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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 20 Sep 2022

Vol. 1026 No. 3

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

School Transport

I thank the Minister of State for being with us tonight to address the very important issue of school transport. I want to talk specifically about the area of Kilnaleck in the heart of County Cavan. This is a beautiful, idyllic village in the heart of the county. There are 25 students currently having to use private transport to get to school in Cavan town.

There are three big secondary schools in Cavan town and 25 students currently have to pay for a private bus service.

This is not a new issue. It is an issue that has been ongoing for years. One of the parents told me that 50 years ago there was a route from Kilnaleck into Cavan town but, for some reason along the way, that was changed. I am hoping that as a result of this debate we will have the opportunity to change and rectify that and make school transport a possibility and a real part of the lives of the parents who have this relentless problem around school transport.

As I said, there are parents whose children have to use private school transport. Of course, I acknowledge the fact it is the second closet school and it is not the nearest. I am asking that under the review around school transport the scope of that would be broadened to facilitate parents and students like those in Kilnaleck and to ensure the second closest school will be an option for them.

I have already explored all options. We have looked at Local Link and so on but none of that is a runner. I have tried to be flexible. Ultimately, there are 25 students and countless families who deserve school transport to Cavan town.

One of the parents has given me a very clear example of where it is costing more than €1,400 per annum to get her child to school. On top of that, she drives 4,000 km each year to get her child to the pick-up point outside Kilnaleck. That is before the child even gets on the bus to go to school.

The Minister of State will have got the gist of my ask. I will allow time for my colleague.

I thank the Minister of State for stepping in to take the matter tonight. I do not know what bus na scoile is like in Waterford but in north Kildare it is absolutely dire. In all the years I was a councillor, and since I have become a Deputy, I have never seen anything like the avalanche of messages, requests and emails I am getting from parents in north Kildare, contacting me about bus na scoile. It has been an absolute fiasco. The Department announced free seats without making sure it had the actual seats in the first place. It has led to chaos among families across north Kildare and across the State as well.

I know from a reply to a parliamentary question that the Department did this after a couple of days liaising with Bus Éireann. Bus Éireann only realised the seats were going to be free half an hour before it was formally announced. There is the phrase, "Build it and they will come". If you announce free school bus places, do not be surprised that many hands go up. This has left many children without any tickets this year who had gotten concessionary tickets for many years. They are bitterly disappointed.

I am also bitterly disappointed with the replies I am receiving to parliamentary questions. The Minister said at least 124,000 tickets were given out, with an extra 20,000 places this year. The Government keeps insisting on this figure but it is just not true. In another reply to a parliamentary question, I was told 121,400 were carried in the scheme for the 2021-2022 school year. That is only an extra 3,000 places and not the 20,000 the Minister said there were. I ask the Minister of State not say that in her reply because that is back to school stuff whether one has a school bus place or not.

I wish to raise the issue of the number of mothers who are contacting me because, primarily, this is a gender issue. This goes back to women. It is seen as the woman’s job to get the kids to school. In addition, because of the gender pay gap, it is primarily the women. Women are telling me they will have to give up work to bring their kids to school.

I thank the Deputies for raising these matters. As discussed with the Deputies, I am taking this debate on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Foley, who is unfortunately unavailable this evening due to another commitment.

Deputy Cronin asked about the transport issues in Waterford. I am a mother of three and for the past 17 years, including this year, I have put somebody on the school bus. Living in Portlaw, where there is no secondary school, we have no choice. Only for the school bus system, with five buses leaving Portlaw every morning, thankfully, my youngest is on the bus.

I will provide an outline on the extent of the school transport first. School transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department. In the last school year, more than 121,400 children, including more than 15,500 children with special educational needs, were transported on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country at a cost of more than €289 million in 2021.

The purpose of the Department's school transport scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school.

In July 2022, Government announced funding for the waiving of school transport scheme fees for the 2022-2023 school year as part of a wider package of cost-of-living measures. I know, particularly in the area where I am from, not having to pay that €650, or €220 in the case of primary school, was welcomed by school families.

