have a chat with them.

We all canvassed in the past six months and one of the things candidates heard from older people was that they no longer saw local gardaí around. That is great shame in the sense that it increases anxiety among the older population and makes them feel less safe.

There was a fantastic initiative, with an unfortunate acronym, in the north inner city called the small area policing initiative, which operated for a couple of years under a former Garda Commissioner. It involved gardaí knocking on every single door and having a chat with residents, most of whom were older people. That initiative is gone. A modern police force is in a sad state when it cannot engage constructively with our constituents in a manner that we know works and has positive outcomes.

With regard to those who let off bangers, I always ask who is benefiting from this noise and the infiltration of fireworks into our communities. I promise that for every banger going off or rocket taking off, somebody is making a profit. I do not believe there has been any moralising in the Chamber tonight. I would not suggest there has been and previous speakers have been considerate in not doing that. However, I have heard moralising in some of the conversations about this issue in the radio. What we are not hearing about are the gangs that are clearly benefiting and making exorbitant amounts of money by smuggling in these fireworks. I know Operation Tombola is taking place in communities and on the streets but is it effective and is it able to take the head off the snake? I am not convinced that is the case.

On an issue that has been raised several times in this debate, in the absence of the structures that have been put in place for Hallowe'en in communities across Dublin in recent years, Hallowe’en night this year will be like no other before it. I am talking about people who organised parades and fancy dress and worked with kids in youth clubs for months in advance of Hallowe'en and helped them make up their costumes and build little warehouses that could be turned into fun factories. If all of that stops, we will go back to the scenes we witnessed four or five years ago when communities were effectively under siege and there were running battles on the streets. That was always a genuine fear on Hallowe’en night but, through extraordinary community leadership, we were able to combat it. That is under threat this year. Since July, we have seen a build-up, which will reach a crescendo if we do not take ownership of the problem now. That must start in the Department and work its way down through all Deputies. It must allow us to engage with the local authorities which are the funding mechanism for these initiatives. We must try to ensure we can be positive, rather than waking up at the start of November realising that we have missed an opportunity and the community has suffered as a consequence. We still have time to solve this and I hope we can act up that.

Go raibh míle maith agat, a Theachta Gannon. Táimid ag bogadh ar aghaidh anois go dtí an Teachta Brid Smith.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

I will first acknowledge everything that Sinn Féin has set out in its motion, namely, the terror, fear and nuisance imposed on communities throughout the country, particularly working class communities, which have been flooded with fireworks. I will say what many people are saying to me tonight and it is not based on prejudice. It is very obvious that if this was happening in Foxrock or Dublin 4, it would have been sorted out by now. That it is happening predominantly in working class communities speaks volumes. It speaks of the sort of containment policy inside working class areas that dominates every aspect of this Government's, and previous Governments’, attitude to services that are needed at local level. The Minister is shaking her head but she has to answer many questions as to why the Garda does not respond to calls by members of the community, gardaí are never seen on the streets and gardaí do not respond despite repeated calls to Garda stations, both physically and by telephone. Communities need answers to those questions.

I do not fully accept the argument made by Sinn Féin that this is all about community gardaí. The motion states that the number of gardaí assigned to the Dublin metropolitan region in August 2020 was 4,059, which remains below the 2010 figure of 4,160. That is a difference of just 101. If one balances that against the argument I will make about resources that do not go to young people and which have not been restored to our communities, we can focus on where this is happening. We have a policy of containment in working class areas, which are being flooded with fireworks that were not bought and used for celebrations during the Covid-19 period. Instead, now that the market insists that it must get rid of these fireworks, they are being dumped in working class areas. There seems to be no attempt to address this problem.

Perhaps the Minister will explain Operation Tombola, which we keep hearing about, in greater detail. The Minister of State said it is all about combating the importation and sale of fireworks. We do not see the importation and sale of fireworks being combated. They are being sold everywhere.

Last night, I understand an 18-year-old man from Ballyfermot had a finger blown off. The kids who are letting off fireworks are frequently much younger, with many of them ten, 12 or 14 years of age. The stuff is being sold to them for a song. Despite that, somebody must be making money because they are not doing this for the good of their health. Clearly, there is an abundance of explosives on the market.

The Garda make political decisions as to where they allocate resources. The issue is not one of tabling a motion stating the Garda should be recruiting an extra 800 gardaí per year because we do not have enough of them. Political decisions are being made. This motion is imbalanced. Despite Deputies saying they were not having a go at young people, the motion read likes it is having a go at young people. I will use this opportunity to address that issue. I have tried at the Covid-19 committee to have special sessions on how Covid-19 has impacted on our youth. I also submitted a Topical Issue matter on this issue three times last week and each time I was refused, as were other Deputies. It is about time we had a full and frank conversation about what is going on with young people in working class areas.

A study by Amárach, a reputable research company, under the title, Generation Pandemic, surveyed youth workers in 700 youth groups, after-school and sports clubs. It found that half of all youth workers believe the pandemic and lockdown will have a massive impact on the mental health of our young people. Some 47% of respondents indicated that children are behind in their studies and 21% of children, they believe, will not return to normal schooling.

