Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

An Garda Síochána

Dara Calleary

Question:

81. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Justice her views on and response to criticism by Garda superintendents of the proposed policing Bill; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51417/21]

I am concerned that the proposed policing Bill will walk us into a crisis. I have observed the various commentary on it. There were pre-legislative scrutiny hearings. What work has been done in the Department to address the very serious concerns that were expressed, even outside of the pre-legislative scrutiny process? A far greater response is required.

I thank Deputy Calleary for raising this matter. It is important to acknowledge that significant and necessary reforms have taken place in An Garda Síochána over the past few years, and Garda superintendents have played their part in these reforms. I am conscious that the publication earlier this year of the general scheme of the policing, security and community safety Bill represents a major milestone in the ongoing process of reform, and is particularly vital in providing a legislative framework for the implementation of many of the recommendations from the commission on the future of policing in Ireland. The Deputy will no doubt recall that the commission undertook significant consultation with gardaí of all ranks and with Garda staff in finalising its report in 2018.

I attended the Garda superintendents' annual association conference last week and listened carefully to their concerns. Significant organisational reform, including institutional change, culture and work practices, is always challenging, but the Government's aim is to provide a new coherent governance and oversight framework that will strengthen external oversight of An Garda Síochána and internal governance within the organisation as recommended by the commission. Central to this vision is a professional, ethical, modern and effective service that is efficiently managed, properly trained and equipped and is clearly accountable.

The Bill provides for a new policing and community safety authority which will be entirely focused on providing robust independent oversight. It will combine the functions of the Policing Authority and the Garda Síochána Inspectorate, building on their excellent work, while reducing the number of oversight bodies. The Bill will also greatly strengthen the independent oversight of the handling and investigation of allegations of wrongdoing by Garda personnel, through expanding the remit of the independent ombudsman and by overhauling its investigation procedures to support the timely, transparent and effective resolution of complaints and investigations while safeguarding due process for all concerned.

I thank the Minister. Garda superintendents say the Bill will give more power to oversight bodies to deal with gardaí than An Garda Síochána has to deal with criminals. That is the kind of thing that is said for attention at annual conferences, but it is a very serious charge from a group of people who, as the Minister said, have co-operated with reform and are leaders in their communities and of the force.

The Commissioner has spoken about sections of the Bill granting powers to the proposed new ombudsman which, in his direct comments to the Joint Committee on Justice this week, would be disproportionate and unconstitutional and will not withstand an expensive and time-consuming test in the courts. In her response, the Minister spoke about the coherence of structures. The Commissioner said the introduction of a wide range of oversight structures in bodies with clashing and conflicting agreements will see the Commissioner of the day spend more time on reporting. He said he has concerns about the amount of time he will spend on accountability bodies which makes the proposed system dysfunctional and unconstitutional and that there are conflicting remits.

The Joint Committee on Justice is conducting pre-legislative scrutiny, as the Deputy said, on the policing, security and community safety Bill.

I am aware of the Commissioner's comments at the committee meeting yesterday. As the Commissioner explained, we have had good engagement. I have discussed this with the Commissioner. He has come into the Department and we have had a good engagement. There have been ongoing discussions between my Department and the Commissioner during this process. We had another meeting recently and my Department will continue to engage with the Commissioner and the other bodies concerned with the Bill as drafting continues. I also look forward to receiving the justice committee report in due course. As I said, we will continue to work on this. Deputy Calleary is right: we need to get the views of the people for whom we need to implement this legislation. I said at the Garda superintendents' conference that we will listen to them and take on board their views. We all want the same thing: a world-class policing service that provides the service it has to provide to the public. At the same time, however, it has to be transparent and accountable.

Absolutely. We all want that, but to have a world-class policing service we must have the confidence of An Garda, which, at all levels, is losing confidence in this Bill. The Minister has had interaction with the Commissioner but he appeared before the justice committee this week and used the phrases to which I referred so, obviously, he is not too convinced that there will be too many changes. The Minister had the interaction with the Garda superintendents. What about the issue coming from rank-and-file members of their difficulties in dealing with vexatious complaints? Will that be dealt with? When we hear the Garda Commissioner, who is a straight-down-the-line kind of Commissioner, use the words "disproportionate, unconstitutional and will not withstand an expensive and time-consuming test in the courts", that needs to be dealt with urgently, I suggest, rather than waiting on reports.

Finally, I express a concern about the dilution, contained within the new Bill, of the joint policing committees, JPCs, which are extremely effective. It is a retrograde step to reverse the progress and the effectiveness of joint policing committees with these new community safety partnerships.

The Deputy will acknowledge that there has been much reform in An Garda Síochána over recent years. I acknowledge that. It is important we engage with the relevant bodies, as I said to the Deputy. We need to work with the Garda Síochána because it is the superintendents, the chief superintendents, the commissioners and everybody else in the Garda Síochána who will have to help us implement these changes. Change is not easy, and I accept that, but it is important there is engagement. There has been engagement and, as this process goes through the Houses of the Oireachtas, there will be further engagement. We want to make sure not only that we can support the Garda in the work it does but also that there is accountability and transparency.

Visa Applications

Colm Burke

Question:

82. Deputy Colm Burke asked the Minister for Justice the progress to date on the processing of visas, including family reunification applications, for Afghan nationals arising from the fall of the democratically elected Government in Afghanistan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51544/21]

What progress has been made on the processing of visa applications, including family reunification applications, for Afghan nationals, arising from the fall of the democratically elected Government in Afghanistan? Will the Minister outline the progress that has been made to date?

I thank Deputy Burke for raising this very important question. I share his concerns for the Afghan people and the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Afghanistan.

Ireland has acted swiftly and compassionately to demonstrate our support and solidarity with the Afghan people. My Department is working closely with colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth to ensure a co-ordinated national response. This includes opening the Irish refugee protection programme under the remit of the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, to Afghan persons in need of protection and working to ensure that applications received from Afghan nationals under the various State schemes for immigration residence and international protection can be prioritised for speedier processing where possible. These schemes provide avenues for Afghan nationals to seek protection and for eligible family members living in Ireland to seek to have their close family members granted permission to reside in Ireland where the relevant criteria are met. More than 740 Afghan nationals have been granted permission to reside in the State so far this year.

The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and I have secured Government approval for an additional initiative, namely the special Afghan admission programme, which will provide places for up to 500 Afghan family members. Each applicant will have an opportunity to nominate up to four family members who are currently residing in Afghanistan or who have fled to neighbouring territories and who they consider are especially at risk in terms of their freedom and safety. The programme, including the detailed eligibility criteria and the application process, will be developed over the coming months with a view to issuing a call for applications in December. The programme is unique across the European Union and was hailed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, as a very welcome commitment by Ireland that will bring much solace to Afghans who are worried about their relatives abroad.