School transport ticket registration for the 2022-2023 school year closed on 29 July, by which time almost 130,000 applications were received for mainstream school. The figure included 44,299 new applications as well as roll-overs from the previous school year. Already, 124,000 tickets for the mainstream scheme alone have been issued to applicants for the 2022-2023 school year. At the start of the last school year, there were 103,000 children carried on mainstream school transport services, so already in the region of 20,000 additional places have been created. There has been an increase in tickets allocated across all counties, including the areas referred to by both Deputies.

Bus Éireann will continue to process applications and to issue tickets as soon as extra buses and drivers are sourced and become available to provide transport for the higher numbers qualifying for the service. However, regrettably, the unprecedented numbers of applications for the upcoming school year has led to some delays in issuing tickets.

I will respond to Deputy Smyth first. I take on board what she said. I believe she was referring to Kilnaleck.

Some 25 students are using private transport and the Deputy has exhausted all avenues and spoken to Local Link. I will certainly bring that back to the Minister on her behalf. What I have found in my constituency office is that if there are two or three children in a particular area, it is very difficult. However, when there are 25 students, it is easier to deal with that. It is very hard to provide the bus for one or two children, which is not what parents want to hear. However, in this case, there are numerous students. Deputy Cronin is very challenged in north Kildare as well.

The normal eligibility criteria of the scheme still apply and tickets continue to be allocated in line with the criteria that the Deputies know in relation to those who are eligible and those who are concessionary. In line with normal practice, all eligible children who completed the application and ticket registration process on time will be accommodated on school transport services where such services are in operation.

In addition, pending completion of the outcome of the full review of the school transport system, temporary alleviation measures at post-primary level, which is the second school the Deputy referred to, will be continued for the 2022-2023 school year.

As I said, I am speaking about a specific issue, which is Kilnaleck. I would like to take this opportunity to thank one parent who has had numerous meetings, sent numerous emails, made numerous phone calls and put hours and hours into this on behalf of the other parents and kids to try to come to a resolution. Using her words, to say this is a stressful situation is an understatement.

On the broader picture, the system has to be flexible, particularly in the current circumstances we find ourselves in. To say, as I read in the reply, that a late applicant will not be accepted is not flexible. I will use the example of a family with a number of children who have been paying Bus Éireann over the past 15 years. Their child cannot get on the bus this year even though that bus is driving by the end of their lane only half full. This is the problem. We cannot have half-full buses going to schools with other kids, who have been loyal Bus Éireann customers, left at the side of the road. I ask that the system be flexible to ensure the capacity is provided for all these concessionary students.

That is a problem I am hearing about as well. Buses are not full and yet kids have been refused places on them. I know of 29 children from the Rathcoffey-Straffan area. There is no public transport from Straffan into Maynooth secondary school. There is a public bus service from Rathcoffey, but there is not one from Straffan and there are 29 children without a seat. This is all in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis where women are thinking about having to give up work so they can bring their kids to school. I know of another child from Coill Dubh going to Prosperous and who is relying on the 120 bus, which is just not reliable.

The word "reliable" should not be in the same sentence as the 120 bus. Mothers are having to quit work with no warning in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis. It is all just a lack of joined-up thinking. The headlines were great - there was to be a free bus na scoile service and it would marvellous and important in the middle of a climate crisis, but it is not delivering. One cannot just announce something and make it happen. Bus Éireann did not get the notice it needed. I want to know what the story is. I have heard Ministers saying they are still looking into it and they are still trying to get places, whereas Bus Éireann says it is over and finished. What is the story there?

It is important to point out that 124,000 tickets for the mainstream scheme alone have been issued to applicants and 124,000 children are on the bus. As part of the cost-of-living packages introduced by the Government, they are able to travel to school by bus free of charge. Notwithstanding that there are difficulties, that point cannot be lost. All present accept this is very important for many families who might not ordinarily get supports, possibly because they are working, for example. It is important to acknowledge that.

The Department has commenced a review of the school transport scheme. It is being conducted with a view to examining the current scheme. All Deputies are aware there are issues every September. The Government accepts that.

