Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 17 Feb 2022

Vol. 1018 No. 3

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Data Protection

Denis Naughten

Question:

87. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Justice the steps which she is taking to restrict the right to be forgotten under the general data protection regulation, GDPR, by convicted sex offenders; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8375/22]

Those convicted in our courts of sexual offences against women and children are having their online records wiped away following requests to Google under EU privacy law. It is completely unacceptable, for the sake of the victims who have had to live with the consequences of those perpetrators' actions and any potential future victims, that court reports are being wiped away online. Those convicted of sexual offences should lose the right to be forgotten permanently.

As the Deputy is aware, the general data protection regulation, GDPR, is an EU regulation, by which Ireland is bound. The European Court of Justice is responsible for the interpretation of European law, including the GDPR. The right to be forgotten is a data protection right, which the European Court of Justice developed in 2014 after the Google Spain case.

In this ruling, the court established that users could ask search engines to hide certain URLs from search results when a search is conducted using their name and when the content on the page the URL points to includes information that is "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive". The right to be forgotten affords individuals the ability to exercise control over their personal data. They can decide the information about them that is accessible to the public through search engines. While it gives people the right to seek the deletion of their data, what it does not do is guarantee this will happen. The court established in the Google Spain case and subsequent cases that the right to be forgotten should not apply in cases of information that is relevant to the public interest, including previous convictions. It is important to stress that there has to be a right for individuals to apply and, as set out clearly in the Google Spain case, it is not an absolute right. In cases where there is a public interest element, including previous convictions, that request may be refused. The court ruled that the companies processing the data must determine in each case whether it is in the public interest to retain the data.

I want to be very clear in saying that the general data protection regulation, GDPR, does not give convicted sex offenders an automatic right to have their previous convictions deleted from search engines. While it is not open to me, as Minister for Justice, to change the application or, indeed, interpretation of the GDPR rules, I understand the Deputy’s concerns and I am determined, as in so much of the other work I do, to prevent serious criminals from hiding their pasts. The Sex Offenders (Amendment) Bill, which, as the Deputy is aware, is progressing through the Oireachtas, will ensure that the system for monitoring sex offenders is robust. The Bill includes a number of amendments to the sex offenders register, specifically in regard to notification requirements, as well as providing for electronic tagging, a prohibition on convicted sex offenders engaging in certain types of employment and other measures.

I accept the point made by the Minister, but the reality is that the court system is structured in such a way that convictions are published, decisions are made and judgements are given in public. Guilty parties should not be in a position where they can request and secure the erasure of this information. They are exploiting the privacy laws and this cannot be tolerated under any circumstances. The Minister is correct in that the European Court of Justice decision of 2014 gives the right to request it, but it also gives the right in the public interest to refuse to delete that information. The reality is that the technology companies are not applying that. Once the request is made and there is a historic element to it, they are granting individuals that right and that needs to be rejected, opposed and blocked.

The response of the Department of Justice is that we must uphold the European laws and regulations that have been set out. If there is a situation in which somebody believes information that should not be removed has been removed, that person, be it Deputy Naughten or anybody else, has the right to make a complaint, which would be address by the Data Protection Commissioner. The law is there. It is very clear. The companies are to adhere to that law and there is a process in place whereby a person can make a complaint if that is not the case. We have to make sure that individuals have a right to privacy. The vast majority of those applying this rule, the right to be forgotten, is in the context of information that should be taken down. There are instances where that should not be the case and it is up to the companies to respond to the law that is clearly set out. There is a mechanism for people to appeal that or to make a complaint where they believe the decision is unjust.

With all due respect, telling people that they can appeal a decision when the information is already taken down is no good. The Minister sits at the table of the European Council of Ministers along with her colleagues. I ask her and her colleagues to provide clarification and direction to the technology companies across Europe on this. In terms of convictions for the assault and rape of children and women and adults in this or any other country in Europe, those individuals should be refused point-blank the right to have these records erased. This cannot be allowed to happen. The only defence Google provides is in regard to the length of time since the information was first put online. Google is not carrying out the assessment that the Minister says should be carried out. It should not be up to the victims to have to appeal that. They are the ones who have been abused in the first place. They should not be the ones to enforce this.

The laws and guidelines area clear. The companies are to adhere to them. I have no problem in restating exactly what the companies are required to do. Individuals must have a right to apply for the right to be forgotten. However, it is very clear where it is relevant to the public interest, including previous convictions, that has to be applied. If companies are not applying this, a complaint can be made. I am clear what the laws and rules are and how the companies should be applying them. I will have no problem restating that when I meet with the companies in the coming weeks.