In the meantime, all current immigration avenues remain open for new applications, including visa and family reunification applications. My Department will process any new applications received speedily and sympathetically.

Can the Minister of State outline how long it is taking to process applications from the time they come into the Department? In addition, I have written to the Minister about people who are part of the judicial process in Afghanistan and who are very vulnerable because of certain decisions they made when the democratically elected Government was in place. Can priority be given to that group of people, who are now at serious risk?

I also thank Deputy Burke for raising this question. It is extremely important. I have been in contact with both Departments about a constituent of mine who has family in Afghanistan. Members of the family previously worked for the Afghan Government, one in a particularly high-profile position. That person is now going from safe house to safe house and is being protected by his family. It is an extremely serious case and I urge that it be considered. Evidence has shown that this person is particularly high-profile and at real risk. His family and their friends who are helping this person are also at serious risk, and we know that the Taliban is going from door to door searching for this person.

I reiterate that what Ireland is doing about the Afghan situation is unique. Between our Department - the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and me - and the Ministers, Deputies O'Gorman and Coveney, significant steps have been taken to help the Afghan people inasmuch as we can as one nation. We are encouraging other nations across the European Union and the European Union itself to do similar. I do not have to hand the specific numbers for the applications that have been processed but I can get them to the Deputy later today because I know they are available. What I can say is that any applications for visas from Afghan people are being processed as a matter of priority and have moved to the top of the list. As for the Judiciary and high-profile cases, there are a number of cases ongoing. I do not want to give any details, but a number of cases are being worked on closely with the Irish Judiciary and the Department.

Finally, is the Minister of State satisfied that, once the applications are processed, we have adequate support measures in place for the people coming here? He might not be able to give me an answer here and now, but I would like to get details of the process and the level of supports in place.

That is absolutely correct. We need to ensure that for anybody coming here the supports are put in place. That is why we have worked with the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, in that respect. As in many cases, the supports that need to be put in place need to be worked on with the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, to ensure they are put in place. They would include, for example, school and mental health supports and other health protections. We are ensuring that those are in place for anybody who comes here. Of course, we have other commitments in respect of other refugees such as Syrians. We have a strong, robust process in place to ensure that those supports are there for any refugees coming to Ireland, and we will ensure that the same happens for the Afghan people.

An Garda Síochána

Joe Flaherty

Question:

83. Deputy Joe Flaherty asked the Minister for Justice the number of gardaí assigned to stations in County Longford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51553/21]

The Minister will be aware that Garda numbers have fallen for the past five consecutive months and are now at their lowest since January 2020. This is a cause of concern and annoyance within the force but also across rural communities.

Will the Minister of State give some figures on the number of personnel in each Garda station in County Longford?

The budget provided by the Government to the Garda Commissioner continues to increase to unprecedented levels, with an allocation of €1.952 billion for 2021. Budget 2022 provides more than €2 billion in funding. This reflects the Government’s commitment to making sure people are safe in their communities.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Garda Commissioner is by law responsible for the management and administration of An Garda Síochána, including the deployment of Garda members throughout the State. As Minister of State, I have no role in these independent functions. I am assured that Garda management keeps the distribution of resources under continual review.

I can inform the Deputy that as at 30 September 2021, the latest date for which figures are available, there were 139 gardaí assigned to stations in County Longford, an increase of 13% since 2015 when there were 123 Gardaí assigned.

Following a period when the Garda Training College in Templemore was closed due to Covid-19 restrictions, which constrained recruitment, I am glad to confirm that 450 gardaí will be recruited this year and the funding provided for next year fully supports the recruitment of Garda members and staff to resume in full. In particular, the funding announced in budget 2022 will enable the recruitment of 800 new Garda recruits and 400 Garda staff in 2022 - an additional 1,200 personnel. This increase in the number of Garda members and staff will deliver significant growth in operational policing hours nationwide and improved services to the public generally.

Furthermore, I am pleased to note that the first meeting of the new Longford community safety partnership was held on 20 September. This initiative has the potential to further support the work of the Garda in Longford through building on the existing joint policing committee. It brings together residents, community representatives, business interests, councillors, the local authority, An Garda Síochána and State services, including the HSE and Tusla, to devise and implement local community safety plans, reflecting community priorities and local safety issues. The Longford partnership is one of three pilots, which will run for the next two years. I am also delighted that budget 2022 provides for the establishment of a new community safety innovation fund.

The Minister may be aware that an unexpected but very beneficial consequence of the Covid pandemic was that trainee gardaí from Templemore were dispatched nationwide to support the Covid policing effort. This was transformative in County Longford because it allowed stations to move from a traditional roster of six ten-hour shifts to a more effective and productive roster of four 12-hour shifts. It greatly enhanced the visibility of officers on the street. The additional officers deployed in Longford throughout Covid points to the optimum number of officers needed to safely police the county. The number of personnel across County Longford needs to be augmented to approach the number we had when trainee officers were provided throughout Covid. I hope this can be taken on board by the Commissioner and the Department.

I thank the Deputy. I also thank rank and file and senior Garda officers who stepped up to the mark during Covid and showed their commitment to the local communities in which they were based and living throughout that very difficult period. I also thank the trainees who stepped up to the mark during the period when a slightly different approach was taken from the approach taken in the past. While the 12-hour shift roster has been very positive in An Garda Síochána, operational matters are for the Garda Commissioner.

Another 400 Garda staff will be recruited in 2022. There will also be an additional 800 new garda recruits in 2022 and we have ongoing additional recruitment this year. We have fallen behind in recruitment due to Covid and the restrictions imposed on the training centre in Templemore. I a sure, given the additional resources we will have, that more gardaí will be assigned to Longford.

I thank the Minister of State. I appreciate that the programme for Government has an ambitious target for the growth of garda numbers nationwide but Garda strength fell from a high of 14,500 in 2009 to 12,800 in 2014. It is great that we will have 450 new officers coming out of Templemore this year. I emphasise that a significant number of those new officers need to be deployed in rural Ireland, specifically in counties such as Longford.

I thank Deputy Flaherty for raising the issue of the number of gardaí in County Longford. I am aware that policing and protecting rural communities in the county is a hugely important matter for the Deputy, who has raised this matter with me on numerous occasions. The deployment of gardaí is a matter for the Garda Commissioner but I have no doubt that he will deploy additional gardaí to those areas, as necessary.