There has been nothing like this year previously, though.

The review will consider how the scheme currently operates, its broader effectiveness and sustainability and that it adequately supports the provision of services to students and their families.

The review encompasses the school transport scheme for children with special educational needs. The review of the primary and post-primary school transport schemes will examine each element of the schemes, including eligibility criteria, trends, costs, cost drivers and overall effectiveness in meeting the objectives of the scheme. The review will also examine the potential for integration of different strands of the scheme and a more co-ordinated approach with other Departments that also use transport services.

Wider considerations relating to operation of the scheme are taking place in the current phase of the review. As part of this, the technical working group has undertaken extensive consultation, including running a public survey for parents and guardians as well as students who use the service. It is to be hoped that, as a result of the review, the situation will be resolved by the end of next year.

I reiterate the point that 124,000 students are receiving school transport at the moment. I will feed the Deputies' comments on the immediate areas to which they referred back to the Minister.

Housing Policy

I very much believe in Part V delivery. I wish to deal with a particular aspect of it. I like estates to have 10% social and 10% affordable. That is what I want to see on every new estate that is built. Part V provision was in place previously, with both 10% social and 10% affordable, but on many occasions the Part V obligation was bought out and did not happen. That is no longer the case.

However, I draw attention to the fact that under Housing for All and, more particularly, the Affordable Housing Act 2021, in the case of planning permissions granted before 3 September 2021, it is only the 10% social that applies. The 10% affordable does not apply for private estates in that context. For planning permissions granted after 31 July 2026, which is the bones of four and a half years away, the 10% social and 10% affordable - a total of 20% - will apply. For planning permissions granted between 3 September 2021 and 31 July 2026 in respect of land purchased prior to 1 September 2015, the 10% social and 10% affordable apply. However, for any land purchased between 1 September 2015 up to 31 July 2021, which makes up the bulk of the land that will be built on now, only the 10% social applies. Why is that the case? In the case of land purchased after 1 September 2021, the 20% total does apply, but the bulk of the land that will be built on in the coming years will be land that was probably purchased between 1 September 2015 and 31 July 2021. That means that many of the private estates that will be built will not provide 10% affordable housing.

I passionately believe in the Part V model. Why has this situation come about? What can be done about it? I ask the Government to reconsider this and amend it. Whatever the cost that will have to be paid to the builders of these estates to ensure 10% of the houses are made available under the affordable model should be met. I am talking about ensuring that, on an estate of 100 houses, ten of those houses would be set aside for affordable purchase. That is what the people in Limerick whom I represent are seeking. My worry is that will not be the case under the structure currently in place. That may be based on legal reasons, but I want to know the reason for the decision and I want the Government to consider ensuring the 10% social and 10% affordable provisions apply to any planning permissions that are granted from now on, regardless of when the land was purchased. If that requires additional funding from the Government to the developers of these sites, so be it. I believe it would offer value for money because it provides people with affordable homes on private estates in their own communities.

I believe in the model of estates that have 10% social, 10% affordable and 80% private. It is a mix and it works. There are other models and I very much acknowledge the fact there are 25 new houses going up under the affordable fund at the moment in Castletroy, where I live. That is to be welcomed, but this is a slightly different thing. Anyone who has been involved on the ground will understand what I am talking about.

I thank the Deputy for his question. I am taking it on behalf of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy O'Brien.

Under Housing for All, the Government's strategy to increase housing supply, we have an ambitious target to deliver 300,000 new homes in the next decade. This includes social, affordable purchase, cost rental, private rental, and private ownership housing. It has seen the Government make funding available for 54,000 affordable home interventions, including 36,000 affordable purchase and 18,000 cost rental homes, to be delivered between now and 2030.

