Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Garda Deployment

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. One of the key recommendations of the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland was the redeployment of members of An Garda Síochána from non-core duties to front-line duties. One of the non-core duties specified was the carrying out of security duties at courthouses by An Garda Síochána. The case with which I want to deal specifically, and the one I know best, is that of the new courthouse on Mulgrave Street in Limerick. This was opened in March 2018 and has been a great addition to Limerick and to the delivery of justice in the region but, when it was established in May 2018, 22 gardaí were reassigned from front-line duties to non-core security duties at the courthouse on Mulgrave Street. This is a very inefficient use of the skills of members of An Garda Síochána. The key recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland were developed in an implementation plan published last December following the publication of the commission's report in September. One of the key goals for 2019 under the plan is the redeployment of gardaí from non-core security duties in courts to front-line community policing duties. This is already the case in Dublin. Security work at the new Criminal Courts of Justice building, opened in 2010, is carried out by a private security firm, G4S. This firm also carries out security duties at the Four Courts in Dublin.

Private security firms do not carry out security duties in any court outside of Dublin. I want the courthouse on Mulgrave Street in Limerick to be the first outside of Dublin in which the key recommendation of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, which is also a goal for 2019 under the implementation plan, is implemented so that these 22 gardaí, who are needed on the streets of Limerick, can return to front-line duties. We need them in suburbs such as my own area of Castletroy and Monaleen, Dooradoyle, Corbally, and Caherdavin. They are needed in the city centre where many businesses have major issues with antisocial behaviour and theft. The public of Limerick wish the see their members of An Garda Síochána on community duties, on the beat, on bikes, in patrol cars, walking the streets, and making people feel safer.

They do not wish to see them tied up in performing security duties in the courthouse that could be carried out better and more efficiently by a private security firm. I am not expecting all 22 gardaí who include two sergeants to be fully redeployed because in the courthouse we will require gardaí to exercise powers that private security firms do not have such as the power of arrest. However, I want to see immediate action on this issue which I raised with the local chief superintendent, Mr. Gerard Roche, at the joint policing committee meeting in Limerick last Friday. He very much supports my proposal, as does the superintendent in Henry Street Garda station, Mr. Derek Smart. Can the Minister make Mulgrave Street courthouse the first outside Dublin in which private security firms take over security duties, meaning that the 22 gardaí engaged in security duties in the courthouse can be redeployed to engage in front-line community policing in Limerick city and its environs?

I thank the Senator for raising this matter which I am taking on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan.

On 18 December 2018 the Government endorsed the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland and accepted all 157 of its key recommendations, including those related to the reassignment of non-core duties, subject to further evaluation. The Minister also published a high level plan, A Policing Service for the Future, which set out the approach to implementation in the next four years of the commission's recommendations. Their implementation is being overseen by a dedicated programme office in the Department of the Taoiseach, as recommended in the commission's report. As set out in the implementation plan, work will commence on a review of An Garda Síochána's role in court security in quarter three of this year, with a view to completion by year end. The recommendations on responsibility for court security duties will then be implemented during the next phase of the implementation plan, from January 2020 to June 2021.

Progress continues to be made on civilianisation, with approximately 410 new civilian posts sanctioned since the beginning of 2017. I understand approximately 340 gardaí were redeployed by the Commissioner to operational policing duties between the beginning of 2017 and the end of quarter 1 of 2019. That is positive progress and civilianisation, including redeployment, will continue in 2019. In that regard, the Minister welcomes the Commissioner's decision to recruit a net 600 Garda staff in 2019 which will facilitate the redeployment of 500 gardaí to visible front-line policing duties in 2019. It is also encouraging that there continues to be a strong pipeline of candidates who wish to join An Garda Síochána in the most recent recruitment campaign which closed on 24 April and attracted in excess of 5,000 applicants. This level of recruitment will ensure we remain on track to deliver a Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021, to include 15,000 Garda members and 4,000 civilians.

The issue of members of An Garda Síochána being redeployed from providing security in courts is linked with the issue of An Garda Síochána providing escorts for prisoners attending court. A value for money study of prison escorts was conducted last year, led by the Department of Justice and Equality. Work is ongoing between the Department, An Garda Síochána, the Courts Service and the Irish Prison Service to develop the recommendations made in the value for money study. The review of court security provision as part of the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland will be informed to a considerable extent by the outcome of this work, given that the management of prisoners attending court is largely carried out by the Garda and prison service personnel who escort the prisoners. It is a major aspect of court security.

The Department of Justice and Equality will continue to work with all of the agencies involved to progress the reassignment, to the greatest extent possible, of gardaí to front-line policing duties.