An Garda Síochána

Michael Creed

Question:

88. Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Justice her plans for Garda recruitment in 2022; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8723/22]

The most important resource available to An Garda Síochána is the human resource, the men and women who are gardaí and the civilian staff employed by An Garda Síochána. We can have many conversations about squad cars and IT systems, which are important, but without the human resource, the security that citizens feel in the communities that are adequately policed will be lost. Will the Minister give an update on the progress, under the programme for Government commitments, to bring gardaí numbers to 15,000, with the total number employed to 21,000? Much progress has been made, but I ask the Minister to provide us with an update.

At a time when we celebrate the centenary of service by the members and staff of An Garda Síochána, I am pleased to say that the Government is in a position to continue to increase the number of gardaí on our streets. A sign of that was seen last week with the new recruitment competition that was launched by An Garda Síochána through the Public Appointments Service.

Budget 2022 includes an unprecedented allocation, in excess of €2 billion, to An Garda Síochána. As I said earlier, this is an increase of one third on funding provided in 2015. It specifically includes provision for the recruitment of up to 800 gardaí and 400 Garda staff this year. Many of the 800 gardaí to be recruited will be drawn from this competition. I am pleased to note that there has already been great interest from the public, with 3,425 applications received last Thursday and Friday alone. I anticipate those numbers will increase. It is important to note that for the first time there has been a significant increase in the number of women, members of new Irish communities and people from minority groups who applied compared to the last competition and that is very welcome. Communities need to see members of their own community representing them in An Garda Síochána.

I welcome the Commissioner's leadership in emphasizing the need for greater diversity in the ranks of the service and in its behaviours and support structures. An Garda Síochána must reflect all the communities it serves and embed the principle of human rights as the foundation and purpose of policing in Ireland. This has included changes to Garda uniform policy, as we saw recently, the establishment of the Garda national diversity forum, and representation from diverse and minority communities in the Garda Reserve. In the coming months, the Commissioner will set out his plan for Garda Reserve recruitment for this year.

An Garda Síochána is working to produce a combined internal and external equality, diversity and integration strategy early this year. There is a huge amount of work being done to focus on how we can increase Garda numbers, as well as how we can increase diversity and ensure the gardaí are reflective of the communities they represent. I wish to stress that the recruitment competition is open until 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 16 March 2022, and details are available on www.publicjobs.ie, so as to encourage even more members of the public to put their names forward.

That is quite reassuring. Members of the House are anxious that the areas we represent will receive their proportionate share of any new recruits in order to improve the visibility of gardaí on the ground.

I wish to trespass into the area of Garda management, because I know the Minister regularly engages with the Garda Commissioner and senior management. One of the issues about which most of us as public representatives receive representation from individual gardaí is transfers. There are gardaí from west Cork or west Kerry who are positioned in Dublin and want to get back to their county. This may be due to family reasons, circumstances changing, elderly parents, gardaí getting married or a spouse working in the country while a garda is working in Dublin. There is greater scope for more efficient manpower management within An Garda Síochána and I would like Garda management to be aware of that. There needs to be greater flexibility.

They have fewer ties but as they advance in years, marry and settle down, there are more ties to home. I appreciate that members of the Garda cannot be appointed in their home patch but perhaps they could be deployed somewhere proximate to where their families are or where their spouse might be working. They are all issues that should be taken on board.

As the Deputy rightly said, where gardaí are deployed to or how they might be redeployed is a matter for the Commissioner but also for gardaí locally within the divisions and districts. From my own experience, while a member of An Garda Síochána starting out is sent further from home, as time goes on and as families evolve, where there are requests there is generally an appetite and a response to try to accommodate as many people as possible. Even in recent times through Covid-19 and in response to requests to have a more family-friendly model, there has been a change to the structures and rosters specifically responding to some of those issues and concerns. It has been received very well by many of the members of An Garda Síochána. It allows greater time at home and greater flexibility. All of these things need to be continually kept under review and responded to. I am very happy to take the Deputy's comments back to the Garda Commissioner.

Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence

Steven Matthews

Question:

89. Deputy Steven Matthews asked the Minister for Justice if her attention has been drawn to reports of sex for rent cases as reported in the media (details supplied); if specific legislation or measures to address this crime are being considered; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8274/22]

I want to ask the Minister if her attention has been drawn to recent media reports of sex for rent cases. I refer particularly to reports by a journalist in the Irish Examiner, Ann Murphy. Are there specific measures or legislation to address this crime, if it is a crime? I am not sure if it is and seek the Minister's clarification. Is she considering measures to address the matter?