As a member of the rural forum, I can inform the Deputy that we are working on a new rural crime strategy that we hope to announce next year. This will bring together the various policies for the prevention of rural crime. An Garda Síochána are there to empower the communities in preventing crime. As we have seen with the new community safety partnerships, we can bring together all of the different elements of our communities to ensure they are protected from those who seek to exploit our communities and commit criminal offences.

The Deputy who tabled the next question is not here and that has not been notified.

He did notify. I am standing in for him.

I need to check that. I will move to Question No. 86 and revert to the Deputy.

Questions Nos. 84 and 85 replied to with Written Answers.

An Garda Síochána

Thomas Pringle

Question:

86. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Justice the number of gardaí assigned to the Donegal division in each of the years 2016 to 2020 and to date in 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51723/21]

This question is similar to a number of other questions on the Question Paper today. It relates to the number of gardaí assigned to the County Donegal division in the years from 2016 to 2020. I would like to see the figures.

I thank Deputy Pringle for raising this important matter of Garda numbers in County Donegal.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Garda Commissioner is responsible, under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, for the deployment of An Garda Síochána throughout the State and for the management and administration of Garda business, including the recruitment and training of Garda members and staff. As Minister of State, I play no direct role in these independent functions. I am assured, however, that Garda management keeps this distribution of resources under continual review in the context of policing priorities and crime trends, to ensure their optimum use.

I am pleased that budget 2022 reflects the commitment of the Government to ensuring our communities are safe and that An Garda Síochána has the resources to be an effective and trusted policing service. The budget provided by the Government to the Garda Commissioner continues to increase to unprecedented levels, with an allocation of €1.952 billion for 2021. Budget 2022 provides for more than €2 billion in funding.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the number of gardaí assigned to the Donegal division in each of the years from 2016 to 2020 is as follows: 382 in 2016; 386 in 2017; 404 in 2018; 460 in 2019; and 462 in 2020. At 30 September 2021, there were 449 gardaí assigned to Donegal division. While I acknowledge there has been a year-on-year drop in 2021 compared with the 2020 number, this year's figure represents an increase of almost 18% since 2016.

As the Deputy may be aware, Covid-19 restrictions on the Garda Training College in Templemore constrained recruitment and training for periods over the last 18 months. I am glad to confirm, however, that 450 gardaí will be recruited this year and the funding provided for next year fully supports an additional 800 gardaí and 400 staff being recruited.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. I listened to the figures for Garda numbers in Donegal and compared them with the answers to similar questions, for example, on Garda numbers in Longford. It is interesting that Donegal has three times the population of Longford and is probably five times its size but has proportionally fewer gardaí available to it. This is very worrying, particularly for my area in the south-west of the county where Killybegs, Glenties and Ardara are the larger towns. There are basically two gardaí on duty in that whole area which has a population of 30,000 or 40,000 people. That is nearly as many people as live in County Longford, yet there are only two gardaí on duty. In effect, gardaí cannot answer calls because they do not have the numbers to do so. This is very worrying and needs to be addressed.

Deputy Pringle keeps a strong watch on the number of gardaí because it is so important to have the necessary gardaí in place. As I said, the deployment of gardaí is a matter for the Garda Commissioner. I would hope that the additional gardaí going into training this year and next year will be distributed as necessary throughout the country, as they become available to the Commissioner.

I know Donegal well. It is a little similar to County Wexford where I am from. It is a long county with lots of towns spread throughout, as opposed to having one major metropolis in the county.

I have no say in where gardaí are deployed but hope the additional gardaí will be deployed fairly.

Deployment in a fair manner is key. Based on the figures the Minister of State provided today, by comparison with those provided in response to other questions, it does not seem to be fair. I ask him to impress on the Garda authorities that deployment should be fair and that every part of the country has to be policed in the same way. This is important for community safety. It is important that communities see gardaí have been deployed and are available. I ask the Minister of State to seek assurances from the Commissioner that Donegal is not being policed less than other parts of the country.

Again, I thank the Deputy for raising the matter of Garda numbers in Donegal. We will always endeavour in the Department of Justice to ensure the Garda Commissioner is deploying gardaí fairly throughout the country as they are needed.

We are moving on to Question No. 90. We are checking the matter concerning Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett.

What is being checked?

Whether the Deputy's name was submitted as a substitute.

An Garda Síochána

Mark Ward

Question:

90. Deputy Mark Ward asked the Minister for Justice if Budget 2022 provided for additional community Gardaí in Dublin; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51091/21]

Since Fine Gael came into power, we have seen community Garda numbers reduce dramatically right across Dublin. Does budget 2022 provide for additional community gardaí in Dublin? When will the Garda number meet the needs of the citizens of Dublin?

Budget 2022 will see over €2.062 billion allocated to An Garda Síochána next year. This funding will include provision for the recruitment of 800 new Garda recruits and 400 Garda staff. This increase in the number of Garda members and staff will deliver significant growth in operational policing hours nationwide and improved services to the public generally.

In Dublin, through sustained Government investment in An Garda Síochána, the number of gardaí across all divisions in the Dublin metropolitan region, DMR, has increased by approximately 5.5% since 2018, while the number of gardaí designated as community gardaí in the DMR has increased by approximately 11% since 2018, bringing the total to 326 Garda members. This additional investment, in Dublin and throughout Ireland, is in line with the Government's commitment to ensuring that people feel safe in their communities.

Community policing is at the heart of the work of An Garda Síochána and all gardaí have a role to play in community policing in the course of carrying out their duties. The official categorisation as a community garda has referred to those who are exclusively assigned to building relationships with local communities and civil society, including by giving talks to schools, community groups and others.

As the Deputy will appreciate, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the general management and administration of the Garda organisation under the Garda Síochána Act 2005. It is proper that I, as Minister of State, have no role in these independent functions. I am assured that Garda management keeps the distribution of Garda members throughout the State under continual review in the context of policing priorities and crime trends, to ensure An Garda Síochána is optimally positioned to keep our communities safe. I understand it is a matter for each divisional chief superintendent to determine the optimum distribution of duties among the personnel available to him or her, having regard to the profile of each area within the division and its specific needs.

The Minister of State mentioned that there has been an 11% increase since 2018 but I want to put that into context. There has been a 45% decrease since 2010 so we are only playing catch-up. The Minister of State said that, in an ideal world, community gardaí would have a visible presence – the feet on the beat. We do not live in an ideal world. We have lived under Fine Gael Governments since 2011. In this time, community Garda numbers have been decimated. In 2010, the year before Fine Gael came into power, there were 508 community gardaí right across Dublin. The latest figures I have, from 2020, show that we now have 278. That represents a 45% decrease in the number of community gardaí. This happened on the watch of the Minister of State, and parts of my city are being abandoned.