I thank the Minister of State. It is welcome that he has confirmed that the implementation plan of the Commission on the Future of Policing of Ireland refers to the redeployment of gardaí from court security duties to front-line duties in 2019. He also referred to the value for money study in the context of prison escorts. I am not talking about prison escorts but physical security in the courts. In the Four Courts and the Criminal Courts of Justice beside Heuston Station there is high level security like that provided in an airport. I want to see the same high level security on Mulgrave Street in Limerick. Twenty-two gardaí are tied up in carrying out court duties when they should be out policing the streets of Limerick. I, for one, would like to see this initiative expedited. The value for money study of prison escorts is a secondary issue. I am referring to a mainstream issue, one I will continue to pursue.

When the new courthouse was opened in Mulgrave Street in March 2018, discussions took place on the use of a private security firm. It ended up that the Garda had to provide the security detail. When the Criminal Courts of Justice were opened in Dublin in 2010, how did it happen that a private security firm was given the contract to provide security considering that when a new courthouse was opened on Mulgrave Street, Limerick, eight years later, the Garda had to provide the security service? I will continue to pursue the matter with the Minister and Garda Commissioner, Mr. Drew Harris. Twenty-two gardaí were redeployed from front-line duties to non-core duties and I would like to see this reversed. The Minister of State might reiterate the commitment of the Government in that regard.

I do not have the answer to that specific question, but it must be emphasised that the work in implementing the recommendations made in the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland is a long-term commitment that will take a number of years to complete. The recommendations made in the commission's report will be implemented on a phased basis in the next four years. A Policing Service for the Future will be a living document that will be updated, as required, on a biannual basis by the implementation group on policing reform. Based on the four-year plan, it is expected that all agreed recommendations will be substantially implemented by the end of 2022, the 100th anniversary of the establishment of An Garda Síochána.

On the specific issue of moving members of An Garda Síochána away from providing security in courts to front-line policing roles, the Department is working closely with all of the agencies involved to make progress on this goal, initially as part of the work of developing the recommendations contained in the value for money review. This work will inform the wider review of court security. It is not just a matter of court duties but also of the transfer of prisoners to and from courts. The Government looks forward to continuing to work towards and support this goal through co-operation between the Department of Justice and Equality, An Garda Síochána, the Courts Service and the Irish Prison Service. Alongside the continued progress on civilianisation and recruitment within An Garda Síochána, the recommendations made in the commission's report will ensure more gardaí are available for front-line policing duties. I understand the logic behind what the Senator says should happen and that he does not want gardaí to do what they are currently doing just because that is the way it has always been done. We can change. The report of the commission is very clear that we need fewer gardaí in roles that could be carried out by civilians. There are specialised skill sets and abilities in certain firms. The Senator highlighted G4S. It is an international firm which is carrying out the service in question all over the world. We can use its skill set and expertise to continue civilianisation in order that we will have gardaí on the streets. They should be visible, out and about meeting people to get to know them and working and living in the community. That also benefits the Garda tremendously.

Wind Energy Guidelines

I will not say anything at this point; rather, I will wait until I hear the response of the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy. I am well versed in this matter, about which I have spoken on a number of occasions. I will use my four minutes after I hear his response.

I thank Senator Lawlor for giving me the opportunity to update the House on the review of the wind energy development guidelines. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government is undertaking a focused review of the guidelines to address a number of key aspects, including sound or noise, visual amenity setback distances, shadow flicker, community obligation, community dividend and grid connections. The review essentially aims to strike a better balance between addressing the concerns of local communities over wind farm developments and the need to generate additional renewable energy capacity, having regard to our binding EU renewable energy targets, while also ensuring that there will be greater and earlier engagement with communities by wind farm developers. In this regard, officials in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government have been working closely with officials in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment on the revision of the guidelines in the context of that Department’s remit and lead responsibility in renewable energy generally, including wind energy.

As Members may be aware, as part of the overall review, a strategic environmental assessment, SEA, is being undertaken on the revised guidelines before they come into effect, in accordance with the requirements of EU Directive 2001/24/EC on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment, otherwise known as the SEA directive. SEA is a process by which environmental considerations are required to be fully integrated into the preparation of plans and programmes which act as frameworks for development consent or planning permission prior to their final adoption, with public consultation being part of that process. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government appointed SEA experts to assist in this regard, and significant work was undertaken during 2018 on the SEA process and the development of the revised guidelines. While it was intended that the revised draft guidelines would be published for public consultation in quarter 1 of 2019, some delays to the planned schedule arose due to the publication in October 2018 of updated World Health Organization environmental noise standards, which consequently need to be taken into account in the finalisation of the guidelines to ensure compliance with best international practice, as well as the need to address certain Brexit related planning issues.