I am aware of reports of the nature referred to by the Deputy. I assure him that the matter is being taken very seriously and is under consideration by the Government. I cannot imagine the level of distress that somebody must feel, particularly a tenant, where people are in a vulnerable position or living on their own and find themselves not being able to pay their rent. On top of that, they find themselves being propositioned or put into a very difficult situation where they feel they may not have any option or very few options but to leave and become homeless or for that to have further consequences as well. It is very upsetting to even think about it. The fact is that this is happening, where people are already tenants, where there are advertisements where people are not saying it explicitly but are referencing exactly what they are willing to do for a reduced rate. Any type of behaviour like this by landlords seeking to use their position to prey on vulnerable people is completely unacceptable. It cannot be tolerated. It is an appalling abuse of power by people with really unscrupulous morals.

The Deputy may be aware that my colleague, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, and I are receiving advice from the Attorney General on this subject at present. Both of our Departments are considering how we can take on board that advice and how we can go from here to try to address this issue. We will look at all of the potential elements involved here such as the policy aspect of discrimination relating to such advertisements. We will engage with relevant Departments to consider all possible avenues to address this unacceptable behaviour.

The Government is totally committed to preventing and addressing sexual abuse and gender-based violence in all its forms and it is important for me to say that the laws surrounding sexual offences have been significantly strengthened in recent years, including with the introduction of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017. The legislation now makes it abundantly clear that consent must be freely and voluntarily given. In other words, submission when a person feels forced or has no other choice is not the same as consent. We have to be clear on that. While the right approach to dealing with this issue needs to be carefully considered, I can assure the Deputy that my colleagues and I are looking at this and plan to take action on it. It is complex but we want to try to find a way forward.

I thank the Minister. She covered the issue well. It is morally reprehensible for someone to engage in this type of practice, to exploit somebody. We are all aware of the cost of rent out there. We are aware of the pressures on people from rent. For someone to take advantage of that and try to exploit somebody - we need to take urgent action on this. I do not know how prevalent this is but that it can exist at all is something we need to address. The Minister will be aware that this came to me as a housing matter in my role as Chair of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage. We were not then sure whether it was a justice matter or one we would have to deal with through rental tenancies. We referred it back to the Minister. I look forward to hearing about the updates the Ministers, Deputies McEntee and Darragh O'Brien, receive on this from the Attorney General. We must act on this swiftly.

The fact of the matter is that there is no law against this at the moment, unfortunately. It is difficult to know the prevalence of it. I know in the UK a survey was conducted last year in which 40,000 women responded that they had found themselves in this position within a period of about three months. That is really an unbelievable figure and I do not know how it corresponds to our own situation here. There had been a suggestion that there could be a survey, perhaps through the Rental Tenancies Board, RTB, which conducts annual surveys of landlords and tenants, to see if we could get a figure. It was perhaps felt that this is a very personal and difficult thing for somebody simply to respond to in a survey when he or she is already a tenant. Nor would it cover all situations, for example where somebody is renting a room. It makes it difficult to respond to.

In the UK, the law that does exist comes under prostitution legislation. I think we need to be very careful of the laws and language we use here and how we refer to it. That is the work we are doing with the Attorney General at the moment, to see where this could fit in to legislation here. It is not a criminal offence. I would like to see it as a criminal offence. It is appalling behaviour, the worst type of preying on victims and we need to make sure we stamp it out. However we do that, I hope we will be able to come back to the Deputy as quickly as possible.

I am glad to hear that. The Minister will be aware from the work of Government, including Housing for All and the €4 billion per annum budget we are putting in to provide public housing and cost rental housing, and that we are addressing tenancies of indefinite duration. We have brought in five or six Acts during Covid to protect tenants in their tenancies. We applied the 2% rent cap during this time of high inflation. I refer to the Affordable Housing Act, the Land Development Agency Act and all of the work the Government is doing to provide secure tenancies, supply of housing and public housing on public land, with 100% public housing on public land in Cork and Dublin.

This is just one area that we need to address. It concerns people who are very vulnerable. Given the placement of these advertisements, these may not even be legitimate tenancies. I understand the difficulty is to try to identify where the problems exist and what the applicable laws are. I trust the Minister has this in hand and commend the work she has done on preventing sexual abuse and gender-based violence. I am sure is continuing that work.

As the Deputy has outlined, there is a huge amount of work going into our housing plan. This has been identified as a gap and something we need to address. I assure the Deputy and colleagues here that we are working to try to address this and to bring forward proposals as quickly as we possibly can.