Another survey carried out by the National Youth Council of Ireland found that 53% of children already have mental health issues, 35% are falling behind in school, 39% experience isolation, and one in five is living with family conflict. We then have overcrowding in housing, with young boys and girls growing up sharing the same bedroom, not only with their sisters but sometimes with their aunts or mothers. We have young children coach-surfing and homelessness among young people is growing, not to mention the youth unemployment rate, which now stands at 45.4%. The youth are particularly impacted by drastic and draconian measures, including the slashing of their unemployment payment which has never been restored.

One has inequality in the way the social services deal with young people, and inequality in housing and education. We then have the cuts to the youth services. Funding was slashed by a third in 2010 by the then Fine Gael-Labour Party Government. That cut has never been fully restored. While some of it was restored, the catch is that this was done through a mechanism called value for money, which is basically a neoliberal economic measurement that could have a serious detrimental impact on youth services, and indeed all community and addiction services. However, I am talking about the youth tonight. This is about measuring everything through a neoliberal framework and not on the real actions and outcomes for young people. There will be serious problems in trying to deliver these outcomes, particularly when one combines that with generation pandemic and the impact the pandemic is having on them.

The Government will receive a submission from the National Youth Council of Ireland. It seeks serious engagement through more youth workers in our communities. We really need them.

They cannot take young people inside. Discos, dancing clubs, boxing clubs, youth clubs that would be open as drop-in centres and cafés are all shut because of the Covid-19 restrictions. They do not have enough resources to do outreach with the young people in a meaningful way and yet we seem to be loading the blame on them. I am not saying they are angels by no manner or means. I know many of them who live around me but the solution is not to impose more gardaí on society; the solution is that the Garda and the Minister need to make decisions that do not have that class bias of containment in working class areas. Fundamentally, the most important action to take right now is to deploy gardaí to stop the importation and sale of these fireworks. If there was not the supply, there would not be the use. That is a very obvious statement to make.

The other issue I want to talk about is the huge amount of voluntarism in the youth services and only for that voluntarism and those magnificent workers who organise football and other activities with the children, there would be nothing available. It is a serious deficit that needs time in this House to be examined, combined with the rise in youth unemployment levels and the overcrowding and lack of housing I mentioned earlier.

When I moved to Ballyfermot in the early 1990s, there was a very serious riot in a place called Gallanstown. At that time, I do not believe Gallanstown did not have a youth centre, a school or a community centre. Due to sensible intervention following the riot, we now have those facilities. Mind you, the area still only has one shop. It does not have a post office, café or pharmacy. There are no community facilities in that area. The containment issue is a real one and unless policy decisions are made to develop those on an equal level as with other areas, it will continue to happen. The main point I want to make is that in those days when the riots happened Gallanstown was flooded with gardaí. I never saw as many gardaí in my life. There were gardaí, Saracens and all sorts of modern equipment but that did not solve the problem. Gardaí in and of their own are not the solution. Sinn Féin's demand to increase the number of gardaí by 800 a year will not be the solution. The political decisions that are made by the Minister's office in how it deploys gardaí has to be seriously questioned, and the Garda have a lot to answer for.

In conversation with a recently-appointed superintendent in my area he commented that the solution to this problem is investment in youth services. Gardaí going in and arresting ten, 12 and 14 year old children, throwing them in a cell and then bringing them home does not get rid of it. Let us deal with the supply of these explosives and go after the bowsies who are flooding the streets with them. Let us interject in the communities where they need the resources and recognise that the severe austerity cuts have impacted disproportionately on working class areas and continue to do so. The policies must change.

I am sharing my time with Deputy Seán Canney, although he is not here yet.

Fireworks are often at the centre of antisocial activity around Hallowe'en but what is shocking is the fact that in Ireland today more than 500,000 people have their lives disrupted by antisocial behaviour throughout the year. A report published recently by the Central Statistics Office, CSO, showed that one in eight adults in Ireland said their lives had been affected by such activity at some stage last year. If we apply that to the adult population as a whole, it means that the lives of more than 400,000 people in our country aged 18 and over are being adversely affected by antisocial behaviour and for almost 70,000 of them it has made their lives a misery being affected to a greater extent, according to the CSO report. It found that the greatest impact was on people in their 30s and 40s. If we add their children to that whose lives are also being upset, the numbers of those affected would be more than 500,000. It is happening in every county in Ireland, which means that in my home county of Galway, it could be having an impact on 30,000 people.

antisocial behaviour is a growing problem in many areas where a small majority of people, and I am not just talking about teenagers, make life hell for the rest of the community. It can range from rows between neighbours and constant noise to vandalism, intimidation, drug dealing and everything in between that has a detrimental effect on other people living nearby. It is a problem that is enormously difficult to tackle, in part due to the fact that a lot of antisocial behaviour goes unreported because people are afraid of reprisals.