Part of this affordable housing delivery will be facilitated under the provisions of the Planning and Development Act 2000 Part V requirement. These provisions were amended via the Affordable Housing Act 2021 and came into operation on 3 September 2021. I know that is the matter to which the Deputy is referring. The amendments increase the required Part V contribution from the current level of "up to 10%" to a flat 20% in housing developments. This applies in situations involving five or more houses and enables the use of Part V for the provision of cost rental as well as social and affordable purchase housing. A minimum threshold is in place and requires at least half of the Part V contribution to be for social housing provision. Planning permissions granted before 1 August 2021 are not affected, as the Deputy noted. The contribution remains at 10% for social housing purposes where planning permission is granted before August 2026 in respect of a site purchased between September 2015 and the end of July 2021, when the requirement was at 10%. This transitional arrangement ensures that near-term delivery will continue, mindful that increasing the percentage could make developments unviable where the original financial appraisal was based on the 10% contribution.

I can confirm that the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is currently preparing updated Part V guidelines for local authorities under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000. These guidelines, which are expected to be finalised shortly, will provide detailed information and clarification on the amended Part V requirements, including those aspects relating to affordable housing.

In the interim and in the period to 2026, the Government has committed the funding to deliver cost rental and affordable purchase homes via approved housing bodies, AHBs, local authorities, the Land Development Agency, LDA, and the first home shared equity scheme. Cost rental homes will be delivered by AHBs, local authorities and the LDA. AHBs are currently supported by the cost rental equity loan funding, while local authorities can access funding for cost rental delivery through the Department's affordable housing fund.

The LDA will also deliver cost rental on its own portfolio of sites and through acquisitions under Project Tosaigh.

The target under Project Tosaigh is the delivery of 5,000 new homes by 2026 for cost rental or sale to eligible households under affordable purchase agreements. In regard to affordable purchase, the first home scheme was launched on 7 July last and aims to support in the region of 8,000 primarily first-time buyer households in acquiring new homes in the private market in the years 2022 to 2026 with an overall budget of €400 million. The remaining affordable homes for purchase will be delivered by a combination of local authorities underpinned by the housing delivery action plans and supported by the affordable housing fund and the Land Development Agency, LDA, through Project Tosaigh as it continues work on public and State land.

I thank the Minister of State. I welcome the fact that there is a great deal happening on affordable housing. As I said, the 25 units in Castletroy that are being built under the affordable housing fund through the local authority and all the other aspects such as the home equity scheme are all very welcome. However this is a very particular point. The Minister of State made reference to the fact that land purchased between 1 September 2015 and 31 July 2021 might be deemed - if Part V for affordable housing was implemented and for planning permissions granted on or after 3 September 2021 - unviable. We are talking about 10% of an estate. It is very simple. This is down to funding. If it is down to funding, then the Government should be funding the developers for any shortfall they have in terms of a development. If we are looking for a model, it must be an integrated model. We cannot have a situation where over the next number of years no private estate built will have affordable housing. This is common sense. I ask that it is taken back to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and that Government will look again at the legal implications of this measure to see if that shortfall, where a builder bought land between 3 September 2015 and 31 July 2021, can be funded, so that the Government funds that 10% for the affordable housing. There are people, young couples and young people, who want to purchase a home in their own communities. They need to be entitled to avail of this and, therefore, I ask Government to revisit this aspect.

I will take on board what Deputy O’Donnell said and feed it back to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage. What the Minister said, as Deputy O’Donnell said, the transitional arrangement ensures that near-term delivery will continue, mindful that increasing the percentage could make developments unviable where the original financial appraisal had been based on the original 10% contribution which was prior to this new Bill. As sites that fall under the new Part V provisions begin to obtain planning permissions, a supplementary delivery of social and affordable homes will be yielded. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage will continue to concentrate on delivering a strong short- and medium-term pipeline of affordable delivery through continued engagement with the local authorities, approved housing bodies, AHBs, and the Land Development Agency. The transitional arrangements included in the amended Part V provisions ensure that the near-term delivery will continue uninterrupted and the Government remains committed to delivering affordable interventions, which I know Deputy O’Donnell welcomes and is supportive of. He mentioned the build in Castletroy. I will take on board what he said and will bring it to the attention of the Minister and his Department.