Questions Nos. 90 and 91 replied to with Written Answers.

Public Inquiries

Gino Kenny

Question:

92. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Justice her views on conducting a public inquiry into the death of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8769/22]

I call on the Minister to launch a public inquiry in respect of Shane O'Farrell, who was killed on 2 August 2011 in the most terrible of circumstances. Since that terrible day, the family has sought justice and truth about Shane's death. I hope the Minister will oblige the family in its search for justice and truth.

I assure the Deputy that I recognise the pain and anguish the O'Farrell family has been going through because of the tragic death of their son Shane. I sincerely sympathise with them on their loss.

As the Deputy will be aware, a highly respected retired judge has been conducting a scoping exercise into the tragic circumstances surrounding Shane's death. The purpose of this exercise is to advise as to whether any further action, 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. This is quite a large piece of work already under way.

My Department maintains regular contact with the judge and has assured him that any assistance he requires to complete the final stages of his report will be made available to him. I do know he is at the final stages.

I am informed that he has sought comments on various sections of the draft report from the parties named in it, and he has confirmed that he has received responses from most of the relevant parties. Once this process is concluded, he should be in a position to finalise the report. I understand and appreciate that this has been going on for longer than people would have hoped but it is important that the judge be allowed to do his work and make the recommendations. Once I have received the final report, the advice of the Attorney General will be sought on its publication and any other issues arising from it.

The Government has never been opposed to the possibility of a further inquiry into this case, if that is what is recommended. I am certainly not opposed to it. However, the Deputy will understand that I do not want to pre-empt any view or advice that the judge considers appropriate in his final report. However, I will respond to what is in the report. If that includes a recommendation on a further inquiry, I will of course respond.

It is more than ten years since Shane O’Farrell was killed. The family has always sought the truth and justice. You do not need to be a legal expert to concur that there was systemic failure regarding Shane’s death. Not only was there systemic failure on the day he died but there was also systemic failure before that. You do not have to be a legal expert to look at the facts. One fact is that Shane O’Farrell should be alive today. We should not even be speaking about him today, but there was systemic failure.

I have a sincere question for the Minister. Judge Haughton has been doing a scoping exercise for the past three and a half years. What the hell is he scoping? Does he have a telescope on the universe? This thing is going on forever for the family. The Minister’s predecessor, Deputy Heather Humphreys, said seven months ago that the scoping exercise would be completed soon. Is it on the Minister’s desk?

No, it is not on my desk. The judge is independent in the work he is doing. It is important that I do not comment on, pre-empt or discuss what work he may be doing but I can say that any support required by him and his team has been provided. There is regular contact with the O’Farrell family. There are a few responses to be obtained. Once this is done, the judge will be able to produce the report. I appreciate that it is taking a lot longer than people would like. I would like to ensure the work done is thorough. There is no question but that this is the case. Regardless of what recommendations are made, I will absolutely take them on board, working with the Attorney General. We will respond to the O’Farrell family as quickly as we possibly can.

Deputy McEntee is the fifth Minister for Justice since the fateful day in question, 2 August 2011. Since then, there has been an internal investigation into what happened — an internal Garda inquiry into the systemic failures. It was quashed subsequently, which throws up more questions than ever before on the events surrounding Shane’s death. Many people watching this debate will be asking what happened. Why, in the circumstances, was Shane O’Farrell failed by the justice system? I respectfully put it to the Minister that only a public inquiry will result in the truth and justice the family is seeking.

As the Deputy has outlined, none of this is straightforward. I do not pretend to know the time the scoping exercise should or needs to take, but we must allow the judge to do the work he feels necessary in order to provide a clear, direct and pointed response to the questions asked, based on the terms of reference that have been set in this instance. I continue to support the work he is doing. He is engaging with the O’Farrell family to ensure constant contact and communication. I appreciate that the exercise is taking longer than the family would like but I am reassured that it is in its final stages and that the report will be produced and presented to me-----

Has the Minister any indication as to when the report will be finished?

I reiterate that once it is brought to me, I will respond as quickly as I can.

Question No. 93 replied to with Written Answers.

Insurance Industry

Pearse Doherty

Question:

94. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Justice if proposals have been submitted to the Government to change the Occupiers' Liability Act 1995 and the Civil Liability Act 1961 to reform the duty-of-care arrangements and increase protections for consumers, businesses, sports clubs and community groups; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8771/22]

Small businesses and community groups right across the State continue to suffer from unaffordable insurance premiums. The action plan on insurance reform committed that the general scheme of legislation to balance the duty of care would be brought before the Government by June 2021. That deadline was missed. In July 2021, the implementation report committed that the general scheme would be submitted in September 2021. Again, that deadline was missed. What is the current status of the work by the Department to reform the duty-of-care arrangements?

