Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Questions (5)

Jonathan O'Brien


5Deputy Jonathan O’Brien asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will provide an update on the Policing Plan that the Garda Commissioner is currently putting together; when it will be complete; when he expects to receive same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29761/12]

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Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Minister for Justice)

Section 20 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 provides that the Minister for Justice and Equality may determine the policing priorities for the Garda Síochána for the coming year in consultation with the Garda Commissioner. The Commissioner, in turn, must take account of the policing priorities identified and submit to me by the end of October a draft policing plan for the following year. Section 22(1) of the Act provides that the policing plan prepared by the Commissioner shall set out the proposed arrangements for the policing of the State for the following year, including any proposal to establish or dissolve a national unit of the Garda Síochána; alter the boundaries of a regional geographical area under the control of an assistant Garda Commissioner or of a divisional geographical area under the control of a chief superintendent; establish or relocate a divisional headquarters under the control of a chief superintendent or of a district headquarters under the control of a superintendent; or open a Garda station in a new location or cease stationing members in an existing station.

As Minister, I must approve the policing plan as submitted by the Commissioner, or with amendments determined in consultation with the Commissioner. The Deputy will appreciate, therefore, that I cannot comment on the contents of a policing plan for 2013 as it is not yet drafted. Consultations relating to the drafting of the 2013 plan will start in the third quarter of this year.

I find the answer a little strange, because there have been many media reports on the potential contents of this plan. In my own area, we have had media reports of a Garda district being closed down. We have had reports in Donegal of meetings between senior officers and rank and file gardaí about the potential closure of another district, and the impact that will have. I find it bizarre to hear the Minister say that consultation has not yet begun, yet we are hearing reports across the State of consultation being underway, with elements of it reported in the media. This is causing concern. There has been a media report in Cork that the Cobh district will be amalgamated with Mayfield and another district. A number of rural Garda stations have already been shut down, and now we are hearing about Garda districts being shut down as well.

If the consultation has not started, when will it start? The Minister said that it will be reported back to him in October, but I find it strange that he says the consultation has not started, yet we are hearing and seeing media reports to the contrary.

The statutory consultation that takes place between myself, as Minister, and the Commissioner on a draft plan has not started. I have absolutely no doubt that he is engaging in work with a view to developing a policing plan for 2013, and I do not think that matters simply stop and he does not direct his mind to this. I am not privy to any internal consultative process he may be engaged in within the Garda Síochána. I know he was engaged in a process in 2011 for the 2012 plan.

I am responsible for a lot of things, but happily I am not responsible for media reports on anything. That is just as well, based on the level of inaccuracy often seen in media reports. I have already stated that my Department has €100 million less available to it. Under the multi-annual budgeting position, we know we will have at least €60 million less in 2013 than we have in 2012. The Garda Commissioner has an obligation, bearing in mind the financial condition of the State and the amount of funds available to be allocated to Garda matters, to look at how to use resources to the maximum efficiency, to maximise Garda capabilities, to modernise where appropriate, as well as to engage in some restructuring of the force if he believes that will produce a more efficient police service for the benefit of the general public.

I am not privy to any of the rumours mentioned by the Deputy. In the run-up to the announcements about Garda stations, I recall reading in the media somebody projecting - this became theology within two weeks - that there would be 200 Garda stations closed at the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012. That proved to be wildly inaccurate speculation in the media. I expect the Commissioner is engaged in some internal discussions. There may be different issues discussed with a view to assessing what steps might be taken, but I am not privy to any of that. I suggest that the Deputy should not rely on media reports.

I probably rely less on media reports than anybody else in this House because I know how inaccurate they can be. I understand the Minister's position on the Garda Commissioner's internal consultation in the sense that such a consultation will take place before the Commissioner consults with him. How does that consultation work? Is there any role for the JPCs in it? Is there any consultation with local community groups, or does a complete internal consultation process take place in the first instance, after which the policing plan is drafted and brought to the Department? I am aware that it is the Minister's responsibility to approve or reject the plan. However, the Oireachtas committee should have an opportunity to consider it because the time has come to engage in a serious discussion on the type of policing we require in this State. Such a debate might focus on whether restructuring should take place and on the nature of policing. There has been a great deal of discussion about community policing. We must consider exactly what is meant by the latter and how such policing is filtered down. Will the Minister provide a commitment that prior to this making a decision - I understand the decision is his to make - that there will be at least some consultation with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality on the matter?

The statutory position is that the Garda Commissioner presents the draft report to the Minister and then they consult on it. In the context of there being security matters relating to that issue, it is a decision for the Minister to make. I do not intend to furnish a draft report from the Commissioner to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. It is open to the committee to discuss policing issues in a general way and to examine what it may consider to be appropriate reforms. When it comes to addressing some of these issues, however, there is a tendency - my comments in this regard are not aimed at the Deputy - for some Members of the House and other individuals outside it to live in a financial fantasy world where there is an assumption that an unlimited amount of money is available and that nothing should ever change in the sphere of policing. There are those who believe that because we had X number of Garda stations in 1922, we should still have the same number in 2012 and that we should have no regard for modern communication or transportation systems.

A constructive engagement at committee level, where a committee would formulate views as to structures within the Garda Síochána, would not in any way be binding on the Commissioner or on me, as Minister. However, such an engagement would of course contribute to the public debate on and consideration of the issue. It is open to the members of JPCs to raise any local issues of concern and to constructively engage with members of the Garda at meetings of these committees. The consultative process in which the Commissioner engages would principally involve those in supervisory, managerial and officer positions across the country. Some of these individuals attend JPC meetings and can feed into the process. As I understand it, this is a fully considered and comprehensive consultative process. Ultimately, the statutory obligation rests with the Commissioner to furnish to me his policing plan for 2013 as he deems appropriate.