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Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 28 September 2016

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Questions (23)

Jack Chambers


23. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the role her Department is playing in the north-east inner city initiative. [27422/16]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Justice)

I ask the Minister about the exact role her Department has played in what was a welcome announcement of a north-east inner city initiative, which is something with which we all have sympathy. Any community that has been ravaged by the murderous feud we have seen over the past number of months would need the support of this House. What exactly has her Department done in the past number of months?

As the Deputy is aware, arising from discussions with community representatives from Dublin north-east inner city involving the Taoiseach, myself and other Ministers, a ministerial task force, chaired by the Taoiseach, has been established with a focus on the economic and social regeneration of the area. Mr. Kieran Mulvey has been appointed to prepare a report to inform the work of the task force and he is engaging with a wide range of local stakeholders in this regard. He will attend the crime forum being held today or tomorrow.

The ministerial task force is considering a very broad range of issues and my Department will play a full role in supporting that work, including in relation to community policing in the area and the provision of Garda resources. The Deputy will be aware of the Garda resources currently being made available following a number of shocking gun murders in the early part of this year and a series of policing and legislative measures has been put in place. Recruitment has been made to the armed support unit, which attracted huge interest from members of An Garda Síochána. Training has begun and people have been identified so there is very significant extra Garda resources and my Department has been involved with the Garda Commissioner to ensure we have the policing and legislative framework we need. We passed legislation in this House recently to support the work of the Criminal Assets Bureau and that will play out in the work the gardaí do in this area.

The current set of initiatives in the north-east inner city are aimed at improving the quality of life for local communities and effective community policing is an important part of that, as is engagement between local gardaí and the people they serve. It is obvious from the meetings I have attended in the north-east inner city what the relationship is between the community and the local police - it is extremely good. Every leader in the community said the same thing but criminal gangs are intent on revenge and retaliation and are very demanding on the resources we need to interrupt that cycle.

I agree that effective community policing is a key facet in addressing this problem but it is important to look at the figures. In 2014, there were 79 Garda reservists in the Dublin north-central area and now there are 52, according to the Department's own figures. There were 148 community gardaí in 2011 and 135 in 2015 but there are now 112 in 2016 and this is an area that has been particularly ravaged by murderous crime. There has been a haemorrhaging of effective community policing so what has been done to replace the permanent community policing positions that were removed in the past number of years? It is important we recognise the great work of the gardaí and I welcome what the Minister and the Commissioner have done to allocate additional overtime because that has helped. What is the Minister doing to ensure there are permanent replacements for community gardaí in these communities and others which have seen a haemorrhaging of people on the ground in recent times?

The country went through a disastrous period in terms of the economy and recruitment to Templemore was stopped by the previous Government. We have reopened Templemore but one cannot magic up figures overnight. One has to recruit and to invest. We are making sure recruits are going through Templemore now and that will be accelerated with a commitment in the programme for Government for 15,000 recruits. In any area of the country, if one stops recruitment, there will be nobody to replace people who retire and there will be a decrease in numbers but we are now seeing an increase and that will be welcomed by everybody in this House. We can do that because we have an improved economic situation and a more stable economy so that we can invest in the area of justice.

When I was Minister with responsibility for children we cut budgets, unfortunately, but there has been a complete turnaround in that respect with further investment in public services. In the upcoming budget, we will do the same by investing more in services again. That will mean areas like the north inner city, and other areas the Deputy's colleagues have been discussing tonight, will get more resources and will see an improvement in services. We have been able to make investments not just in people but in resources, such as more than €200 million in IT, and that will make sure the problems in the north inner city, about which the Deputy has talked tonight, can be targeted with more resources.

I accept that there were economic difficulties but the figures speak for themselves. There were 67 reservists in 2015 but there are now 52 in 2016. It is important as part of the inner city initiative that the Minister ensures there is a community gain in terms of community gardaí but this has not been formally assured in the public announcements. We have seen welcome initiatives in the shape of sports facilities, housing and regeneration but it is important the Minister incorporates a formal announcement around additional permanent community gardaí as part of the package of measures and that this is recognised as part of the solution rather than it being announced in a haphazard way in a year's time when there will be different figures from the gardaí. However, much of what the Minister is doing in the north inner city is positive.

The north inner city is saturated with police at present. They are involved in patrols, in community policing, in preventative work and intelligence work. If he was to add up the hours of overtime that have been given to the north inner city, the Deputy would appreciate that it is a very substantial figure. Hopefully, we will move on from this situation as the threat recedes and as we deal with these criminal gangs when they are arrested and prosecuted. The Deputy made the point that permanent community policing in the north inner city is where we want to be, with normal community policing and normal Garda attention as opposed to the very intensive policing which is needed at present.