Coroners Service

I wish to ask the Minister for Justice about the coronial system particularly as it relates to the justice plan 2022 which commits to bringing forward nationwide coroner review proposals later this year to address identified issues and drive innovative change. My biggest concern right now relates to the absence of a coroner in Carlow district. We currently have 34 coroners in 38 coronial districts. Why is there not a coroner appointed in Carlow? There is temporary cover from Laois that is already three years in place. As the Minister knows, coroners are appointed by the local authority except in the district of Dublin where appointment is by the Minister's office. Where a vacancy arises in a particular coronial district and that district falls within local authority areas where there is more than one coronial district, the Minister's office may, following consultation with the local authority, direct another coroner from the same local authority area to assume the coronial duties of the vacant office. These can then be amalgamated districts. However there is no specific protocol in a case such as in Carlow where the passing of a coroner left a vacancy which has still to be filled and is currently being held by a coroner in a separate district for it to be filled from that district. There is no urgency to fill the vacant role and this concerns me.

Coroner districts within counties have been amalgamated from 48 districts to 38 in 2022. Carlow remains a district, although it is without a coroner. The legal requirements for a person to be appointed as a coroner or a duty coroner are set out in the legislation. Are there any plans to broaden this?

As the Minister knows, no person shall be appointed to be a coroner or deputy coroner unless he or she is a practising barrister of at least five years' standing, a practicing solicitor of at least five years' standing or a registered medical practitioner who has been registered other than provisionally or temporarily under the Medical Practitioners Acts1927 to 1961 in the register of medical practitioners for Ireland or who has been entitled to be so registered for at least five years. Yet there is no application process, no job site to which to apply, so what steps are being taken to recruit a Carlow coroner for a vacancy that is some years in existence? To date only two such appointments have been made, one in Kildare and one in Meath. My understanding is that there is a mechanism for the coroners service to recruit extra staff. The Minister might come back to me on that.

The Civil Law and Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2020 provided for the assignment and appointment of temporary coroners as part of the national response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet, Carlow remains without one.

Section 13 of the 1962 Act provides that each coroner shall appoint a deputy coroner, again in the case of Carlow, we do not have one. We have been promised many times comprehensive reform in the system but we cannot seem to get the right staff in place. I have argued for a review of the system, a widening of powers, a better system that empowers families left behind after a death, that provides more transparency and supports for those bereaved through suicide. I support calls for better data collection so that we can learn lessons better and for recommendations made by coroners to have greater weight.

In committee I called for a full-time coroner in each district reporting to the recruitment and resourced from a national coroners service with consistent standards of practice throughout the country and sufficient supports to ensure families left behind are supported in a most difficult time in their lives. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s plans for these vital reforms.

I thank Deputy Murnane O'Connor for raising this important matter and for giving me an opportunity to provide clarity on some of the issues and to outline what has been done to date. We have plans to do further work. As the Deputy outlined, the coroners service is a network of coroners and districts throughout the country. Coroners are independent, quasi-judicial officials whose function is to investigate sudden and unexplained deaths so that a death certificate can issue. This is an important public service in particular to the next-of-kin, to friends and family of the deceased. Coroners not only provide closure for those bereaved but also provide a wider public service by identifying matters of public health and safety concerns. As Deputy Murnane O'Connor rightly outlined, my justice plan 2022 commits to bringing forward this year nationwide review proposals to deliver a service improvement plan to address identifed issues, drive innovative change, enhance customer service and improve interaction with pathology services. Until I have that review, going into more detail is not possible at the moment but I am committed to doing it by the end of the year and will engage with the Deputy when I have that report.

The Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013 provided for legal aid and legal advice by certification by the coroner to the Legal Aid Board in respect of inquests. We then had the Coroners (Amendment) Act 2019, which clarified, strengthened and modernised the powers of a coroner in the reporting, investigation and inquest of deaths. The scope of inquires at inquest was expanded beyond being limited to establishing the medical cause of death to seeking to establish, to the extent the coroner considers necessary, the circumstances in which the death occurred. The Act also broadened the coroner's powers relating to mandatory reporting and inquests of maternal deaths, deaths in custody or childcare situations, as well as significant new powers to compel witnesses and evidence at inquest.