With regard to the greatest weakness in our current laws, our local councils and gardaí need more power to act quickly and effectively to stamp out antisocial behaviour. Council officials can find their hands tied. Current legislation is not an effective deterrent. It can take years to bring misbehaving tenants, for instance, to court as there are so many hoops to be jumped through.

Bad behaviour is not confined to local authority estates. Landlords also need to be given greater scope under the law to act against tenants in private rented property who are engaging in antisocial activities. There are laws in this area but they tend to be clunky and difficult to apply in an effective way.

There is a major role to be played by the community gardaí if we had enough of them walking the beat in the areas worst affected. Ten years ago, we had almost 1,200 community gardaí in Ireland. Today, that number is down to 710. Back then, in the county of Galway we had 22, most of whom were based in the city, but that number is down to just 13 today.

A community garda meeting people in their own neighbourhood day in, day out will have a great feel for what is going on in their area and be in a position to take steps when they see problems developing. A garda who is a familiar face in an area can help nip small-level crime in the bud before it becomes something more serious and a youngster's bit of devilment turns to crime. They can talk directly to the young people and their parents and, for instance, try to stop easily-influenced children being led astray by criminals. It is far more effective in many instances than bringing young offenders through the courts process where they barely get a slap on the wrist and learn little of benefit from the experience.

To return to the main subject of this motion, the message is not getting through to people that fireworks, while exciting and entertaining, are dangerous explosives that should never be in the hands of anyone other than trained and licensed professionals. Every year around Hallowe'en, and long before that in many cases, we read reports from across the country about young people losing fingers, the sight in an eye or suffering other serious and life-changing injuries as a result of handling fireworks. Not only is that message about the danger not getting through to them, it is also not being taken seriously by their parents in many cases. I refer to those adults who either know their children are playing with fireworks and do nothing about it or who set a bad example themselves by acquiring illegal and dangerous fireworks for use as a centre point of a Hallowe'en house party.

As I mentioned earlier, fireworks can also be at the centre of antisocial activities that leave people in fear around Hallowe'en. If we can succeed in removing them from the festivities, it might also help stop the spread of antisocial behaviour throughout the rest of the year.

I am delighted to speak to this very important issue. I heard previous speakers talk about Dublin but antisocial behaviour and fireworks are not confined to the city. Deputy Grealish mentioned Galway. In my constituency of Galway East we have antisocial behaviour through different strands. We have it on local authority estates where the local authorities are not capable or do not have the resources to manage the estates properly. We have it on private estates that have rental accommodation where a few people make life very difficult for a large number of people.

antisocial behaviour and all that goes with it, and the fireworks which are part of all of that, can destroy communities and housing estates, with very few involved in it. It can also downgrade the value of the homes of people who borrowed money to take out a mortgage only to find they may have the neighbours from hell living beside them. It can also be soul-destroying for the residents on those estates who are trying to keep them in a well-kept manner.

It goes back to one thing in my book: education. It is a question of educating people on what is right and wrong and of their parents taking their responsibility seriously. Unfortunately, not all families get this education. There is a major downgrading of standards when people get away with antisocial behaviour. Something than starts off in a very trivial way can snowball very fast, resulting in a major problem. How do we deal with it? To answer this, we should consider our approach to Covid. When the gardaí are out trying to enforce regulations, they first engage with people and explain to them what is right and what they have done wrong. They explain to them how they can move forward and do things right. They provide enforcement if necessary. From my experience, in the time between something happening and the taking of action, many barriers are put in the place of gardaí, local authorities and community groups. The law seems to be stacked in favour of the perpetrators of crimes. The hands of the local authorities are, therefore, tied, as are the hands of the Garda. Until people ask the difference between right and wrong, we will not deal with this. It comes back to education. We need to change people's attitudes. The one way of doing so is to ensure that those who do something wrong know they will be punished. If those who are continually brought to court for antisocial behaviour or importing and using dangerous fireworks come out without any consequence for their lives, we must ask how we can improve the attitude. One way we can do so is by increasing the resources of the gardaí. We should have more community gardaí on the ground and walking the streets. We must take preventative measures rather than try to enforce.

I do not believe there is anyone in this House who would condone antisocial behaviour. In our constituencies, we all have had experiences of what can happen when something goes wrong. The last thing we want is to come back here to talk again about somebody who got seriously injured by fireworks or who got seriously injured because of antisocial behaviour. We need to ensure that those who engage in antisocial behaviour realise they will be subject to the rigour of the law and that they think before they do something.

Deputy Grealish mentioned the issue of people living in fear, afraid to report activity to the Garda or social housing authority. We must give these people courage and backup.

I, too, support this motion. I do not want to single out or demonise young people. "Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí," is the old adage. We should do this but I am aware there are major problems with antisocial behaviour. Other Deputies have referred to it. The only answer is community policing. Ní neart go cur le chéile. Community policing, Community Alert and Neighbourhood Watch are the answer. People have the confidence to talk to gardaí who stand in their kitchens when they are rung. No police force in the world can police without the support of the public.