Since 2018, there has been an 11% increase in the number of community gardaí. The number of community garda members I have obtained from An Garda Síochána is 326. Four hundred and fifty additional gardaí will be recruited this year, and the budget has allowed for an allocation of funding for another 800 new Garda recruits for next year and 400 Garda staff. The additional Garda staff will also facilitate gardaí moving from administrative duties back onto the beat. The designation of community gardaí is a matter for the Garda Commissioner and chief superintendent in the relevant area. Unfortunately, I have no role in that matter.

The Minister of State mentioned that designation is a matter for the Garda Commissioner, but if the Commissioner does not have the personnel, he cannot move them around.

Rathcoole is a small town at the edge of my constituency, Dublin Mid-West. It has one of the fastest-growing populations in the State. It has a Garda station on Main Street. In 2010, prior to Fine Gael entering Government, there were 28 full-time gardaí in Rathcoole. In 2021, the figure dropped to 18, representing a decrease of 36% under Fine Gael's watch. Census figures indicate that Rathcoole's population grew by 27% from 2011 to 2016. It has increased since 2016. The village has one of the fastest-growing populations in the State. As the population has grown, Garda numbers have not.

The latest figure I have for the number of gardaí needed to keep pace with the population in Rathcoole is 36, not 18. Therefore, the station is at 50% capacity given the growing population, and that needs to be addressed.

I thank the Deputy for raising the important matter of Garda numbers in his area. As stated already, I do not have any powers regarding the distribution of gardaí or their designation. The 450 additional gardaí being recruited this year, the 800 to be recruited next year, and the 400 additional Garda staff that will be recruited will bring the total number to 14,600 fully attested members in 2022, with 600 in training, putting us on course to meet our target of 15,000 sworn members. Budget 2022 will bring the total number of Garda staff to 3,800, the highest ever number, ensuring that more gardaí can focus on core policing duties rather than administration. It will also enable the organisation to recruit special civilian staff – to combat cybercrime and fraud, for example – and improve the internal management of the organisation in finance and ICT. The distribution and designation of gardaí are matters for the Commissioner and chief superintendent but we are now on course. The numbers fell slightly as a result of Covid but we are on course to get the number up to the 15,000 mark over the next 18 months.

I wish to speak on the same issue. I have raised the question of Cherrywood Garda station. I thank the Minister of State for his clarification on distribution being a matter for the Commissioner.

On Garda strength, it has been the case over the past 20 years that the number of gardaí has been between 11,000 and 14,500. It is very welcome that recruitment has recommenced, with the reopening of Templemore in 2014. I thank the Minister of State for the continuing commitment to increasing the number of gardaí this year and every year it is possible.

There has been no notification to the Ceann Comhairle's office of substitutes for questions.

There was a notification.

We are going back to Question No. 87, in the name of Deputy Murnane O'Connor.

Domestic Violence

Jennifer Murnane O'Connor

Question:

87. Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor asked the Minister for Justice the enhanced supports Budget 2022 will provide to tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51655/21]

I appreciate being able to raise this important issue with the Minister for Justice, Deputy Humphreys. Domestic violence continues to be a pervasive problem in our society. Nearly 15% of women between the ages of 18 and 74 have experienced physical and sexual violence in their lifetime and nearly 31% have experienced psychological violence. Could the Minister outline the enhanced supports that budget 2022 will provide to tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I am aware that she is particularly interested in it.

The Government is committed to tackling domestic, sexual and gender-based violence in all its forms and to supporting victims of this heinous crime. My Department provides funding to support the work of An Garda Síochána to combat such violence. It also provides funding to promote and assist the development of specific support services for victims of crime within the criminal justice system, which includes victims of domestic and sexual crime.

The commitment of the Government to combatting domestic, sexual and gender-based violence and supporting victims is reflected in the funding allocated under budget 2022, with a total of €13 million allocated to my Department for this. This represents an increased allocation of €5.35 million and will enable us to roll out specific awareness-raising and training programmes to combat domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.

It will also allow us to provide additional supports to NGOs and specific domestic violence intervention programmes and it will support several front-line activities. As part of this, an additional €1.1 million will be used to put in place a legal advice and legal aid service in court for victims of sexual violence and €1 million is being provided to the Garda Vote to refurbish and upgrade the divisional protective service units, DPSUs, which will allow us to better support and protect vulnerable victims.

The Deputy will be aware that my Department is leading the development across government of the third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. This plan will outline how the Government will radically improve services and supports for victims and will be the most ambitious plan to date. My Department is also implementing Supporting a Victim’s Journey, our plan to help victims and vulnerable witnesses in sexual violence cases, which was published by the Minister, Deputy McEntee, last year. It will reform the criminal justice system.

I welcome the overall funding of more than €30 million to help tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, including an extra €1 million to improve An Garda Síochána divisional protective service units. The DPSUs are now in every Garda division and deliver a consistent and professional approach to the investigation of sexual crime, child abuse and domestic abuse. As the Minister is aware, the increased incidence of domestic violence this year is not exclusive to my constituency of Carlow, although I have raised the incidence there in the House several times. More than 3,000 extra incidents have been reported during the pandemic. As such, we need better investigation of crime. What is the status of the plan which is to be published in the coming weeks? What is the status of the ongoing reforms under the Supporting a Victim's Journey plan to help victims and vulnerable witnesses in sexual violence cases?

I commend the Minister and the Department on the supports they are providing in this area, but I put it to her that it is quite often the case that when court cases occur, which is often a long time after the events in question, the victims are retraumatised and there is further need at that stage for support and counselling. I ask the Minister to take that request on board and revert to me regarding what can be done in that regard.

I thank the Minister for her response. This morning, I spoke to a woman experiencing coercive control. She told me of the difficulties she is having in that regard that continue to follow her through the family law system. The use of the family law system by perpetrators of abuse to continue to exercise control is something about which we have to be really concerned. I ask that where awareness and training is provided, that it be made available to family law judges, solicitors and others working in the family law system as much as the very welcome protective services units. I ask the Minister to concentrate on that in the context of the strategy and its delivery. That would be very helpful.

As I stated, we have secured increased funding under budget 2022 to continue the progress made in our work to support the victims of crime and to combat domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. In the past year, we have already delivered several key actions to make the criminal justice system more victim-centred and to improve how we support and protect vulnerable victims, including the introduction of preliminary trial hearings and the roll-out of the divisional protective services unit. The Garda has told me the unit is very effective because its members have been trained and have the expertise to deal with victims of violence. It is important that the victims get that service. I refer to the first cohort of staff at the new sexual offences unit in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions formally taking up their roles, as well as advancing the work to ensure training for all personnel who come into contact with vulnerable victims, increasing funding for NGOs and providing court accompaniment and related information and support services. A review of grants to organisations supporting victims has been undertaken. There is a significant amount of work ongoing in this area.