As part of the SEA process, there will be an eight-week public consultation on the revised draft guidelines and the comprehensive SEA environmental report. This will enable all stakeholders, including members of the public, to examine the details of and submit comments and views on the draft proposals. Following the completion of the SEA process and the consideration of the submissions received during the public consultation phase, it is intended that the revised guidelines will be finalised and published in late 2019, after which they will come into effect. The revised guidelines will then be issued under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended. In this connection, planning authorities and, where applicable, An Bord Pleanála must have regard to ministerial planning guidelines issued under section 28 in the performance of their statutory functions under the planning Acts. In the meantime, the current 2006 guidelines remain in force.

This is a bullshit response. Pure bullshit. I have been listening to this since 2014. Unfortunately, the Minister of State is not in charge of the Department.

Senator Lawlor might withdraw his language.

I will not. I cannot.

It is not appropriate in this House.

This is a crap response.

That is not appropriate in this House.

This is typical of the Department down in the Custom House. Most of them live in the city and have no experience of what goes on in rural areas. It is unfortunate the Minister of State is giving the response. It is not his Department. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and Minister of State, Deputy English, have allowed this crap response to be given here today. This has been going on since 2014 and various Ministers have stood up in the Dáil or in this Chamber and said the guidelines will be published. They were supposed to be out last October or November but there was another excuse not to publish them. There are communities where planning applications have been made to local authorities and to An Bord Pleanála which are using guidelines from 2006. Things have changed since 2006. They are not the same as they were. The height of the turbines has gone way above what was advocated in the guidelines in 2006. This is crap. We do not expect this from a Department. There is some official in the Custom House who, when his arse hits the files on this issue, his head hits the roof, there are that many files on it. This sort of crap is not what the public wants. They want decisions. Unfortunately, the Minister of State is taking the brunt of what I am saying, but it is not his responsibility.

The Senator is attacking public servants who are not here to defend themselves.

I do not give a shit because those public servants are delaying this.

They are delaying this. Those guidelines should have been out in 2014. Here we are in 2019, and it will be almost 2020 before these guidelines are out. I do not give a hoot about the officials. It is about time they were named. Who is sitting on these files and not making decisions so that the public can act on what is out there at the moment? The planning guidelines go back to 2006, and it will be 14 years until the new ones are published. It was a waste of time putting down this matter.

I invite the Minister of State to respond but it is not his Department.

I have nothing to say except one thing. There was no need for the Senator to be as ignorant as he was.

I am not being ignorant. I am giving the facts. The last guidelines were in 2006 and we have been promised new guidelines since 2018.

Senator Lawlor has made his point.

Local Authority Housing Rents

I, too, am disappointed that neither the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, nor the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy English, is present today. I understand the frustration of Senators, and again the Minister of State who is present is taking the rap for something that is not in his Department, but I see the frustration. I, too, live in an area where we do not get answers from the Department. I am not giving out, but I totally understand the frustration.

The Senator should stick to her own matter.

This is about the discrepancies between rent caps in neighbouring counties, which mean one family pay twice as much as another living next door to them. I and other elected representatives have written to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government on this matter in the recent and historic past. I am sure this issue has arisen in many counties and townlands.

I will target my area of Carlow and its neighbour, Laois. In the townland of Graiguecullen, both local authorities share an estate. It is at the end of Carlow and borders Laois. This has been a very good arrangement and proof that working together achieves great results. This estate is one to be proud of. The issue I want to discuss is the difference between what some families are paying in local authority rents and what their neighbours are paying. Included in this discussion will be references to the housing assistance payment, HAP, and the system surrounding HAP regarding local authority housing. Residents in this shared estate under the Laois authority have their rent capped at €93 per week, but if they are a resident under the Carlow authority the cap is €180.

Added into this estate there are also a number of private houses for rent, and these households, which are in co-operative housing, should be able to apply for HAP but they are not allowed. Some of the private homes are actually co-operative homes and tenants in these cannot receive HAP. Co-operative Housing Ireland is a Government body, so why can a tenant in a Co-operative Housing Ireland house not qualify for HAP? Why are they removed from a council housing list because they are in co-operative housing? It just does not make sense that, in the midst of a housing crisis and when we have mechanisms in place to help people, that we are not helping them but pushing them into poverty. These people do not qualify for the local authority housing list so they pay €1,200 a month in rent. They cannot afford a mortgage because they do not have enough savings. I have raised the massive issue of local authority thresholds being too low to allow people to go on the housing list, but it has not been addressed, which is staggering. There are well over 1,000 people on Carlow's local authority housing list, but a review is under way so I expect the figure to be much higher.