More recently, we have the Civil Law and Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2020, which provided, among other items, for the assignment and appointment of temporary coroners to act simultaneously with other coroners in exceptional circumstances. This was used in part of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic. There have been a great deal of change, amendments and Acts in the past decade or so to improve the overall structure and system but we are reviewing it now again to see what more we can do to ensure that it is the system that works as effectively as it can.

In regard to Carlow, Mr. Eugene O'Connor has been in situ as coroner to Laois since 1996. As deputy coroner for Carlow, he assumed the duties of coroner for Carlow upon the unexpected death of the Carlow coroner, Dr. Brendan Doyle, in April 2019.

As the Deputy has rightly said, the appointment of coroners to districts outside of Dublin is a function of the relevant local authorities. The Department and I are not aware of any plans to appoint separate coroners to these counties at this time but obviously, that is a matter for the council to decide and is not something I would prevent or stop it from doing.

It is available to the coroner for Laois and Carlow, Mr. Eugene O'Connor, who has assumed duties, to request that I as Minister for Justice would authorise the deputy coroner, where there is a deputy coroner in Carlow at the moment, to act contemporaneously, that is, in line with or at the same time as the work that he is doing. The option is there for him to request that I would approve such a measure. It is something that I can do and it may, perhaps, be something that the Deputy might want to suggest will happen.

I thank the Minister. I welcome this review and will definitely talk to the Minister about this. It is important that the Act also broadens the coroners' powers. That is very important and I have called for that at our committee. It is a vital role.

As the Minister has said, there is a deputy coroner in Carlow. Carlow needs its own coroner, however, which is something I am very passionate about and I have spoken to many people about it. As the Minister noted, we had the unexpected death of our Carlow coroner, Dr. Brendan Doyle, in April 2019 and Mr. Eugene O'Connor has been in situ since.

Overall, we need to ensure that this review gives coroners extra power and it would be important to have it done as soon as possible. We need our own coroner in Carlow. I will happily work with the Minister on this issue and I thank the Minister very much for coming back to me on it.

I thank the Deputy. Once again, I will engage with her on this issue and once we have the report and review, and have a greater idea of where we are going in what changes need to be made, we can continue to engage on that. As Dr. Jonathan Jacob is deputy coroner at present, it might be an idea for that request to come in. It may be the case that the changes are not being made on the basis that this review is happening and waiting to see its outcome. In the interim, it would be an option for me, as Minister for Justice, to authorise the deputy coroner, in this instance Dr. Jonathan Jacob, to act contemporaneously with the coroner who is acting for both Laois and Carlow at the moment, which I appreciate is not what people in Carlow might want. We will engage further on that and hopefully will deal with that.

An Garda Síochána

First, I wish to condemn outright those who were involved yesterday evening and every other night and day in rallying robbed cars through the neighbourhood of Cherry Orchard. Thankfully, nobody has been seriously injured in this ongoing spate of criminal behaviour by youths in the area. As anybody who watched the lawlessness of the joyriders as they raced up and down the road in the housing estate yesterday evening, all would have been thinking that it was lucky that there were not multiple victims in hospital, or even in the morgue today.

This has been ongoing for a number of weeks and months. The gardaí in the squad car must have been very shook up because it looked as if the criminals were intent on doing serious damage to the car and injury to those inside.

It is a pity, however, that it took to ramming of a Garda car for the authorities to sit up and take notice. This has been, as I have said, ongoing for a number of months with little visible impact from the minor actions the Garda has taken to date. Only two weeks ago I raised this matter with An Garda directly in a local policing forum and I know that my colleague, Councillor Daithí Doolan, who is chair of the local policing forum and who was injured by one of these gangs when he interceded on behalf of a besieged constituent, has been contacting the Garda morning, noon and night when a robbed car is spotted rallying and endangering children in the area.

