As the Deputy will appreciate, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the distribution of resources, including personnel, among the various Garda Divisions and I, as Minister, have no direct role in the matter. Garda management keeps this distribution of resources under continual review in the context of crime trends and policing priorities, to ensure their optimum use.
I would point out however that community policing is at the heart of An Garda Síochána. It provides a means of recognising that every community – both urban and rural – has its own concerns and expectations. The role of a community Garda is not a specialist role in An Garda Síochána; rather it is the case that all Gardaí have a role to play in community policing in carrying out their duties. The official categorisation as a Community Garda simply refers to those who are exclusively assigned to building relationships with local communities and civil society including giving talks to schools, community groups and others. It is a matter for the Divisional Chief Superintendent to determine the optimum distribution of duties among the personnel available to him or her having regard to the profile of the area and its specific needs.
The Deputy will be interested to note that a new “Community Policing Framework” is currently at an advanced stage. I understand that this new Framework will take into account the recommendations of the Report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland (CoFPI), under which it is envisaged that community policing may be a specialism in some urban areas. In rural areas, community policing may be more of a hybrid model whereby all Gardaí in a District have a community responsibility but also attend to normal policing duties.
The number of Community Gardaí serving in An Garda Síochána as at 31 August 2019, the latest date for which figures are readily available, is 724.
I think it is also important to note the welcome roll-out of the new operating model of An Garda Síochána. This meets a key commitment in A Policing Service for the Future, the four-year implementation plan giving effect to the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland.
The Garda Operating Model re-organises resources around the delivery of front-line policing, placing an increased emphasis on engaging with communities and supporting victims of crime. I am informed by the Garda Commissioner that in each Division, there will be a dedicated Superintendent leading a community engagement team. I am confident that this reorganisation will further strengthen community policing and engagement, and provide a more localised, responsive policing service for each Division nationwide.