Insurance reform is a key priority of the Government. It is reflected in the programme for Government, the Government’s action plan for insurance reform, which the Deputy has just mentioned, my justice plan for 2021 and my justice plan for 2022, which I will publish shortly. This is a whole-of-government effort. I am pleased to say that, of the 66 actions contained in the action plan, 51 have been now completed. Twenty-six were completed by my Department. Data from the Personal Injuries Assessment Board indicate that award levels have reduced by around 40% since the introduction of the personal injuries guidelines last April, which I hope the Deputy will agree comprise a significant step in meeting our commitment to making insurance more affordable for consumers, businesses and community groups. We have all seen a reduction in our car insurance premiums in the past year alone. In addition to the bringing into operation of the guidelines, the enactment of the Criminal Justice (Perjury and Related Offences) Act 2021 last June has been a key element of work in my Department. We have also examined changes to reduce insurance fraud, including penalties for insurance fraud, in consultation with relevant agencies. The Insurance Fraud Coordination Office was opened by An Garda Síochána in July.

In accordance with the action plan, my Department has completed a review of the occupiers’ liability legislation, including the duty of care and notices and waivers. Under that review, we considered relevant current legislation in Ireland and other common law jurisdictions, in addition to notable Irish case law. Subsequently, my Department identified several options regarding occupiers’ liability, which the review has recommended pursuing. I submitted these options to the Government last April.

We are considering reform in two areas. First, we are considering introducing provisions to ensure that ordinary common sense is brought to bear on personal injuries cases. This usually leads to a dismissal or a reduction in the award granted. We are essentially codifying what is already happening in many or some instances in our courts. This is in line with recent superior court rulings.

Second, and probably more significantly, we are considering the introduction of a provision to allow for the voluntary assumption of risk whereby those who willingly place themselves in circumstances they know might result in harm cannot bring a claim against the other party. This is what many people are looking towards. This recommendation was made previously by the Law Reform Commission.

To set out the timeline, my Department is currently engaging with the Office of the Attorney General on proposed amendments to the Occupiers’ Liability Act. My intention is that, on receiving advice, the proposals will be progressed and included in the civil liability Bill. The intention behind that will be made known in the coming months.

Our economy and communities will be unable to bounce back sustainably from the pandemic unless all sectors and businesses of all sizes can resume activity in a stable and supportive environment. The insurance crisis is having an impact on that. If you talk to businesses, you hear that time and again.

Reform is moving at a snail’s pace. The personal injuries guidelines adopted last year saw personal injuries awards fall by 50% within three months of taking effect, yet we all know that insurers are not passing on those types of savings to customers. I urge the Government to support my Judicial Council (Amendment) Bill, which would monitor insurance companies and pressure them to pass on savings.

Rebalancing the duty of care is crucial to bringing greater certainty and underwriting capacity in the insurance market. Given that the Minister stated insurance reform is a key priority and that there is a whole-of-government approach, I was shocked that she has not only missed her own two self-imposed deadlines but has also not included the legislation to reform duty-of-care arrangements, by way of amending the Occupiers’ Liability Act, in the spring legislative programme. What are the causes of the delay? Does the Government have a new deadline that it might try to meet this time?

Of the 66 actions contained in the Government’s action plan for insurance reform, which includes four Departments, 26 have been completed by my Department. A major focus has been placed on insurance reform in the Department of Justice. We have already introduced legislation. While a number of deadlines have, perhaps, been missed, the focus has not been taken away from insurance. The focus been rightly on insurance in many other areas, as well as this. I do not intend to bring forward a separate bill, because I think that would only take longer. These are amendments that can be put into the civil miscellaneous bill, which is due in the coming months. We are at the end stages of the process. We are engaging with the Attorney General. I completely appreciate and understand the importance of this legislation and in making sure that businesses, individuals, community groups and those who represent play spaces and other areas can see the benefit of the legislation.

People are already seeing the benefit of the 51 actions that have been completed.e. To give the Deputy an example of one, my own Department has worked with An Garda Síochána and we have seen the number of staff in the fraud bureau rise by one third, which has allowed a new office to open up. We are engaging with the insurance companies in order that we can identify where fraud its taking place and that we can have a better and closer relationship to try and reduce those numbers over all. That will discourage people from coming forward with claims and it will have a knock-on impact on insurance companies and the cost that they are putting on to individuals.