Almost eight years ago the Department carried out a review of the social housing income threshold.

For nearly a year and a half the Minister, Deputy Murphy, and the Minister of State, Deputy English, have promised that it would be reviewed. Last September, they told me that it would be ready and it has not happened. I understand the frustration and do not want to give out to the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy. The thresholds to qualify are unwittingly excluding people who should qualify for the social housing lists. It is unacceptable that people who are working and doing their best are caught in the net. They do not qualify to go on the local authority housing list and they do not get a mortgage. The biggest issue here is that we have one of the lowest caps for local authority housing, at €27,500, while our neighbouring counties Laois and Kilkenny are over €30,000. It is unfair. We now have a situation where if a person pays rent as a Carlow local authority tenant, that person is capped at €180 a week, compared with Laois at €93.

The Senator has made her point and is out of time.

I do not know if this is getting through to the Department. When houses are next door to each other and the residents of one are paying nearly double the amount of the other, it causes aggro in an estate. People then go back to Carlow County Council and ask why they are paying so much. I ask the Minister of State to address these issues.

I thank the Senator. The right of local authorities to set and collect rents on their dwellings is laid down in section 58 of the Housing Act 1966. The making or amending of rent schemes under section 58 is an executive function and is subject to broad principles laid down by the Department, including that the rent payable should be related to income and a smaller proportion of income should be required from low-income households; that provision should be included for the acceptance of a lower rent than that required under the terms of the scheme in exceptional cases where payment of the normal rent would give rise to hardship; and that appropriate local factors should be taken into account, including the costs of the maintenance and management of the stock of rented dwellings and the adequacy of the rental income to meet such costs.

Since 1986, when rent setting was devolved to individual local authorities, different approaches have been taken to rent charging and setting throughout the country. There are 36 separate differential rents schemes in operation nationwide. While local authorities generally follow the household means policy, there is variation in the extent to which they apply the income disregards set out in that policy in that differential rent schemes and differing approaches are taken to certain forms of income, such as the working family payment and the carer's allowance. With regard to caps on rent, a majority of local authorities impose a maximum amount of rent payable under this scheme for different property types, while a significant minority do not impose any such maximum rents.

Considerable work has been carried out by the Department in developing a draft national differential rents framework for the purposes of section 31 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009. Such a framework has as its main aim the harmonisation of local authority rents, including a set of standardised income disregards, while retaining the general principle of rents related to household income. This work is being examined further in the light of the broader commitment given in Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness to review the disparate systems of differential rent for social housing in place across local authorities. The overall objective is to ensure that housing supports are fair and sustainable and prioritise those on low incomes. It is expected that the review will be completed in the near future. At that point, any proposed changes to existing rent arrangements will be brought to Government as part of a wider social housing reform package of measures that it is hoped will be finalised in the coming months.

I will wait for the review because it is important. We will pass legislation today on the Residential Tenancies Board. Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and all other parties are working together on that to help people. A smaller county such as Carlow has fallen down because our central government funding is so low, our business rates are higher, and the cap on housing is €180, which is very high for local authority housing. Services have to be provided. The Minister of State knows that local authorities have to provide services to each area. Since Carlow is so small, unless the cap and threshold for local authorities are right, the housing crisis will be made worse. I thank the Minister of State for coming in. I know it is not his remit. He got a bit of an earful today. I will be waiting for the review.

While it is not my Department, I spent time on Wexford County Council and I know the area that the Senator is talking about well. I know that there are areas throughout the country with towns which are in two counties. Bunclody and Carrickduff are the best example between Carlow and Wexford. I was not aware that there were joint estates such as the estate the Senator is talking about. That is a specific example of where there is unfairness. It seems from the response I read out that flexibility is available to the executive of Laois County Council to vary that. If flexibility is there, I am very strong on it being applied in a fair manner. On too many occasions, we as politicians are told by civil servants that we cannot do that. The flexibility is there and it should be applied. It is grossly wrong that if there is an estate between two local authorities, if there are similar houses of the same value, and people potentially working in the same venue in the town, that they are paying different rents out of their own pocket. That is not fair. There is no version of justice where that is right. This suggests that there is flexibility for senior executives, the housing director in Carlow and the housing director in Laois. If that cannot be concluded between them, then the managers or chief executive officers of both should be brought in because that is patently wrong.

I thank the Minister of State. That is a great answer.

Sitting suspended at 11.10 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.