I thank the Minister. I do appreciate these developments, which are most welcome. It is further great news that Safe Ireland and Airbnb have announced the launch of a domestic violence survivor fund backed by a €350,000 donation from Airbnb. The fund will provide grants to women and children who are escaping abuse. Cash and a place to stay are vital supports. When will we see such support in the private sector? The Government is partnering with the NGO sector to develop a new strategy to tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, which was to be published by Christmas. I ask the Minister to address that issue.

I refer to the provision of a women's refuge for Carlow. It is an issue about which I am really passionate. I have been constantly calling for extra gardaí for Carlow Garda station because we need them. Carlow Women's Aid, which is a great organisation, is looking for staff. We have great initiatives and services in Carlow but we need extra funding and services. All of them, working together, will sort out the issues that need to be addressed.

The Deputy is correct that we need everybody to work together. That is what makes a difference and provides results. As regards a refuge centre for Carlow-Kilkenny, the accommodation review that I understand Tusla is finalising has examined the current level of refuge provision, evidence of demand for services and unmet need. It has also done an analysis of proximity to refuges by local communities. The findings of the review and the recommendations of the monitoring committee of the second national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence will inform the future decisions of the Government and Tusla on priority areas for investment and development of services. This includes consideration of areas that may lack an existing service infrastructure and may require future refuge development. I know this is an issue about which the Deputy is very passionate, as are the other speakers this morning.

The DPSU in Carlow-Kilkenny has been operational since 7 January 2019. There were 411 reported incidents in 2020, compared with 447 incidents reported up to and including 18 October this year. I know Carlow has experienced an increase in reports of domestic abuse. It is something the Government is absolutely committed to acting on.

Citizenship Applications

Peter Fitzpatrick

Question:

88. Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick asked the Minister for Justice the number of citizenship applications outstanding for longer than 12 months; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51504/21]

How many applicants for citizenship are currently waiting more than 12 months for a decision on their application? How many are currently waiting more than 24 months? My constituency office is overflowing with queries from such applicants. Applications are currently taking at least 23 months to be processed and there are more than 22,000 applicants awaiting a decision.

I thank the Deputy for raising the important matter of the number of citizenship applications outstanding for longer than 12 months. I am deeply conscious of how important the granting of naturalisation is to those who apply for it. My Department has continued to accept and process citizenship applications throughout the pandemic and during all levels of public health restrictions.

However, the combined impact of the 2019 High Court judgment in the Jones case and the necessary health restrictions arising from the pandemic has resulted in the processing time for standard applications increasing. As a result, regrettably, there are just over 22,200 applications currently on hand, reduced from a high of more than 25,000 applications. This includes 14,800 applicants who have been in the system for more than 12 months. These applications are at various stages of processing, ranging from those that have just been received to those on which a decision has been made and that are ceremony-ready.

My Department is taking a number of steps to speed up the processing of applications. In January, it opened a temporary system to enable applicants to complete their naturalisation process by signing a statutory declaration of loyalty. Almost 6,200 certificates have been issued so far and a further 1,000 people will receive their certificates in the coming weeks. My Department has prioritised the oldest applications on hand and a significant number of these applicants have received their certificates since the start of the year. Several digitisation measures have been introduced to increase efficiency in the process, including e-tax clearance, e-vetting and online payments. The end result of the digitisation process will be to free up more staff to focus on processing applications in a timely and efficient manner, to improve service to our customers and to reduce waiting times.

This year, we are on track to deliver approximately 11,000 decisions, significantly exceeding the levels achieved in the past two years. Additional staff have been assigned to the citizenship team. Based on these measures, my Department's objective is to achieve an improved timeframe of six to nine months for decisions in a majority of applications by 2022. I am pleased to confirm that, subject to public health guidelines, my Department intends to host an in-person citizenship ceremony on 13 December in Killarney, the first such ceremony since the pandemic began in March 2020.

I thank the Minister for what was, in fairness, a good reply. However, the problem at the moment is that there seems to be a communication breakdown. When my staff contact the Department for an update on the situation, it is nearly impossible to get one.

In fairness, it is the same people coming in every time. All they need is an update. To me, the only people making any kind of money out of it are the solicitors, because the applicants are going to solicitors and every time they do so, they are being charged fees. They are looking for updates and they are told to come back in three months, six months, nine months and 12 months. Every time they go, they are getting a bill from the solicitor. People just cannot afford it.

I am asking for better communication from the Department of Justice in relation to updates. Whether it is good or bad news, people are entitled to know the status of their application.

A number of these citizenship applications are probably from members of the Defence Forces who are foreign nationals. Would the Minister of State and the Department examine the possibility of reducing the fees in cases like that because these people are serving the State?

The Department is bringing in a number of reforms to try to speed up the process and make the application process simpler. Certainly, since I came into the Department I have pushed for all of the applications to be as simple and straightforward as possible and to minimise the need for any kind of legal advice. Many applicants are involved in the system at different stages. I favour the introduction of a system that is a one-stop shop that is quickly accessible to people, wherever they are in the system.

I understand people's frustration; I have seen it in my own constituency office. We are putting measures in place to try to reform the entire system. That is going to take time. It is unfortunate that as a result of a number of court cases and the pandemic, we have slipped substantially behind.

In relation to the fees, they are set out in law and applied accordingly. Therefore, the Department has little or no role in that matter.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. As I said, communication seems to be the biggest problem. I accept that if a one-stop shop was introduced, it would help everybody. Many of the applicants have been in the country for a long time and have children of their own. They are looking for clarity. The last thing they want is to hear a knock on the door and to be told to go to a station from where they could be deported. They have concerns.

The Department must communicate with people and let them know exactly where they are in the system. I appreciate that many staff in the Department have been working from home during the pandemic. However, the applicants are people who want to become Irish citizens. I feel that many of them would be a great asset to our country, particularly the way things are currently in the hospitality sector in respect of the shortage of workers. I would welcome the introduction of a one-stop shop.

Our aim is to get the timeframe for processing applications down to six to nine months. Provision has been made in the budget for additional staff in the immigration services to get those numbers down. We are working through ICT and other processes to make the system move more quickly and to streamline the entire system.

I understand that the length of time it is taking to process applications is deeply frustrating but at least if people knew the status of their application, it would provide them with a certain amount of clarity and comfort. I hear the Deputy's message in relation to the communications piece. I will certainly bring it back to my Department and will endeavour to make it a lot easier for people who have applied.