I salute Superintendent Denis Whelan, Sergeant Ray Moloney, Garda Jenny Gough and others in Cahir Garda station. I salute those in Clonmel, under Superintendent William Leahy. I salute Sergeant Kieran O'Regan, Garda Claire Murphy and others all over County Tipperary. They are in community policing sections and they do outstanding work. They are on call nearly all the time. Many people, including politicians, can contact them by mobile phone. We try to work with the communities and bring them along. Those I have mentioned do tremendous work.

Covid-19 has taught us one thing, that is, that in the middle of all the drama, grief and horror, community police have come into their own. They may be found in people's kitchens. They bring in firing for them and hang out clothes for people. They have been bringing people messages from the shops. They have proven themselves. That is what real policing is all about. It is about earning the trust and confidence of the people, young and old.

Not only are fireworks going off but they are doing damage to guide dogs and all other dogs, as sheep farmers will confirm. Sheepdogs are affected. Everyone is frightened of fireworks. Reference was made to rockets and to the sale of many types of illegal products. I wonder where they are coming from and what kind of illicit and illegal trade is taking place. Who is importing the products? They are plentiful and easily available. The county councils do their business well with the environmental officers to try to have preventive measures in place for Hallowe'en and organised events. This is happening in Thurles, where great work has been done. I salute a former councillor there whose name eludes me. Great work is done in the communities.

There are also issues with shooting ranges, the lamping of animals and guns being fired. The guns might be legally held, and some might be illegal. There are shooting ranges not abiding by the laws and they are trading and behaving recklessly and terrorising communities. The Commissioner also needs to examine the legislation on this.

The setting off of fireworks in and around a home must be terrifying for anyone who has to tolerate the behaviour of those who show scant regard for people and their property. We must go back to the root of problems as it is mainly our youth who involve themselves in these mindless acts. Not all youth are involved in disruptive behaviour, however. This can be seen from the Garda youth awards in west Cork. Year after year, we see great young people win awards for their excellent work in their community, thanks to the encouragement given to them by great community gardaí such as Damian White and Brigid Hartnett. All crime can be nipped in the bud by the deployment of more community gardaí.

Garda stations in every part of Ireland need to be manned, not closed, as was done by previous Governments. Previous Governments saw fit to shut the doors of so many stations in west Cork. This was a terribly bad decision. I commend the people of Ballinspittle who fought the decision. Their station was closed but they won the battle and it was reopened. Many more should have been in the same situation. The local gardaí saw dangers well in advance and talked to young people and their families. In 99% of cases, potential problems were nipped in the bud and sorted. The 1% who fell through the cracks in our community were blessed to have youth centres in west Cork, such as Cara Lodge, which caters for boys who have gone wrong in their lives and need help. I have spoken to users of the lodge, which is located in Ahiohill, Clonakilty. The assistance given to the youth and their families at such a crucial time represented a massive turning point in their lives. Astonishingly, the HSE has now seen fit in the past few weeks to stop funding this vital service. The centre faces closure, with the loss a vital service and 27 jobs. I am told the reason for the closure of the excellent service, which is the only one of its kind in west Cork, is that the HSE wants to change to a new model of care. This may be a good idea but surely the new model of care can be rolled out in Ahiohill in west Cork in the same way that it would be in any other county. I have asked the Minister of State at the Department of Health to intervene. I have asked the Taoiseach, who opened the centre a number of years ago, to intervene, and now I ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to save it for the young people of west Cork who desperately need it and for the truly great staff, who have provided a top-quality service for so many years.

I, too, support this important motion. I wish to highlight the awful effects on young people - they are predominantly young - who engage in what we would call antisocial behaviour when fireworks they are using go wrong and they end up in one of our hospitals, perhaps facing a long, painful journey back to good health. At that stage, they may have lost fingers or suffered other horrific injuries, such as injuries to their faces. Nobody wants to see any child or other young person injured. Our supporting this motion is important even if it stops only one young person from getting hurt by using fireworks, which should be used only by people who know what they are doing.

Fireworks are, of course, used at times of celebration. I remember massive fireworks displays at the great Rose of Tralee International Festival. As with everything else in Kerry, we do it better than anyone else in Ireland.

At the time of the Rose of Tralee festivals we would have a display that was second to none in the world. It was done, however, by professional people in professional way with proper safety and everything being adhered to. We do not want to see young people being hurt.

Generally, whether it is coming from people being unruly in their neighbourhoods, the one answer to antisocial behaviour, of course, is the community garda. I compliment An Garda Síochána in County Kerry which I represent. Whether it is from Castleisland to Cahersiveen, Listowel to Kenmare, or from east, south, west or mid-Kerry, our gardaí play a great role. The one thing they could do with, however, is more resources for community gardaí. The Minister will appreciate the great work that is done by An Garda Síochána. Having a local person - the local garda - working in the community is the answer. I see it operating in places where the community garda knows all the different organisations. Community gardaí attend meetings in community centres and community halls, listen closely and attentively to the issues and problems and are able to make a great difference. I ask the Minister to support our community gardaí and do her best for our communities through that method.

