Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Questions (8)

Éamon Ó Cuív


7Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans for the Garda Reserve; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29741/12]

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

I have been informed by the Garda authorities that as of 31 May 2012, the latest date for which figures are readily available, the strength of the Garda Reserve was 918, with a further 225 in training. The moratorium on public service recruitment does not apply to members of the Garda Reserve as they are volunteers and recruitment to the reserve is ongoing.

The target strength of the Garda Reserve is 10% of the full-time force and I would like to assure the House that the Government is fully committed to its continued development. Members of the Garda Reserve make a hugely valuable contribution to policing. They are drawn from a variety of backgrounds and professions and currently include representatives of 27 different countries.

The Garda Reserve has a wide range of duties which include foot patrols, road traffic checkpoint duties, community-neighbourhood policing and station duty, other than the care and custody of prisoners. They assist in the policing of public events and also at the scenes of accidents, fires and major emergencies.

The Garda Commissioner has carried out a review of the role and functions of the Garda Reserve and arising from that, is introducing new measures to enhance the operation of the reserve. These include the extension of the functions of the Garda Reserve to the exercise of powers under the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Acts and section 41 of the Road Traffic Acts in relation to the seizure of vehicles.

Training on these and other matters, such as dealing with domestic violence, child protection and conflict resolution, is being organised for serving and recruit members of the Garda Reserve and will commence later this year. Garda Reserve members will also be issued with TETRA radios when going on duty.

I would like to place on record my appreciation of the members of the reserve who give of their time on a voluntary basis and for their ongoing commitment to the Garda Síochána.

We spent much of today's time talking about the difficulties posed by gaps in policing and in Garda strength. With just over 1,000 people, between those actually in the reserve and those in training, we have a massive resource here that is not being used to its potential effect. For instance, if we have people from 27 countries, they immediately give us an entry into 27 communities in terms of liaison and day-to-day Garda interaction. Some of the more experienced members of the Garda Reserve could fulfil the role of community gardaí and engage with communities on crime prevention. We spoke last month about the gaps occurring in terms of crime prevention officers around the country. Surely some of the more experienced members of the Garda Reserve, for instance retired people who now have time, could be inserted into the role. Youth diversion projects do fantastic work. Again, there is an opportunity for members of the Garda Reserve to get involved in such an area which does not require them to get involved in exposing themselves to the implementation of law but to which they would bring their life experience. Given the challenges facing the Commissioner on personnel and budgets we have a fantastic resource, potentially, which is not being sufficiently utilised. I am pleased to hear the Commissioner is beginning to engage with the Minister on the matter. It is time we put it up to the Commissioner that this asset must be utilised more, in particular for the kind of gaps about which we have just spoken.

The Garda Reserve is a tremendous resource. I have had the privilege and pleasure of meeting and talking to some members of the Garda Reserve in the past 15 months as Minister. They are enormously enthusiastic and have an extraordinary sense of public service. I very much welcome the fact the Commissioner is looking at new and additional roles for the Garda Reserve to play. He has identified appropriate roles. I hear what the Deputy is saying. I would see the areas in which the Garda Reserve can properly engage continuing to expand in the coming years but it is of vital importance that appropriate training is provided before they engage in new duties. It is a welcome development.

The Deputy and other Members of the House might be interested to know that there are currently 60 non-Irish nationals in the Garda Reserve, including attested members and those in training. The members come from the following countries: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus Cameroon, China, the Czech Republic, India, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Moldova, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine and Zimbabwe. I am particularly pleased that non-Irish nationals are participating in the Garda Reserve. I believe that they can play a significant role, as the Deputy mentioned, in developing links between the Garda and the non-national communities. It is important that the Garda Reserve, the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces reflect the changing face of this country and that smaller communities who are settled in this country are properly represented. I look forward to a time when we will be financially in a more sound space and able again to commence recruitment to the Garda. I hope we will find that there will be representatives of minority communities who are settled in this country who are so recruited. In the intervening period it is a welcome development that we have this multinational engagement in the Garda Reserve and I look forward to it being further extended as the number in the Garda Reserve continues to increase.

Could we challenge the Commissioner in order that in the policing plan for 2013 a specific part would be allocated to the targets he is setting for the Garda Reserve in order that they could be assessed?

I wish to divert slightly from the 60 non-Irish nationals in the Garda Reserve to congratulate the Minister on the ongoing success of the citizenship ceremonies, to such an extent that they have moved to the Convention Centre. Surely the ceremonies are a perfect opportunity to showcase the Garda Reserve. The fact that one has representatives of those communities who are becoming citizens serving within the police force of the country would, first, show how seriously we take those people and, second, encourage more to join.

I can inform the Deputy that to my knowledge some individuals who are members of the Garda Reserve have been granted citizenship in recent citizenship ceremonies. The Garda and the Defence Forces have been engaged in the ceremonies. Their involvement centres on the Garda Band, which on occasion plays at the service. When the Garda Band is not present at the service one of the Army bands participates instead. They both bring an additional level of ceremonial to the event. Because of the happy nature of the ceremonies we do not generally need to have any serious policing of such events. I hope that may long remain the position.