Departmental Reports

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

89. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Justice if she will provide an update on the Drogheda implementation plan following the publication of the Geiran report earlier in 2021 with updated associated timelines; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51513/21]

Following the murder of Keane Mulready-Woods in Drogheda, the Government published the Geiran report, which is a very comprehensive document containing lots of timelines and recommendations on actions to be taken. I ask the Minister to outline, in particular, what is happening in relation to the Drogheda implementation plan. I wish to acknowledge the fantastic work done by the Minister, the Department of Justice, and locally, by the Garda. There has been an increase in the number of local gardaí of over 30% since that appalling crime was committed. There are also a significant number of cases before the courts. The criminal aspects are being addressed, but action must be taken on the social and community aspects.

I thank Deputy O'Dowd for raising the matter. I know he has put a huge amount of work into it. As the Deputy will be aware, the publication and implementation of the recommendations of the Drogheda scoping report are key actions in my Department's justice plan 2021.

I am grateful to the former director of the Probation Service, Mr. Vivian Geiran, who made over 70 recommendations in his scoping report on short- and long-term responses to challenges the community faces in Drogheda. This includes measures around crime prevention, youth services, drug addiction, education, infrastructure and community development. The recommendations highlight the need for improved inter-agency co-operation in the administration and delivery of State services in Drogheda, as well as the need to resource public services or provide additional services in certain areas, in particular.

In July, I obtained Government approval for an implementation plan for Drogheda. I also secured commitment from across Government that, given the manifest needs, there will be a special focus on Drogheda including, where necessary, Departments and State agencies prioritising funding applications for projects in Drogheda related to the Drogheda implementation plan. The implementation plan identifies the relevant stakeholders for each recommendation and outlines the next steps for engagement and delivery. I intend that the plan will be a living document and thus reviewed by my Department each quarter, with progress reports produced twice yearly. This will allow for ongoing engagement and consultation.

I can inform the Deputy that some very positive steps have already been taken, such as the provision of supports by the Department of Education to the three schools identified in the report, as well as funding provided by my Department to the Red Door Project to ensure the continued provision of the important services it provides.

At a local level, the Drogheda implementation board will be the core driver and co-ordinator of the activities outlined in the plan, while my Department will lead national oversight to ensure strategic direction, action planning and the delivery of the Drogheda implementation plan.

While I welcome the actions the Minister has taken and in particular, the prioritisation of applications through the implementation board to the separate Departments for the local community, there are problems and they need to be addressed further.

It is true that the Department of Justice has been exemplary in its commitment to change and its response to people through organisations such as the Red Door Project, as mentioned by the Minister. However, that is not universal. The difficulty is that the HSE has not engaged appropriately with the Red Door Project. Unfortunately, the needle exchange programme, which was provided by the HSE, ceased operation on 10 May 2021. Currently, no needle exchange programme is being provided at the Red Door Project and there are no clean needles available to people who need them. We have brought it to the attention of the HSE. I appreciate that the issue does not fall within the Minister's remit, as such, but people are most concerned at the lack of action and engagement on the part of the HSE. Action on the issue must be fast-tracked and needs to be taken now. It is not acceptable that the Red Door Project, which the Minister rightly and properly fully supports, is not getting the support it needs from the HSE.

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue. I am disappointed to hear the HSE is not engaging with the Red Door Project. Grants have been provided to the Red Door Project. My Department is engaging with the HSE on the provision of funding to the family addiction support network. I wish to assure the House that the whole of Government is committed to supporting the implementation of the plan for Drogheda.

I will raise the matter with the Minister for Health, as I am sure the Deputy will, because we want to see progress. I must say that good progress has been made. The Deputy has highlighted the issue on numerous occasions in this House and according to the latest figures from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, there was a welcome reduction in most categories of criminal activity in the Louth division in quarter 2 of this year, compared to quarter 2 of last year. The Deputy might be interested to note that as of 30 September 2021, the latest date for which figures are available, there were 396 Garda members assigned to the Louth division. This represents an increase of over 30% since December 2016, when there were 302 members assigned to the division. There has been a good increase there.

As I said earlier, I acknowledge the fantastic job that has been done by the local Garda and the Department of Justice. There must be improvement in communication between the HSE and the Red Door Project. Action on the part of the HSE speaks louder than words.

The other issue is that there must be community representatives on the implementation board. I have looked at the Dublin North East Inner City implementation board, which is in a similar situation to the Drogheda implementation board. There are two community representatives and a representative of businesses and employers on that implementation board. That is lacking in Drogheda. It was not a recommendation of the Geiran report, but I think it needs to be introduced now. Local involvement is needed at the top, because there is a feeling of distance from some community groups. They do not know what is happening and are not being informed by the implementation board through the local media as to what is happening. That is a deficit. The implementation board is aware of that.

We must push forward with it. If we had more people like the Minister and her Department working on this issue, we would be flying.

First, I wish to thank the Minister for her commitment to the future plans of Drogheda.

In fairness, Drogheda needs a bit of help and I am glad the Government and the Minister made a commitment.

A few months ago the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, and Chief Superintendent Christy Mangan attended St. Nicholas Gaelic Football Cub's open day to show the amount of work the GAA does in the Drogheda area. Whether soccer, Gaelic football or rugby, sport plays a major part. The Garda Commissioner and the chief superintendent made a commitment to the people of Drogheda that they would help to invest in these sports. Having been involved in sport myself, I can say that at least when people are involved in sport parents know where their children are. We have many new estates in Drogheda. One new estate in Drogheda has more than 3,500 people. Can we get more sports facilities and more sports communities in areas to help combat this situation? Will the Minister have a chat with the Garda Commissioner to request an update on what happened that day? It is in an area of Drogheda that needs help. I thank the Minister for giving a commitment to help combat crime in Drogheda.

I thank both Deputies for raising these issues. The Minister, Deputy McEntee, who will return on 1 November, is absolutely committed to this implementation plan for Drogheda. It is something on which she has worked very hard. I also acknowledge the work of Martin O'Brien, the CEO of Louth and Meath Education and Training Board. It has agreed to facilitate and support the implementation plan. The board is chaired by Michael Keogh, who is a former senior official in the Department of Education. The implementation board held its first meeting on 13 October. The next step is to get four subcommittees up and running. These groups will reflect the recommendation for subgroups contained in the Geiran report. The groups will include wider representation, particularly local community and voluntary groups as Deputy O'Dowd mentioned. The intention is that a first meeting of these subgroups should take place before the next meeting of the implementation board in November. Deputy Fitzpatrick is right that sport is absolutely essential. It helps young people.