I thank Sinn Féin for bringing forward this timely motion. The Garda has the power to make arrests for possession of unlicensed fireworks. Why does the Garda not take action? Is it that the Garda is under-resourced or are gardaí fearful of going into hostile communities? How do we control fireworks? How do we protect the older community? How do we protect our families, pets and farm animals? An organised effort is needed around Hallowe'en events. Perhaps a licence should be applied for. If gardaí know when an event takes place in their community, they may become involved and controls can then be put in place.

I concur with everything the Deputies from the Rural Independent Group said. The one thing we can take from their contributions is that the answer to everything in any community, city or county is community gardaí and resources. The other thing that solves all problems is gardaí having local information and knowing where they are going, knowing families and knowing their surroundings. How does one prevent crimes and children getting involved in the wrong activities? It is not always the person who buys the fireworks who gets injured. It is often the person who is easily led. How can we help these people? We can help them by providing community gardaí and by policing. The Garda has made a serious effort in recent years to get involved in communities. However, it is massively under-resourced. Gardaí in local areas knowing the local businesses, children and everything about the locale is how one prevents crime. That is how to get communities involved. The community knows the gardaí and the gardaí know the community and they can help guide people through circumstances that may be outside their control. We have all been wild. We have all done things we were not supposed to do but we have got back on the straight and narrow with the help of gardaí and members of the community. They put us on the right track. Local gardaí, local representatives and local people are the answer.

I thank Sinn Féín for bringing forward this Private Members' motion on community safety and fireworks which I will be supporting. I also support the call by the National Youth Council of Ireland for more investment in youth services. That call is set out in the amendment tabled by Solidarity-People Before Profit. This issue is not only one for now but is a general issue about youth services and how they are funded and supported.

I concur with the point made by many Deputies on the impact of illegal fireworks in the community. Depending on who is using them, these fireworks are used to target houses, people, dogs and other animals. It seems they are used differently depending on who gets their hands on them. The widespread use of fireworks has created a general belief in communities that people are able to get and use them with impunity.

I have had reports about an incident in a local park at the beginning of September where fireworks were used against families and children in a playground. The families were forced to flee. I am regularly contacted on social media by people who have been targeted with bangers while walking their dogs in the park. Some of them believe these are attempts to disorientate the dogs and then entrap them if they run off. We have animals, elderly people and people with sensory issues who are stressed in their homes. That this is happening creates a general disquiet in the community. That is the mood in communities and there is a view that this not being dealt with. This is happening all over Dublin. I have seen it in St. Anne's Park, on the north side and south side, in the Liberties up to Rialto and Ballyfermot and into Drimnagh and Crumlin. It is taking place all over my constituency where there is not one area that has not been impacted.

I recognise that Operation Tombola, which involves the local authorities and takes place before Hallowe'en every year, was brought forward to 4 September. That was a positive development but many people who contacted me are not positive that the Garda response team is dealing with the situation because it continues night after night. It has been going on every night since the second last week in August. It is happening on an industrial scale. The number of fireworks being set off in communities is quite staggering. It has been said that many fireworks are being sold across the Border in Northern Ireland because there is an abundance of them left over from 12 July. I support the call to establish a joint task force between An Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, under Operation Tombola to combat the distribution and sale of illegal fireworks and bangers if they are coming across the Border. That is specifically mentioned in the Sinn Féin motion. I was a bit concerned to read in the Minister of State, Deputy Brown's, contribution that the Minister, Deputy McEntee, had been informed by the Garda Commissioner that this specific issue would be discussed at the strategic level at a forthcoming meeting of the cross-Border joint agency task force and strategic oversight group in the coming days. I would have expected this matter to be discussed a month ago rather than in the coming days because it has been going on for so long. I am disappointed it is only happening now.

The distribution and sale of fireworks must be tackled. That is how one stops it. It must be interrupted and stopped and intelligence must be gathered on where fireworks are being stored. I contacted our superintendent in Kevin Street Garda station who said there had been arrests and follow-up. Every night, however, we still hear fireworks and bangers going off at the same level.

I will make a particular point on the National Youth Council of Ireland and its pre-budget submission. It makes the point there is youth employment of over 37.8% arising from the pandemic. It points out that the numbers of young people aged between ten and 24 in the State continues to grow so demand for youth services grows. The youth population is expected to grow by 4.6% by 2025 and reach more than 1 million. That figure is taken from the census. The submission states that while there have been limited increases an investment in recent years, funding for youth work in 2020 is 15% below what it was in 2008. That is a terrible indictment of the austerity cuts over that period. Funding amounts to just €1.23 per young person between the ages of ten and 24. The submission further states that only 2% or €12 million of the additional €574 million allocated to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs between 2014 and 2020 has been provided for youth work.

It is calling for an additional €4.7 million to be provided for youth services in the budget for 2021.

The number of parents of young people who have contacted us over the past six months has been phenomenal. These families are living in overcrowded conditions and the Covid restrictions, which tie them to their homes, have made living at home unbearable. They are literally begging to get a house from the housing list. There is nothing we can do because houses are not being built in the numbers that are needed. All these economic issues are coming to bear.