I do not know if the Minister is aware of what is happening out in the real world. She has spoken about the action plan and so on. Businesses and community groups are not seeing a reduction. The vast majority are seeing increases in their insurance premiums. That is not just me talking. I ask the Minister to talk to the campaigners in the Alliance for Insurance Reform who represent a wide section of society. They have told the Minister time and time again that they have carried out surveys. We can see it in the statistics. There have been small reductions in motor insurance, but these have been nowhere near where they need to be. In terms of public liability insurance, community groups, sporting organisations, businesses, play areas and all the rest are suffering as a result of high insurance costs. Some have had to close down. It is a key issue. The Minister has missed deadlines twice. She talked about bringing proposals to Cabinet in April, and she cannot still give us a date, a year later, of when the legislation is going to be produced. The Minister has stated that she will not bring forward stand-alone legislation because it would take too long, although if Government had really gripped the issue, it would have been done and dusted by now. I ask the Minister to at least publish the amendments in order that we can see whether the Government understands what is really required in the context of balancing the duty of care. Is the Minister in a position to publish amendments at this point? Obviously, there will be no pre-legislative scrutiny if the Minister is just amending existing legislation.

Having met and engaged with the Alliance for Insurance Reform, many members of it and, indeed, members of my community, I am very aware that there is no silver bullet and that a single action is not going to facilitate the changes we need. Of the 66 actions, 51 of which have been completed, we are starting to see changes in some, not all, areas.

In the context of some of the larger items, such as the guidelines issued last year, it takes time for the changes to be seen and reflected in our pockets and for those in our communities as well. As outlined, in the context of the legislation, whether it is in publishing the amendments themselves, we are focusing on two things, namely, that we codify what is already being seen in judgments that are being handed down and where common sense is being applied. In recent court rulings, there have been dismissals or reductions in awards. In addition, we want to introduce a voluntary assumption of risk. It is very clear what that means. It means that if you walk into a place, area or setting where you may hurt yourself and you are aware of that, you cannot make a claim afterwards. I appreciate that this is extremely important for many businesses. That is why I have every intention of dealing with this matter quickly as possible through the civil law (miscellaneous provisions) Bill that is due in the coming months.

An Garda Síochána

Alan Dillon

Question:

95. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for Justice if budget 2022 provides for additional community gardaí in County Mayo; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8677/22]

We need to take progressive actions now to build safer and stronger communities by building relationships with local communities and civic society groups. It is the way forward for An Garda Síochána to ensure that people feel safe in their communities. It ask the Minister to outline the plans to increase the number of gardaí assigned to community policing in counties such as Mayo.

The Government and I are committed to ensuring that An Garda Síochána has the resources it needs. As I have said many times today, the unprecedented allocation provided, in budget 2022, of in excess of €2 billion reflects that. This includes funding for the recruitment of up to an additional 800 Garda members and up to 400 Garda staff. It should be noted that many of the Garda members to be recruited will be drawn from the Garda recruitment competition which opened last week. More than 800 Garda members have also been redeployed in recent years from administrative duties - working in offices but doing important work - to front-line policing duties where their expertise can be utilised fully. The civilian Garda staff are taking over those roles.

As the Deputy will be aware, in accordance with the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the management and administration of An Garda Síochána, which includes decisions on the deployment of personnel among the various Garda divisions. I am assured by the Commissioner and his team that they keep the distribution of resources under continual review in the context of policing priorities and crime trends, to ensure their optimum use. I understand that it is a matter for the divisional chief superintendent to determine the optimum distribution of duties among the personnel available to them, having regard to the profile of each area, the division and its specific needs.

I am advised by the Garda authorities that on 31 January 2022, the latest date for which figures are available, a total of 12 community gardaí were assigned to the Mayo division. The Deputy may wish to further note that the total number of gardaí assigned to the Mayo division as of 31 January 2022 is 331, which represents an increase of over 9% on the numbers allocated to the division in 2015. The Deputy will also be glad to note that Garda staff levels have also increased significantly in the Mayo division over the same period, with an increase of 70% from 33 in December 2015 to 56 as of December 2021.

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

I thank the Minister for her response. It was excellent to note, in budget 2022, the provision for the recruitment of over 800 new gardaí and 400 Garda staff. I very much welcome that. I note that the ongoing recruitment campaign that is under way is being well advertised and is progressing well to date. With the development of the new strategy statement for the period 2022 to 2024, now is the ideal time for An Garda Síochána to commit to increased community policing. As many Deputies have referenced previously, we need to strengthen the visibility of gardaí on the ground and ensure that we have the policing numbers not just in urban areas, but also in rural areas. It is probably not sufficient to have 12 assigned community police offers covering a large geographical area in County Mayo. We need to increase that. I ask that it is enhanced and that An Garda Síochána works with different community groups and organisations that have advocated for it. I am aware that it is one of the Minister's commitments as a Deputy representing a rural constituency. I would appreciate any support on the matter.