Crime Prevention

Steven Matthews

Question:

91. Deputy Steven Matthews asked the Minister for Justice if discussions are expected in the coming weeks with the Garda Commissioner on the plans of An Garda Síochána to ensure a safe Hallowe'en; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51093/21]

This is probably a question that comes up this time every year. Will the Minister make a statement on discussions or actions with the Garda Commissioner and An Garda Síochána on a safe Hallowe'en? I am particularly concerned about the prevalence of fireworks, the nature, scale and size of bonfires and the materials being put on them.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue regarding safety at Hallowe'en. I am very aware of the distressing impact the improper use and misuse of fireworks has on our communities. Every year, as Hallowe'en approaches, my Department runs a safety awareness campaign aimed at highlighting to the public the very real dangers of illegal fireworks and bonfires. As the Deputy may be aware, I launched this year's campaign, in collaboration with the ISPCA, Dublin Fire Brigade and An Garda Síochána, at the Dublin Fire Brigade Training Centre on 22 September. I am sure the Deputy will be aware of the risks posed by fireworks, particularly to children and animals. I thank the media because they have given it good coverage to make people aware of the dangers of fireworks that go wrong.

As Minister for Justice, it is important for me to be clear in saying that fireworks, because they are explosives, are regulated under national and EU legislation and can only be imported into the country under licence and stored and sold in accordance with explosives laws.

As the Deputy will appreciate, the Garda Commissioner is by law responsible for the management and administration of An Garda Síochána, including operational policing matters. As Minister, I have no direct role in these matters. However, I am assured by the Garda authorities that An Garda Síochána will be working right across the country to keep people, including their colleagues in our front-line services, safe during the Hallowe'en period.

Additional efforts are being made by An Garda Síochána under Operation Tombola to combat the illegal importation, sale and use of fireworks and to address related public order and antisocial behaviour. This operation has an overt uniform presence and a covert element where appropriate to disrupt firework-related and other forms of antisocial behaviour.

I thank the Minister. I am reassured to know there is such action on fireworks. I was at Crumlin children's hospital late one night and the amount of fireworks going off was an absolute disgrace. I do not know what kind of an idiot sets off fireworks near a children's hospital that late at night. We really do need to take action on their prevalence. They seem to be going off for weeks and weeks in advance. Some people even set them off during the day. I do not know what is in somebody's head that they want to light fireworks during the day.

It is the responsibility of the Garda, the fire service and the local authorities. They do very good work in these areas. However, it can become confrontational when they go to address bonfires. We need to have community involvement in this also. Neighbours are intimidated by the level of fireworks and the activity around bonfires. Some people seem to think it is okay to drag whatever piece of domestic rubbish and waste they have in their house and dump it on the local bonfire. It is a way for people to get rid of their three-piece suite of furniture or fridge freezer. The council is then left to clean it up. It is very unfair on the residents in these estates to be left with the mess afterwards.

I thank the Deputy. I know the Garda works closely with communities. Operation Tombola is directly targeted at delivering a range of initiatives to tackle the sale of fireworks and to prevent associated public disorder and antisocial behaviour through the incremental deployment of Garda resources. It engages with communities and through the various fora. It will encourage people not to engage in this type of activity. Fireworks in the wrong hands could possibly mean no hands because they do terrible damage. In County Monaghan there has been great co-operation between the council, the Garda and communities. They organise one big fireworks display. It is very effective and successful. Communities could come together and pool their resources to put on one decent display instead of things firing off around the country.

I was going to suggest that as something to do. Hallowe'en is a great event for children. People enjoy it and it is fine. We want to have safety and responsibility. I am concerned for people around a bonfire where we do not even know what has been thrown onto it and what could result from something being burned on it and the fumes coming off it. There is nobody to marshal it or monitor what is going on. Perhaps something we could look at with local authorities, fire services and the Garda is having one centralised bonfire with marshalling and co-ordination.

I agree with the Deputy. The local government sector messages on Hallowe'en, working with the Garda Síochána, place emphasis on fire safety issues with fireworks and encouraging the public to report if they are aware of people gathering pallets or other materials for bonfires in order that they can be safely removed before Hallowe'en, emphasising the environmental damage and the damage to the landscape that bonfires can cause, and the huge distress it causes for dogs and other animals. It is terrible to hear fireworks going off because they are terribly distressed. It is also an issue for older people. The fact the Deputy has raised this creates an awareness and a need for people in communities to work with local members of the Garda and local authorities. I thank the Deputy for raising it.

Victim Support Services

Pauline Tully

Question:

92. Deputy Pauline Tully asked the Minister for Justice if she will put a mechanism in place in Garda stations whereby the victim of a violent crime would be notified of the release of the perpetrator from prison three months in advance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51160/21]

Is the Minister prepared to put in place a mechanism in Garda stations whereby victims of violent crimes are notified of the release of the perpetrator from prison three months in advance?

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. While the Garda is committed to ensuring that all victims of crime receive information, protection and support throughout the criminal justice process, responsibility for notifying victims of crime of the release of a perpetrator from prison rests with the victim liaison office in the Irish Prison Service. The information currently provided by the service covers the obligations under Part 2 of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 and is a key element of the victims charter.

A victim of crime, a member of their family, or a third party person acting on their behalf has the right to request the Prison Service victims liaison officer to enter into direct and ongoing contact with them in order to keep them informed of significant developments in the sentence management of a prisoner. Victims registered with the service are provided with information on when the offender will be released from prison and about any form of temporary release.

They are also informed about inter-prison transfers, hospital appointments and court appearances. Victims are also provided with information regarding an escape from custody, as well as being notified about an upcoming parole hearing and the outcome of it.

I understand that while every effort is made to ensure that information on a prisoner's release from prison, temporary or otherwise, is provided in advance, there are some exceptions. On occasion, urgent applications may be considered on compassionate grounds or prisoners can sometimes be released by court order. In such cases, every effort is made by the victim liaison officer to inform the victim of the prisoner's release within the shortest timeframe possible. This officer can also provide victims with general information about the prison system, such as the regime in different prisons, remission on sentences and the operation of the parole board. The officer deals with victims on a strictly confidential basis.

I thank the Minister. It was at a recent joint policing committee, JPC, meeting in Cavan that I became aware that this service actually exists and that the prison service will liaise with a victim or with his or her family. I understand that the Minister has said that one has to request that information. There are many people who are not aware that they need or have to request that service. If something can be done to make people more aware of the existence of that service, that would be very worthwhile.