The Government must invest in youth services and youth workers to support young people. The Government must also invest in more community policing. This is one of the areas of policing that has worked very well. It is outrageous that only 710 gardaí are involved in community policing across the State now as compared with 1,180 in 2010 and in the Dublin metropolitan region the number of community police has decreased by 45% from 508 in 2010 to 278 now. We are now seeing the consequences of not having that community policing working with the community and community groups, and not having the task forces allowing people to know what is happening locally in the area. Community policing was probably the most successful part of the work of the Garda.

In Dublin South-Central, as has been mentioned already, we had 99 community gardaí ten years ago and we are down to 28. We have a number of issues in the area with open drug dealing along the canal, etc. When we only have 28 community police in the whole Dublin South-Central area, it does not work and we need those resources in the area.

The Government's amendment states that under Operation Tombola, the Garda has put in place local operational plans to tackle the sale of fireworks, including through high-visibility policing and utilising the divisional public order units as appropriate. The Minister is clearly not living in the community because that is not happening. I live in Inchicore and I am not aware of visibility of police in the area. I have not seen an increase over the last month. It is not happening because the resources are not there; they are stretched on the ground. That needs to be looked at. The Sinn Féin motion makes the point that we need people moved from behind desks to being out in the community. We need more community policing. I support the motion, particularly the emphasis on what is needed in our youth services and the youth facilities in the communities which have been drastically reduced.

I thank all the Deputies who spoke for their contributions this evening. Although I cannot support the Sinn Féin motion, I think we agree on several important issues. Most of us agree that this is not just an issue that impacts on a certain area in Dublin; this is an issue that affects communities in towns and villages and in our rural communities. I can attest to that as somebody who represents a constituency that is both urban and rural. We can also agree that fireworks are much more dangerous than people seem to realise. In particular our younger people do not seem to realise the significant threat they can cause. Those can even be life-altering threats. This evening, Deputies have outlined some such incidents that have happened in the last 24 hours.

We all agree that the illegal use of fireworks and, in particular, the associated antisocial behaviour that accompanies it is causing considerable stress and anxiety across our communities much earlier than usual for some reason. This is something that is happening not just in Ireland. There is an increase across Europe and we have seen this type of behaviour much earlier this year. That is why today, with members of An Garda Síochána, the Dublin Fire Brigade, Ann Losty who is a member of the community in Dublin 15 and in association with the youth diversion programme, we launched the Government's annual fireworks awareness campaign. This was done a month early, acknowledging that this is an issue we need to deal with now.

Through that campaign, we are asking people, who are thinking of buying, handling or using fireworks, not to add to the significant problems already faced by our emergency services and front-line workers, who are battling against Covid-19. As many Deputies have outlined this evening, we are also asking people to think of those in their community, including people who have rallied around together in recent months and elderly members of the community who are already anxious, and to think of the impact that can have on them and their pets.

Intensive efforts to spread our message will continue in the coming weeks coming up to Hallowe'en to encourage people to stay safe. Many people have mentioned An Garda Síochána this evening and in particular Operation Tombola which was brought forward by a month, acknowledging that work needs to be done earlier this year. It very much focuses on the incremental deployment of resources. This includes public order units to try to deal with issues locally, engaging with local councils and communities. Some Deputies mentioned lack of engagement with younger people. There has been a challenge this year. As the Garda acknowledged this morning, gardaí cannot go into schools and talk face-to-face to young people as they would normally like to. From next Monday, gardaí will engage through a Zoom programme. We all acknowledge that is not the same but they are trying to engage where possible with our younger people in schools to highlight the damage this can cause and encourage them to move away from engaging in any such activity.

Special attention will be paid, in particular, to the Dublin metropolitan region, acknowledging that is a particular issue in this area. I am informed that throughout that region An Garda Síochána, the Dublin Fire Brigade and the crime prevention officers will work to raise awareness.

I share the view held by everybody in this House that the use of illegal fireworks, despite the extremely strict policy on the matter, continues to be a problem in certain areas. However, we are committed to ensuring our towns, villages and communities are safe places to live. The well-being of all our communities is a priority for the Government. An antisocial behaviour committee to be chaired by the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, is being established. A draft youth justice strategy was recently put out for consultation. Submissions have been received from across the country and we will take them into account before bringing the strategy to Government by the end of the year. A considerable amount of work is going on in my Department and obviously the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy O'Gorman, will do his own work in that area.

We are committed to combating the use of unlicensed fireworks. The legislation governing their use is particularly strict with a penalty of a fine of up to €10,000 or imprisonment of up to five years if people are caught. I engaged with the Garda Commissioner on this issue this week and was advised that a large number of seizures have been made already this year. I assume that number will continue to increase.

The Garda has strong engagement with the PSNI. Their co-operation goes across many areas. People have asked how we can prevent the sale of fireworks and from where young people are getting them in the first place. There are many measures, including a cross-Border policing strategy, an annual cross-Border seminar on organised crime and the joint agency task force, which was mentioned by one of the Deputies. It does not meet monthly but will be meeting in coming days when this issue will be very much on the agenda. Parallel investigations happen and joint investigation teams operate continually throughout the year. There is significant engagement by gardaí with their counterparts in the North to try to address this issue.

