It is a good shift. I thank the Deputies for introducing this Bill and their contributions this evening. Organised crime has destroyed lives and undermined communities all over Ireland. It affects every community but those that are already disadvantaged have borne the brunt of the harm. It is absolutely right, therefore, that we recognise and seek to alleviate that harm through increased investment into those communities. I welcome and look forward to the debate this evening.
The Garda and the Criminal Assets Bureau have had very significant success in recent years hitting the criminal gangs that have spread such misery. As the Deputies have mentioned, in 2019, a record €65 million was frozen on foot of CAB's work, up from €8.3 million in 2018. This dramatic increase reflects a one-off seizure in 2019 and there is a very significant difference between assets being initially frozen and those assets being disposed of and their value realised but the amounts involved are nonetheless very substantial. In a reflection of the importance of CAB's work, an increase in funding of almost 10% was approved in its budget for 2021.
To ensure successes are reflected in increased community investment, in April my colleagues, the then Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, announced agreement in principle to establish the community safety innovation fund to support vital projects and ensure this money is used for the benefit of disadvantaged communities. This fund will be included in the justice Vote as part of the Estimates process for 2022 and the allocation to it will reflect the amounts returned to the Exchequer from the proceeds of crime.
The establishment of the fund will provide additional money for investment in important community projects but it will not replace existing sources of funding. It is being designed to encourage and recognise the efforts of local communities on the ground based on their local experience and unique perspectives and to support communities in building resilience and enhancing existing community services. The establishment of the fund will ensure that the best proposals to improve community safety will get the funding they need and encourage the development of innovative ways in which to improve community safety from those people who understand local community safety needs best. It will also allow best practice on community safety to be shared with other partnerships around the country as new proposals get developed.
In practical terms, while the Proceeds of Crime Acts provide for the return of assets seized by CAB to the Exchequer, this does not happen at the time of seizure. A court determination is required and a seven-year period must elapse before ultimate confiscation. It is only at this point that the money is returned and available to the Exchequer. The seven-year period may only be waived if all relevant parties consent and potential delays can and do arise through legal challenges.
Given the uncertainty involved in the amounts and the time that elapses between seizure and realisation of value, it is not practical or appropriate to directly link project budgets to such seizures. Such a direct link would not provide any certainty for projects or allow them to take any sort of a long-term view on their work, whereas the approach being taken by the Government will provide certainty and funding to local communities. Accordingly, as agreed with the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, the allocation to the fund will be made taking a longer term view reflecting the revenue that is returned from proceeds of crime actions.
This funding is expected to operate in a similar manner to that successfully used at present around dormant accounts funding, which operates on the basis of rolling plans and allocations for specific purposes, making it clear how the extra resources are being targeted and ensuring accountability. Enhancing community safety is a priority for the Government and this is reflected in Justice Plan 2021, which was published by the Minister, Deputy McEntee, earlier this year. The Government's goal is to provide more targeted and effective support to the most disadvantaged communities and foster safe local areas for families, residents and businesses in order to feel more secure. The objective is to link with other whole-of-government strategies and structures, such as the healthy communities initiative being developed under Slåintecare and the existing local community development committees, to allow these areas to develop and flourish and for areas to break the cycle of disadvantage.
While State services carry out their individual responsibilities, too often their interventions rely on a reactive response to emergency and crisis situations. The aim of community safety is to focus all relevant government services on prevention and early interventions and the impact that a shared approach to problem-solving can have in ensuring that situations do not develop to the point where they impact on the safety or feeling of safety of the community at large. This will mean State services working with each other and the community to ensure there is better co-ordination between services such as educational and youth work with young people, the availability of local health and mental health services, drug prevention, housing and the built environment and actions taken to combat alcohol and substance abuse, domestic abuse, youth crime, antisocial behaviour and hate crime. This policy will be supported by the policing, security and community safety Bill, legislation that will place a statutory obligation on Departments, local authorities, public bodies and agencies to have regard to harm prevention in their activities and to co-operate with each other to deliver safer communities.