More gardaí and more Garda resources are required. One squad car is not enough for the whole of Ballyfermot. Two gardaí in a car going to tackle three racing, robbed cars and being cheered on by 50 or 60 people, is not enough. No visible patrols for most of the year is not good enough. Accelerated planning and delivery of the Cherry Orchard local area plan needs to happen, including additional resources and extensions for St. Ultan’s Primary School. There also is a need for shops. Approximately 40 years after this area was built, there are no shops, barbers, hairdressers, butchers, cafés or anything like that. That shows this area has been neglected and that neglect must end.

As Deputy Ó Snodaigh has said, the scenes played out last night in social media were shocking for many but they are not shocking for the residents of the area who have been putting up with this kind of thing night after night for months.

Some of us local representatives have been working together to raise the issue by working with the community and with community development organisations. Excellent work is being done in the community but the funding is constantly on a knife edge. We need to be looking at how we can work with the community, which wants to see an end to this kind of behaviour. As my colleague has said, we need to see more gardaí on the beat and to see a higher level of community policing. Based on replies to parliamentary questions, only approximately 6% of the local Garda station's complement is dedicated towards community policing. This compares to a national average of 19%, to 13% in other areas, or even 66%, I believe, in Carlow. I appreciate that many of the decisions on community policing are made at a divisional level but they are made in the context of the wider manpower available. We need, therefore, to look at the manpower that is available to the Garda in order that its members can get out on the beat regularly and build up the relationships they need in this community to enforce the law effectively.

Communities like Cherry Orchard feel marginalised, ignored and invisible because this kind of behaviour has been happening. When communities feel so marginalised, this kind of behaviour is inevitable. We need to invest in these communities but we also need to show them that we care about them by putting gardaí on their streets to protect the community.

I thank both Deputies for raising this issue in the House today. This incident is very much at the forefront of our mind today and the incident referred to by the Deputies is completely unacceptable for those living in the local communities who have to put up with it. I agree with Deputies in condemning this in the strongest terms. What we saw was a blatant disregard for the law, for members of An Garda Síochána, who were going about their business but most importantly, for the people in the area who should not have to put up with this.

We will always support communities affected by antisocial behaviour and criminality. They are as appalled by what has happened as we are. We will also put supports in place to ensure that there are the services and facilities for young people in all of our communities.

Speaking from a justice perspective, however, and I will touch on what has been invested specifically in the Cherry Orchard area in the past year or so, but we have to do this in a comprehensive way in order that it is a Garda response but is also making sure that we have the other resources in place.

I have spoken to the Garda Commissioner and have asked him to look specifically at what more we can do to try to tackle and deal with this type of antisocial behaviour. To be clear, however, anyone who engages in this type of behaviour, in what were criminal acts last night with cars being stolen and with the types of incidents that were happening, must be punished and there must be repercussions at the end of the day. We cannot allow communities to live in this kind of fear. I also wish to convey my best wishes to the gardaí who were involved in the incident last night.

I agree that we are very lucky it did not result in a fatality, either of members of the Garda Síochána or members of the community, or even those who were driving the cars and causing the havoc we saw on social media. I would appeal to anybody in the area, as gardaí have been doing, to try to come forward.

I would like to outline some of the responses that have been happening because I do not think it is fair to say that nothing has happened in the past few months. I have spoken to gardaí following concerns that have been raised by Deputies in this House, including by my colleague, Senator Seery Kearney, and others. We have had Garda Operation Préachán in place since 20 August this year. This is a specific operation focusing on car-related crime and antisocial behaviour. Arising from that specifically, in the last few weeks seven arrests were made and seven individuals were brought before the courts and were placed under bail conditions, including curfews and other types of conditions. In the Cherry Orchard area specifically, responding to the concerns that people have raised and these types of incidents relating to cars, there have been seven arrests.

Separate from that, other issues have been raised in respect of antisocial behaviour. Local Garda management have tried to enhance their high visibility policing presence with the Dublin metropolitan region, DMR, public order unit over the weekends, although, as we saw, this incident happened on a Monday afternoon. That has to be kept continually under review with regard to where the resources are, when they are there and making sure they are visible. I have been informed by the Garda that there have been a number of meetings with community representatives to try to explore what more can be done, and also with regard to support from those like the armed response unit, the emergency response unit and the air support unit. However, we do not want it to get to a stage where these units have to come into communities, and it should never get to that stage.

