Thursday, 26 February 2004

Questions (5)

Finian McGrath


5 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the reason the number of community gardaí in the Coolock Garda district, Dublin 5, has decreased by half over the past six years; if he will take steps to ensure the restoration of this Garda community unit to its previous strength; his views on community policing in tackling anti-social behaviour, joy-riding and so on; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6440/04]

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Oral answers (9 contributions) (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

Community policing initiatives make a significant contribution to combating joy-riding and to reducing anti-social behaviour in Coolock and other areas. Community policing initiatives provide a forum for the evolution of crime prevention programmes and for joint enterprises between the community and the local gardaí in combating local policing problems.

Community policing initiatives have, furthermore, consolidated the partnership approach to policing in the community through which the gardaí liaise with community groups and a number of projects are in operation which have proved effective in dealing with the scourge of joy-riding, which has been a particular problem in the Coolock area.

With regard to projects in the Coolock area, the Woodale project caters for persons at risk from either crime or anti-social activity. This project, which is a Coolock Garda initiative funded by my Department, caters for 18 juveniles who have been referred through the juvenile liaison officer scheme and the probation and welfare service. The objective of the project is to divert youths involved in anti-social behaviour and joy-riding through involvement in a range of pursuits designed to improve behaviour and social skills. The catchment area for the project is Darndale and Priorswood. Since the inception of this project, which has been successful, a number of participants have returned to full-time education while others have developed computer and literacy skills. The success of the programme is such that it is actively supported by the parents of those involved.

The capacity of the Dublin metropolitan north divisional force to respond to car crime and anti-social behaviour is under continuous review and is dealt with locally by Garda management. The Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act is actively enforced to address anti-social behaviour should it arise. In this regard, I have been informed by the Garda authorities that the number of car thefts and crimes involving cars unlawfully in the possession and use of persons of a criminal disposition has been reduced substantially in the past six months. Proactive policing in the area where this type of crime is frequent has been central to this success.

On the question of resources, I am informed by the Garda authorities that there is a sufficient number of gardaí available to patrol the Dublin metropolitan northern division.

I thank the Minister for his response. Is he aware of the huge anti-social and crime problems that exist in our society? Surely community gardaí must be part of the solution. Is the Minister aware that, in part of my constituency in 2003, more than €20 million worth of drugs were confiscated and more than 278 people were arrested for drugs related offences? Is he aware of the considerable anti-social and community intimidation problems that exist in some estates where people are terrified to speak out? In the 1980s, communities fought back but it now seems the stuffing has been knocked out of them. There is a lack of confidence, especially given the shootings and murders. Will the Minster get the gardaí to do their job and urge the Government to increase the number of community gardaí and not cut back as has happened in Coolock where the number has been reduced from 12 to six over the past six years?

What would the Minister say to a disabled constituent of mine who must suffer bullying and intimidation each night after 7 p.m., whose door has been kicked in and who is threatened more when she calls the gardaí? What would he say to this woman who feels our justice system has let her down? Does the Minister agree that we can have all the Bills in the world but that, if this woman is not assisted, he has failed as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and our justice system has failed to be effective? Some of the policing forums, particularly in the south inner city, are collapsing due to lack of resources and funding. Will the Minister respond to that point as well?

The Garda Síochána has never been better funded than it has while I have been Minister. Record resources have been allocated in real terms. This year a much higher than normal allocation was given to the Garda Síochána because of my absolute determination that adequate resources should be made available to it. I fully accept what Deputy McGrath said that, in the Coolock area, there has been a diminution in the level of policing because the figures are there to support what he said.

From 12 to six.

That is in community policing. There has been a strengthening of other forces, such as the specialist units, which support the fight against crime. It is a matter for Garda management to allocate resources within the Garda Síochána. I assure the Deputy that my policy and that of the Commissioner — we are not at odds on this — is to get as many people as possible into frontline policing, to get people out of the courts processing paper and the like and to get them into policing activities as much as we can.

I am fully aware that the task force in the R district — the Darndale, Moatview and Belcamp joy-riding task force set up in 1998 — has involved the community and has had considerable success. There has been a diminution in some of the activities, although obviously not in the bullying experienced by the lady to whom the Deputy referred. I was concerned by what he said about her. The function of the task force was to close off areas where joy-riding was happening, to narrow junctions and to raise plinth walls and the like to make the physical environment for that type of motor crime less conducive.

I fully accept legislation is not everything — a point Deputy Deasy makes — and that management is important. The long-awaited strategic management initiative report on managing Garda resources was eventually given to me today. The provision in the forthcoming Garda Bill for the involvement of elected local representatives and for forums between them and the Garda Síochána is a decisive step forward which will have a dramatic effect in changing the relationship between local communities and the Garda Síochána over time.

Will town councils be included?

I have not decided.

I wish to praise the role of community gardaí and I do not accept their numbers should be cut from 12 to six. The drugs squad and other Garda sections in the Coolock area need resources and sometimes they have to re-deploy. I accept all these realistic options but I am concerned that if community gardaí are removed, the confidence and support of the local community will be lost. Dozens of children from violent and dysfunctional families on the northside of Dublin need help. Part of the process of helping them is achieved through the use of community gardaí. If we do not intervene soon, they will become involved in serious crime in future.

I agree with what the Deputy has said.