Justice Plan 2021 contains a number of specific commitments to enhance community safety. These include publishing the scoping exercise on criminal activity in Drogheda, agreeing a cross-Department implementation plan and supporting and working with Dublin City Council to ensure the implementation of the report on Darndale, Belcamp and Moatview in north Dublin city. It also commits to establishing three pilot community safety partnerships in Dublin city, Longford and Waterford.
On the question of Drogheda, I welcome today's announcement by the Minister for Justice, Deputy Humphreys, of new national and local structures that will drive and co-ordinate a plan to increase safety and well-being in Drogheda. The Minister also today welcomed a commitment by Mr. Martin O'Brien, the chief executive of the Louth and Meath Education and Training Board, that the training board will host new structures to deliver services in Drogheda. The Drogheda implementation board will be the core driver and co-ordinator of change in Drogheda through the actions to be outlined in the Drogheda implementation plan, which will be brought to the Cabinet and published by the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, before the summer break.
The Minister also announced Mr. Michael Keogh, a former senior official in the Department of Education who is from Drogheda, as the chair of the Drogheda implementation board. The Government will agree the Drogheda implementation plan and the Minister will publish it before the summer break.
Local community safety partnerships will be piloted in Dublin's north inner city, Waterford city and county and Longford county. The locations of the pilots were chosen based on a number of factors, including population density, crime rates and deprivation. These locations allow the proposed structure to be trialled in a high population density area, a medium population density area and a low population density area with a regional distribution. The pilots will run for 24 months and be subject to a robust independent evaluation from the outset in order to ensure the proposed structures are fulfilling their objectives. The lessons from the pilots and their evaluation will be taken into account in the drafting of the statutory framework for community safety and will be applied to the national roll-out of similar partnerships in communities across the country.
At the beginning of the year, a chair was appointed to the local community safety partnership in the north inner city electoral area and last month I announced the chairs for Waterford and Longford local community safety pilots. These chairs bring extensive expertise and experience to their roles and I look forward to working closely with them and with the local communities over the coming months as the partnerships are established.
The local community safety partnerships will replace the joint policing committees, building on the work they have done to date. Each partnership will devise and oversee a local community safety plan that will be informed by the community itself. The plans will detail how best the community wants to prevent crime and will reflect community priorities and local safety issues. The goal is to make communities safer for families, residents and businesses.
These partnerships will operate at local authority administrative level and replace and build upon joint policing committees.
They will bring together residents, community representatives, business interests, councillors, local authorities and State services such as An Garda Síochána, Tusla and the HSE to devise and implement local community safety plans.
Partnerships will support a strategic approach to this work so that issues arising can be dealt with in a co-ordinated manner, and addressed collectively by relevant service providers in partnership with the community.
It is not intended that the local community safety partnerships will replace or impede the functioning of successful local safety initiatives. The intention is that where local safety fora are active, the local safety partnerships will serve as a useful forum to which they can escalate any issues as appropriate, and gain access to a range of service providers. The pilots will inform the development of the roll-out of local community safety partnerships in every local authority area as part of the provisions of the policing, security and community safety Bill.
I will speak briefly in respect of the specific provisions of the Bill. I note that the Deputies' Bill suggests that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform would conduct reviews of supports for disadvantaged communities and prioritise the resulting recommendations. I suggest to the Deputies that this process of ongoing review and prioritisation would be more appropriately conducted through the community safety innovation fund as I have set out above.
As I have also mentioned, there are practical issues with the sort of ring-fencing that the Bill envisages. However, the Government and I support the principle behind the Bill that revenue from proceeds of crime seizures should support investment into disadvantaged communities. I believe that we are agreed across the House that this is the case. The question of how best to achieve this is one I am happy to discuss both now and in the future with Deputies and we will not be opposing this Bill on Second Stage.