The way to deal with it is the comprehensive response that I have mentioned, with more gardaí and resources. What I can say is that I am absolutely committed to increasing the number of gardaí. Templemore has reopened. While we have had challenges with Covid-19, we are now nearly at the stage where we will have 200 recruits in Templemore every 12 weeks. That will give rise to a significant increase in the numbers right across the country and in each area. The new Garda operating model will mean we have more front-line gardaí on the beat because HR, finance and desk work duties that can be done by civilians will be done in a more condensed way, allowing more front-line gardaí out on the beat.

In terms of dealing with more societal issues and supporting young people in particular, I want to highlight that in the last year €300,000 has been invested specifically in Cherry Orchard. There are two full-time youth justice workers, one part-time project manager, one family support worker and one early intervention worker. The CODY project just last year received funding of €62,000 to work with people involved in the antisocial use of scramblers, quad bikes and related crime.

What happened last night was unacceptable and it should not have happened. People should not have to put up with this. I believe the gardaí are doing what they can. Of course, we need to make sure they have more resources but we also have to look at this in terms of a holistic response and how we can engage with the community more. As the Deputies stated, it is about how we invest in community services and supports, looking at education and all of the various different preventative measures that are required.

I agree with the Minister that there is some good work being done by gardaí based in Ballyfermot. I was aware of a number of arrests, but those seven arrests have not quelled the issue and it seems to be continuing unabated. One resident wrote to me today who has set up a WhatsApp group with her mother. She wrote: “We have this group to notify and warn each other if there is a car out or an unsafe situation happening in the area to ensure we do not cross paths with it and can be safe coming and going from our homes.” That is residents living in siege and it needs to end. We all have a role to play and I accept the role of local representatives, youth services, schools and the like. However, there is an immediate need for a response from the Garda so this can be nipped in the bud, and it is a long bud at this stage. We cannot have what happened yesterday continuing.

We have seen a special policing plan and a special accelerated response for areas like the north inner-city, and I believe this community needs that kind of response. As I said, some of the local representatives are working on plans around community development and around these issues, and when they are unveiled, we need to give them full support.

I would also ask the Minister to come on down and meet the local police and the local community, if she can. The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, was out recently, as was the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien, seeing the situation for themselves first hand. In fact, where the crash happened, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, had been standing there less than 48 hours beforehand. The Minister for Justice should come to the area and meet the local gardaí and members of the community. Let her hear first-hand from them and the other local representatives what can be done.

I would be happy to meet with the community and with members of the Garda Síochána. I have spoken directly today to the chief superintendent and I think it would be important to meet with the community. We have also engaged with Dublin City Council. I know a report had been done outlining how there can be greater development, not just in the Cherry Orchard area but in the larger vicinity, so we need to make sure that report and that plan is put into action. It is important that Dublin City Council, the local community, local representatives, the Garda Síochána and my Department come together as soon as possible to make sure we can advance those plans, so it is not just about policing and making sure the resources are on the ground. I know there will be extensive patrols, including the public order vans that will be there this evening, and that increase in resources will continue until this type of behaviour abates and until there is a hold on what has been happening, not just last night but over the last number of weeks. However, it is important that we look beyond the next few weeks and to the longer term. I am committed to working with Deputies and, most importantly, with the community to make sure the plan is not just for policing, Garda visibility and the type of work that is being done in the criminal justice system, but that the resources that are needed, the investment in education and the wider collaborative piece can happen. As I have said, I will be happy to work with colleagues to make sure that is the case.

Cuireadh an Dáil ar athló ar 9.58 p.m. go dtí 9.12 a.m., Dé Céadaoin, an 21 Meán Fómhair 2022.
The Dáil adjourned at 9.58 p.m. until 9.12 a.m. on Wednesday, 21 September 2022.