While they have a title, and it is important to acknowledge that the community gardaí and the specific work that they do, what we have seen throughout Covid-19 and the last two years is that every member of An Garda Síochána is essentially a community garda. The work they do is about responding to crime, needs and incidents as they arise, but it is also about outreach. It is about actively and proactively engaging with community at every level. It is important that we have gardaí specifically designated and designed to reach out, for example, to our elderly and younger populations and to engage with schools and community groups. I can think of a number of gardaí in my own county who are known the length and breadth of the county for they work that they do specifically with community groups. We must also remember that there is a focus on community at the heart of policing. It is important to stress that the new divisional model will include a division where gardaí will be focusing specifically on the area of community. As those divisional models are rolled out, I have not doubt that whether it is in County Mayo or any other part of the country, we will see an increase in those numbers.

Certainly, we do have a great community policing unit in County Mayo. It does a great deal in the context of facilitating an informal interaction with gardaí. It goes a long way to addressing some of the antisocial behaviour. It is good to hear that the distribution of resources is under continuous review. Looking at some of the rural towns in County Mayo, such as Claremorris and Ballinrobe, we have seen population increases as a result of the pandemic, where people have moved from urban areas back into rural communities.

I hope that as we move forward with this recruitment campaign, more resources can be directed into community policing. I know this will have a significant impact on rural communities and constituencies such as Mayo.

The Deputy makes a valid point. In the past year, several close friends of mine have moved out of cities back home to rural areas. I refer to the work the Garda Commissioner is doing in considering resources, where they are needed and how there has been a change in the numbers in communities. That is reflected in how Garda numbers are deployed and redeployed. I have no doubt that when the 800 new recruits are deployed across the country, those changes in populations and demographics will be taken into account, as will issues that arise in certain areas. There has been a very quick response to such issues. When particular types of crime or trends increase in certain areas, there is an immediate response. The more gardaí the Garda Commissioner has at his disposal, the easier it is for him to do that. It also comes down to the resources we provide to the Garda in rural areas in particular. It is about making sure we have the gardaí we need and that they have the equipment and technology they require to do their job as efficiently and effectively as possible.

An Garda Síochána

Neale Richmond

Question:

96. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Justice when body-worn cameras will be introduced for An Garda Síochána; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7770/22]

Four years on from the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing, what is the status of the introduction of body-worn cameras for members of An Garda Síochána?

In Justice Plan 2021 I committed to introducing legislation to provide for the introduction of body-worn cameras, in line with the recommendation of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland to which the Deputy refers. The commission in its report stated that policing organisations around the world have found that such devices can help improve front-line capability with the accurate recording of incidents, as well as expediting analysis, enhancing situational awareness and sometimes protecting police from harm.

In April 2021, I secured Government agreement to publish the general scheme of the Garda Síochána (digital recording) Bill 2021. The Bill has three purposes: first, to provide a legal basis for the deployment and use of body-worn cameras by An Garda Síochána; second, to provide for the extension of the circumstances in which CCTV may be authorised, taking account of the general data protection regulation, GDPR, and the law enforcement directive; and, third, to provide an updated legal basis for the deployment of automatic number plate recognition technology by An Garda Síochána.

My Department has engaged extensively with An Garda Síochána, the Garda oversight bodies and strategic partners during the preparation of the general scheme, as well as the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, ICCL. Following Government approval, the general scheme was sent to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel for formal drafting. That drafting is continuing at this stage. The general scheme was also submitted to the Oireachtas Committee on Justice for pre-legislative scrutiny. The report of the committee was received in December 2021 and is currently being examined by officials in my Department.

This legislation is a significant priority for me and my Department, as I know it is for the Deputy. I am working intensively with the Attorney General to ensure the Bill can be published by the end of March. I hope that, when complete, it will pass through the Oireachtas as soon as possible. I hope it can be enacted later this year.

Although it is not an excessively long Bill, I am aware the issues that need to be addressed, such as privacy rights and data protection, are particularly complex. That is why we are making sure we get things right. All use of recording devices under the legislation is linked to Garda functions, namely, the investigation, detection, prevention and prosecution of criminal offences, public order and public safety, and safeguarding the security of the State.