Several Deputies raised broader policing issues and have suggested that the resources are not there. I acknowledge the fantastic work done by our gardaí in engaging with our communities in recent weeks and months through the Covid pandemic. We are being held up as an example and many countries are looking to us because of how our gardaí have engaged on the ground with communities.

I am not sure where the figures in the Sinn Féin motion came from. In addition to the 4,059 gardaí assigned to the Dublin metropolitan region at the end of August 2020, a total of 429 Garda civilian staff were also assigned to this region. This is an increase of 184 on the figure in 2010. There has been an increase in every county across the board of front-line gardaí working in our communities and the civilian staff supporting them in the background.

I thank the Minister for working with the Garda to commence Operation Tombola one month earlier this year, which I welcome.

This move will have a positive impact in places like Clondalkin, Lucan and Palmerstown in my constituency. We all love to watch a fireworks display but it should only be enjoyed under safe supervision and managed by professionals, not in gardens or greens with children just feet away from highly flammable products. It is not news that hospital admissions increase year after year at Hallowe'en. Both children and adults present with injuries, some minor but the vast majority presenting with severe burns. The consequences of using fireworks and starting bonfires in unsupervised open public spaces are beyond dangerous, irresponsible and hazardous. Now is not the time to be flooding emergency departments with patients with fireworks injuries. It is not a time to add to the problem. It is time to recognise and respect the people on the front line and to protect capacity in our health service.

A single spark from a bonfire on an item of clothing can set it alight in a matter of seconds, potentially causing lifelong and life-changing injuries. In many cases, bangers and fireworks have blown up in people's faces. Just this evening, there were reports of a teenager in Palmerstown who suffered injuries to his fingers when a firework exploded in his hands. Fireworks are being set off in many areas weeks and sometimes even months before Hallowe'en, terrorising neighbourhoods. These mindless actions petrify vulnerable people, especially older people living alone and people with special needs. They also cause torment to animals. They may leave commuters to walk home alone in fear when their bus is diverted because it is in the firing line of bangers or fireworks.

I welcome Operation Tombola's objectives to increase public awareness of the dangers associated with fireworks and bonfires. I also welcome the actions the Minister has taken to protect our communities.

I sincerely commend Deputy Ward on this motion. There is a lot of agreement on its provisions across the House but not total agreement, which is why I will be supporting the Government amendment. We can all agree that the scourge of fireworks has come earlier and to a greater extent this year than ever before. This is clearly linked to the cancellation of many festivals, bonfires, parades and other celebrations throughout the island. I take issue with Deputy Bríd Smith, who is no longer in the Chamber, for trying to make this into a class issue. I invite her to come any evening to Nutgrove, Sandyford or Leopardstown to see the devastating effect fireworks are having on pets, elderly people, those with sensory difficulties and newborn babies, the latter being a cohort in which I confess an interest.

I agree with Deputies Smith, Ó Ríordáin and others that it is vital that we do not demonise young people in this matter. Even though those who are setting off the fireworks are probably not watching this debate, their parents, grandparents, guardians or coaches may be. I would ask them how those young people spent the €10 they were given. What are their children doing in the local field? Are they happy to have fireworks being sold outside their sports clubs and supermarkets? Are they aware that to condone such activity is to be somewhat complicit in the criminality that drives those illegal sales?

It is important and welcome that Operation Tombola has started early. As I said, there is potential for collective agreement in the House on this matter. I commend the Minister and her Department on their actions in this regard.

I thank Deputy Ward for bringing this motion forward. It is timely and important, particularly for the people living in the areas most affected. It is fair to say that these issues present in different ways in different places, some at the more extreme end. The solution is the same in all cases and it is clearly outlined in the Sinn Féin motion. It is about ensuring there are sufficient Garda numbers for prevention and deterrence and adequate community resources, both physical and human.

I am a Deputy for Meath East, as is the Minister. Our county has the lowest number of gardaí per head of population in the State. One of our new towns, Ratoath, is the largest town in Ireland without a Garda station. We have the youngest small towns in the State in Stamullen, Enfield and Longwood and the youngest large towns in Navan and Ashbourne, according to census data. These towns have it in common that they have grown rapidly in the past two decades and have been victims of the Celtic tiger. It has been all about houses and more houses. County Meath has the lowest number of playgrounds, public green spaces, community centres and youth facilities. In the case of the latter, if one does not play GAA or soccer, they are non-existent. There are residents in one particular area in Ashbourne who have spent years trying to protect the last remaining patch of green space for their children to play. They have presented their case to Meath County Council and An Bord Pleanála time and again only to have the rug pulled from under them in the past week. In trying to provide a decent environment for their families to live, they are doing the State's work. Instead of being supported, they are being impeded at every hand's turn.

