Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Questions (54)

Brendan Smith


54. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when additional Garda personnel will be allocated to the Cavan and Monaghan Garda division in view of the level of crime in thearea and the additional policing demands due to a land border with another jurisdiction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5658/18]

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Oral answers (9 contributions) (Question to Justice)

The Minister will recall that I spoke to him and tabled parliamentary questions regarding the need to provide additional resources to the Cavan-Monaghan Garda division. Since 2010, the Garda force in County Cavan has been reduced by approximately 20% and that in County Monaghan by in the region of 28%. I am anxious that in the context of the allocation of new recruits, the particular policing needs of the Cavan-Monaghan division should be given urgent consideration and additional resources are provided, including personnel. The Minister is aware we have a long land border with a different jurisdiction. There are particular and unique policing demands on our force in our jurisdiction.

I acknowledge that Deputy Brendan Smith has raised these issues with me on numerous occasions and that he represents a challenging constituency. I refer to the Border and the rural nature of a large constituency comprising two counties. I am sure he will agree that the distribution of gardaí is exclusively the statutory responsibility of the Garda Commissioner. However, I am advised by the Commissioner that the Garda strength in the Cavan-Monaghan division as of 31 December 2017 was 329. In recent years, 40 newly attested gardaí have been assigned to the division and there has been a net increase of 11 in the strength compared with that which obtained in December 2016. There are also 11 Garda reservists and 38 civilian staff attached to the division. When required, the work of local gardaí is supported by a number of Garda national units, including the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the armed support units, the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau.

The Deputy will also be aware that there is close and ongoing co-operation between An Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, on all aspects of policing, with a particular focus on combating security threats and cross-Border crime. The Garda Commissioner and the Chief Constable of the PSNI, who are responsible for operational policing co-operation, have repeatedly emphasised the scope and the value of the close and high-quality co-operation between the two police services in combating crime, protecting community safety and saving lives. The two police services operate a joint cross-Border policing strategy which has as its aims to improve public safety throughout Ireland, to disrupt criminal activity and to enhance the policing capability of both police services on the island.

I thank the Minister for his reply and I fully appreciate from the exchange that we had the last day, and indeed in conversation, that he is familiar with the policing needs of the Border area. I will give one example. There are four Garda districts in Cavan Monaghan. The Cavan district now encompasses what was formerly Cavan and the Ballyconnell district. That district alone has 80 km of a border with County Fermanagh. There are, to my memory, 21 official crossings and there are unofficial crossings as well. The Minister will appreciate that there are huge demands on our Garda personnel. They are already overstretched. I am a regular attender at our joint policing committee meetings. We hear time and time again from the superintendents and the chief superintendents that resources are stretched.

The Minister is aware as well that over the years there are unsavoury elements operating along the Border. We know of the illicit trade in fuel and tobacco products. Unfortunately, all of those people have not gone away. That is an extra demand as well in regard to the thuggery of those particular criminals and their unsavoury activities doing huge damage to decent businesses along the Border. We have to ensure that An Garda Síochána has the necessary personnel and other resources that it needs where there are huge and difficult policing demands. That one division-----

The Deputy will have another chance to come in.

-----goes literally from the west coast to the east coast.

I support my colleague in his call for extra personnel in the Cavan-Monaghan district. Since 2014, of the 1,400 recruits that have come through Templemore, only 44 have come to the Cavan-Monaghan division. My colleague, Deputy O'Callaghan, kindly came to Cavan for a day and visited Ballyconnell and Bailieborough Garda stations. If we are really to address rural crime, it is about personnel. It is so important. My understanding is not one garda has been appointed to community policing in the entire division.

If we are serious about rural crime, the first job to be done is to have gardaí officially appointed to that role.

The Deputies will be pleased to hear that the number of gardaí for the Cavan-Monaghan division increased from December 2009 to 2017: in 2015, it was 318; in 2016, it was also 318; and in 2017 it was 329. There are more on the way. A number of new recruits have been assigned to the Cavan-Monaghan division. The total number of gardaí, taking account of retirements, had increased to over 13,500 at the end of last year, a net increase of 600 since the end of 2016. I am pleased that funding is in place to maintain this high level of investment in the Garda workforce. I will continue to ensure there will be recruits from Templemore to ensure proper and adequate policing.

Deputy Brendan Smith has been in contact with me about a number of Garda stations. He will be pleased that the final report of the Garda Commissioner regarding the pilot programme recommends that Bawnboy Garda station in County Cavan be one of six stations to be included in the programme. The Deputy has been making representations to me on that issue. I will be happy to keep him fully informed of developments. However, I assure both Deputies that the situation in Cavan-Monaghan will be kept under review in light of the current obvious challenges.

Bawnboy is my home village. Nine Garda stations were closed in Cavan-Monaghan and I am sure the Minister will come around to ensuring a few others are reopened as well.

I do not think we can emphasise enough the additional and unique policing demands in our Garda division because of the long Border with Fermanagh, Tyrone and Armagh. The Minister participated and contributed handsomely to the Fresh Start agreement and all Members supported his work. At that time, I proposed the establishment of a cross-Border crime agency to deal with the illegal trade in goods on an all-Ireland basis. In fairness, the Fresh Start agreement incorporated some of the measures we had proposed in our cross-Border crime agency Bill to ensure that the new measures that were put in place were effective. In counties such as Cavan, Monaghan, Louth and neighbouring areas along the Border, the Garda Síochána needs additional resources. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that the Garda Commissioner and the senior people in An Garda Síochána who make the decisions on the allocation of resources are ever mindful of the particular policing needs in our division and in other Border areas.

I acknowledge that there is a particular challenge in Border areas having regard to the ongoing work in progress that is the peace process. I hope that over the next few weeks we will see the successful re-establishment of the power-sharing institutions in Northern Ireland, particularly the Executive and a working assembly. It is almost a year since the people in Northern Ireland voted and they deserve to have a working Executive and assembly. In the event that the current round of talks is successful, one of the first consequences will be the re-emergence of regular meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council. I mentioned earlier the close working relationship between the Garda Síochána and the PSNI. I acknowledge the work of Deputy Brendan Smith on Border matters, both North and South, over many years. I agree there is much work to be done in that area. Much of the cross-Border security work is ongoing but in the event of there being an early meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council there will be work to be done by Oireachtas committees and at executive level to ensure the best approach for what will be a concerted effort to stamp out criminality in the Border area.