I welcome the response of the Minister. I am grateful for it. It is worth noting that in the four years since the Commission on the Future of Policing recommended the introduction of body-worn cameras, 3,381 members of An Garda Síochána have been assaulted in the line of duty. Between 2018 and 2020, there was a 45% increase in assaults. I appreciate the Bill is particularly complex legislation and there are so many areas that need to be considered, but it is time to truly react to the desires not just of communities but, indeed, all policing unions that have called for the introduction of these cameras. In light of the response of the Minister, how can Oireachtas Members of all parties help to ensure the legislation is passed as swiftly as possible once she is in a position to introduce it? Ireland is an outlier in Europe in the context of being one of the few states that do not use body-worn cameras. What lessons have been learned from other jurisdictions with regard not just to ensuring this legislation is watertight, but that it is introduced in an expedited manner?

The Deputy outlined two key issues, that is, we need to introduce this as quickly as possible, but we also need to ensure it is watertight and there are no challenges, particularly in the context of the GDPR rights of people. I am conscious we are probably one of the few countries that do not have these cameras yet. I am conscious this is not only important for protecting members of An Garda Síochána, but can also help them to do their job more effectively. In the context of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, the Garda Commissioner has repeatedly told me of the importance of Garda members who are first on the scene of an incident being able to get those first few minutes or seconds and that initial reaction on camera to have it as evidence.

I am conscious of the many reasons this legislation is important. That is why we are committing to significant increases in the Garda IT budget. It will take money as well as legislation to introduce this. We have to ensure we go out to tender and have codes of conduct and that all of this is done at the same time and can be progressed collectively. That work is all under way. That commitment is there and the intention is that the legislation will be enacted by the end of the year. It is to be hoped members of An Garda Síochána will be wearing this equipment as soon as possible.

I welcome the response of the Minister. I commit to supporting her on this. It is worth noting that body-worn cameras have been in use on Luas trams since 2009. They are a normal and practical part of everyday policing across Europe. What exchanges, if any, have been had between officials of her Department or members of An Garda Síochána and other police forces and administrations in the EU or the UK that have brought in legislation to enable them to ensure body-worn cameras are watertight in so many areas?

The Garda Commissioner is constantly engaging with his colleagues and police services across Europe, but also internationally. As is the case with departments, governments and agencies, they work with each other to share information and ways in which they can progress their services. From a policy point of view and that of my Department, when introducing legislation we look at best practice and other common law jurisdictions, particularly the UK and others. We try to avoid any pitfalls or issues that may have been encountered elsewhere. All of that work is being done in conjunction with focusing on laws here, working with organisations that potentially have concerns and trying to address those at the earliest stage possible. That is why there has been significant amount of engagement with the ICCL, the Data Protection Commissioner and many others. I share the Deputy's sense of urgency and desire to have this introduced as quickly as possible. I ask for the support of all Members of this House and the Seanad to ensure that when the Bill is brought forward, it can be passed as quickly as possible.

Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence

Aindrias Moynihan

Question:

97. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Justice if the review recommendations relating to the provision of accommodation for victims of domestic violence will be included in the forthcoming publication of the third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence; when this publication will be available; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8685/22]

I raise the issue of accommodation for people fleeing domestic violence. I know that since I tabled the question, the Minister has had updates on the issue and published plans on it. What engagement has she had with the various local groups in respect of delivery of services? For example, the West Cork Women Against Violence Project has been providing very positive services in its locality, as have a range of other groups locally. The Minister has identified there will be five places for families in west Cork and five in north Cork. Does she have a plan in respect of how those places will be delivered? If so, I ask her to outline it.

As the Deputy will be aware, I met a significant number of front-line and community organisations, some of which are already delivering refuge supports for people across the country. The report and the accommodation review published by Tusla clearly highlight the need that exists and the work that has to be done in delivering additional refuge spaces. It identified ten areas of 82 units on which we need to work and deliver immediately. Three of them are in Cork, as the Deputy noted.

The work I am doing now is setting out the funding that is required, the manner in which we are going to do it, how we can change the structures and, in the longer term, how we can introduce a new agency that would have sole responsibility in the delivery of these types of services. At the moment, it is quite fractured across various Departments, including my Department of Justice, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, as well as Tusla. What we intend to do in the coming months and years is to bring that structure so that delivery can be as quick as possible. I will set out clear timeframes and funding when we launch the third national strategy.

Hopefully that will happen in mid-April.

Is féidir teacht ar Cheisteanna Scríofa ar www.oireachtas.ie .
Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.
Top
Share