In ten years' time, when the same issues are being debated again in this House, the Deputies representing County Meath will, if they are honest, be saying that things have got worse. We will all know why that is the case. I am contacted on a regular basis by residents in Kells, Stamullen, Ashbourne and Ratoath, among other places, about nuisance and antisocial behaviour. The Minister knows well that such activity is regular and to an extent that warrants address. Some people are being terrorised in their own homes. We see the evidence of it on every community Facebook page and it must be stopped. I urge the Minister and all other Deputies to support the Sinn Féin motion. The Minister must increase the Garda presence for prevention and deterrence and increase community infrastructure, both physical and human. That is what is needed.

I thank Deputies from all sides of the House for their contributions to the debate on this motion. It has been a worthwhile discussion and there is a general consensus that there is a problem which must be addressed. I am disappointed but not surprised that the Government does not propose to support the motion.

I have gone out and met people in my constituency who are experiencing these problems. The people I spoke to gave me a different take from what my constituency colleague, Deputy Higgins, has presented. I will take the opportunity to read out extracts from some of their testimonies, as follows:

At night the bangers sounds like we live in a war-torn country... My curtains were burnt by fireworks because I sleep with the window open... It was 3 o'clock the other day when they started. I might have to close my shop earlier... I have a little son who is on the autism spectrum. Hearing is one of the things for him that is very heightened. He has an anxiety disorder as well, so things around noise and flashes and bangs really cause him anxiety. This causes sensory overload in my child. I have to hold him at night-time on my sofa while the bangs and noises outside are going on, and this is on a nightly basis... My dog has been frightened since July. I can't get him to walk in the park because he is that fearful... This is going on since the end of July and it is not even Hallowe'en yet. It is only going to get worse... I can't let my young fella play in our local playground... This is beyond crazy. Where are the guards?

These are just some of the things said by the many people who have got in touch with me.

I would hate anybody to think I am being overcritical of An Garda Síochána in this matter. That is not the case whatsoever. Community gardaí are not the heavy hand of the law. They are there to build relationships within communities. The gardaí know the community and people in the community know the gardaí. I have seen at first hand how well this is working in Ronanstown, Lucan, Clondalkin and Rathcoole. I commend the community gardaí in that station on doing the best they can, but they seem to be doing it with one hand tied behind their backs because of the lack of resources. The Minister mentioned figures. The figures I have in front in me are those I got in response to parliamentary questions I submitted to her Department. They show that since 2010, community garda numbers have dropped dramatically, with a 45% decrease in Dublin. Neither the Minister nor the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, mentioned the decision by the Garda Commissioner to prevent community gardaí from working after 7 p.m. It means that when all this activity is going on at night-time, there are no community gardaí around. This leaves our communities abandoned and the people who live there vulnerable and at the mercy of crime and antisocial behaviour. This decision must be reversed immediately and people must see gardaí back on the streets in their communities.

There was something the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, said which shows how out of touch the Government is with what is happening in communities. We have no community gardaí on patrol after 7 p.m., as I outlined. The Minister of State said:

What we cannot agree with is the suggestion that the Government and An Garda Síochána are not proactively addressing these issues. It is not correct to infer that the increased use of fireworks is as a result of lacking resources or action on the part of Garda authorities...

It is hard for the Garda authorities to act at night-time when there are no or very few community gardaí around. I invite the Minister to walk around Clondalkin, Lucan, Rathcoole, Saggart, Palmerstown, Brittas or anywhere else in my neighbourhood at night-time to see the reality of what is happening there.

I have changed what I was about to say. I will read out the motion and the Minister should feel free to stop me at any time if she disagrees with what we are putting forward. I would welcome that. We are calling on the Government to ensure that the frequency of Garda patrols in communities most affected by these actions is immediately increased and to commit to restoring the number of gardaí to 2010 levels by the end of 2021. We are calling on the Government to increase the recruitment of Garda civilian staff to help facilitate an increased Garda presence in our communities, which the Minister herself mentioned. We are also asking the Government to commit to a minimum recruitment of 800 gardaí per annum with priority deployment in the area of community safety. We are calling on the Government to immediately establish a joint task force between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI under Operation Tombola to proactively work to combat the distribution, sale and use of illegal fireworks, which the Minister also mentioned. We are also looking for the establishment of a confidential and dedicated telephone line to allow members of the public to report instances of the misuse of fireworks. We call on the Government to immediately roll out a public and school awareness campaign incorporating Dublin Fire Brigade and the Garda, including engagements with schools, communities and youth organisations. We are also asking the Government to commit to providing a report on Operation Tombola to the Houses of the Oireachtas before the end of the year, identifying areas for improvement in resourcing and making recommendations in that respect.

That is what our motion is calling for. I would like to know what in that text the Minister does not agree with. She can revert to me if she wants to. As I said, this is a common-sense motion. The communities that I, the Minister and all Members of the House represent want to see if Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party will take the common-sense approach and support this motion in its entirety without amending it or watering it down.

To be fair to the Minister, there is no provision for her to speak again. Go raibh míle maith agaibh, sin deireadh leis an seisún.

Amendment put.

In accordance with Standing Order 80(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Wednesday, 23 September 2020.

Sitting suspended at 8.43 p.m. and resumed at 9.03 p.m.