While people are aware at the time of the sentencing what the sentence will be, with reasons such as good behaviour or early release for different reasons, or even for temporary release for family-related matters, there is the possibility, especially if the victim or survivor and the perpetrator come from the same locality, that they may come into contact with each other. It can be very shocking for the person to come face-to-face with the perpetrator if they are not aware that they have been released and this can cause a significant amount of trauma.

Do I not have two minutes, Acting Chairman?

No, but the Deputy can have another bite of the cherry afterwards. I call Deputy Kenny for a brief comment.

Okay, I thank the Acting Chairman.

Briefly, to respond to the Minister, I have also come across a number of cases of people who have contacted my office where they had been a victim of crime and the first thing that they knew of the perpetrator being out in the public again was when they, or a close member of their family, met them on the street. There has clearly been a breakdown in that service in that it does not automatically inform the victim. If a crime is above a particular seriousness, that service should automatically engage with the victims of crimes.

I thank the Deputy Tully for raising this issue because it is only through open discussion that we get the message out there to people that those supports are there. Ensuring that victims are better supported by the criminal justice system, including by ensuring that they are fully informed of their rights, is a priority for the Government. A significant part of the work to implement supporting a victim's journey focuses on this.

My officials are working on promoting and policing the rights that victims of crime have, including publicising their right to register with the Garda Victim Liaison Office and to be kept informed of any significant sentence management decision taken. As to who can register with the victim liaison office, a person can register and receive information if he or she is a victim of the offence for which the offender is in prison.

I take and accept the Deputy's point that where a person has been a victim of violence and somebody has been imprisoned, and the victim does not know that this person has been released and meets them on the street, it is not easy for any victim.

I am conscious that gardaí who investigate the crime often stay in touch with the family and keep them apprised of issues. Gardaí can move on for different reasons because of promotion or retirement and I do not expect them to remember every individual case they deal with. Could there be some sort of electronic or technological reminder in the Garda station to contact the family, the victim or survivor? I am particularly concerned in cases of domestic violence also because there is often the likelihood of a repeat offence there. To forewarn the victim means that she may have time to put a safety plan in place on his release.

Just to inform Members, the question from Deputy Brendan Smith will be the last question. I call on the Minister to conclude.

I thank the Acting Chairman. Under budget 2022, €4.9 million is being allocated to support victims of crime. The contact that the victim of crime really needs to make is with the victim liaison office. This can be done by telephone, email or online via the Irish Prison Service website. I agree with the Deputy that it is no harm to do an awareness campaign around this so that people know exactly who they can contact. If they cannot do it themselves, an immediate family member or a person who has a close relationship with someone who has died or was injured as a result of the offence can also register with the service. The service is there to help people and we want to ensure that people use it and are aware of it. I take the Deputy's point on board and thank her.

Inquiry into the Death of Mr. Shane O'Farrell

Brendan Smith

Question:

93. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Justice the progress to date in establishing a public inquiry into the death of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51633/21]

My question relates to the tragic death of Shane O'Farrell in County Monaghan following a hit-and-run accident in August 2011. I have often listened to Lucia O'Farrell, Shane's mother, outline with great detail and clarity the dysfunctionality of so many elements of the criminal justice system that led to Shane's tragic death. A scoping exercise was established by a previous Minister for Justice and Equality a considerable time ago. We need this public inquiry process to be progressed as soon as possible.

Gabhaim buíochas. I thank the Deputy again for raising this issue. I wish to assure the Deputy that I also, as do others in this House, recognise the ongoing pain and anguish of the O'Farrell family on the tragic death of Shane and I deeply sympathise with them on their loss.

As the Deputy will be aware, a highly respected retired Judge, Gerard Haughton, has been conducting a scoping exercise into the tragic circumstances surrounding Shane O'Farrell's death. The purpose of this exercise is to advise as to whether any further investigation or inquiry beyond those already carried out is necessary and, if so, to advise on the form of such investigation or inquiry and its terms of reference. Former Justice Haughton furnished an interim report to the then Minister for Justice and Equality in November 2019 in which he stated that he would not restrict or limit Shane's family in their submissions to him or the nature and extent of the documentation they wished to furnish to him in his scoping exercise.

As the Deputy will appreciate, the judge is completely independent in conducting this scoping exercise. It is not open to me as Minister to comment on any aspect of the judge's work or the process of compiling the final report. My Department maintains regular contact with the judge and has assured him that any assistance he requires to complete his final report will be made available.

While I genuinely regret that this process has taken significantly longer than any of us would wish, I am also aware that the judge is doing all that he can to ensure that the concerns which the family have raised with him during the process are followed through to the greatest extent possible. I understand that Judge Haughton has been in contact with the O’Farrell family throughout his scoping exercise.

I am informed the process is now at the stage of seeking comments on various sections of the report from the parties named in it, including my Department. I also understand that Judge Haughton has been in touch with the O'Farrell family regarding this matter.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Following receipt of responses from all relevant parties, it is understood that Judge Haughton will be in a position to finalise his report. My Department will continue to provide all necessary assistance to the judge and I look forward to receiving his final report in due course.

Following receipt of the final report, in line with established process, the advice of the Attorney General will be sought on publication and any other issues arising.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the Minister for her reply. My question has been framed in the background that on 14 June 2018 we all voted in this Chamber calling on the Government to establish a public inquiry. As we all know in this House the O'Farrell family has worked tirelessly seeking justice for their only son and brother. The State failed them in the manner in which the death of Shane was investigated, prosecuted and in the manner in which the family's complaints around the investigation and prosecution was handled by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC.

Justice has to be done in regard to this exceptionally good, young man who was killed by a driver who should not have been at liberty at the time. At that time, the person who was driving that car had 42 previous convictions and was on bail in respect of several offences. He had breached the conditions of those bail bonds and was serving suspended sentences which should have been activated had the courts been informed of his convictions. It is a litany of dysfunctionality and a terrible injustice to a fine young Monaghan man.

I thank the Deputy for his question and thank him also for the work that he has done on this issue.

It is, of course, open to the judge to recommend the establishment of a statutory or non-statutory inquiry. I will await the recommendation of Judge Haughton in his final report before making any decision on further inquiries into this matter. I do not wish to pre-empt any advice which the judge considers appropriate in the circumstances following the scoping exercise.

To be clear, the Government is not opposed to the possibility of a further inquiry into this case if that is what the judge recommends. No restrictions have been placed on him in that regard. Like every Deputy, I want questions to be answered to the satisfaction of the O'Farrell family.

We are out of time but the Deputy might wish to make a brief closing remark.

I would like the scoping exercise to be completed as soon as possible. I hope we will then have the public inquiry I believe is warranted.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.