Thursday, 3 October 2019

Questions (6)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

6. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the steps his Department and An Garda Síochána have taken in response to an upsurge in crime and anti-social behaviour in parts of Dublin 3, 5, 13 and 17 (details supplied) in 2019; the preparations that have been made to ensure that the Halloween festival will not be used as a pretext by miscreants to return to such behaviour; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39750/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Justice)

Yesterday, while the Minister's colleague was taking the debate on the Firearms and Offensive Weapons (Amendment) Bill because the Minister could not attend, I raised again the upsurge in appalling crime that occurred in parts of my constituency earlier this year, with murders in broad daylight and so on, and asked what steps were being taken.

The second matter is the great anxiety people are feeling in the run-up to Hallowe'en that the festival will be used as an excuse for anti-social behaviour and the creation of general mayhem on estates.

Working with communities to tackle public disorder and reduce anti-social behaviour is a key priority for an Garda Síochána whose approach includes a strong focus on quality of life issues and collaboration with local authorities to help address the causes of anti-social behaviour in communities. With specific reference to the forthcoming Hallowe'en period, I am advised that gardaí will put measures in place in every division, in particular in the Dublin metropolitan region and Border divisions, to prevent and detect the organised importation and sale of fireworks. This work will be carried out through a specifically designed operation, namely, Operation Tombola. The operation focuses also on preventing associated public disorder and anti-social behaviour through the incremental deployment of resources, including the Garda public order unit, to augment local plans as appropriate. A number of strong legislative provisions are available to gardaí to combat anti-social behaviour, including the Criminal Damage Act 1991, the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994, the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 2003, and the Intoxicating Liquor Acts 2003 and 2008.

The report of the Commission on the Future of Policing placed a particular emphasis on the importance of community policing, in which front-line gardaí are highly visible and engaged in communities, developing partnerships with other public agencies and services to deliver a multi-agency approach to community safety. The new Garda operating model and revised divisional structure, which was announced recently by the Garda Commissioner, meets a key priority of the future of policing report, namely, the four-year implementation plan to give effect to the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing. In line with the ethos of community policing, the new model is intended to provide more visible gardaí on the front line and devolve more power and decision-making responsibility to chief superintendents leading divisions nationally. That will ensure a more localised and responsive community police service reflecting local needs, including those of Deputy Broughan's constituents. Garda visibility is a key element in tackling anti-social behaviour. In that context, I note the growing numbers joining the Garda in our ongoing recruitment process.

We are grateful for Operation Tombola and the work of An Garda Síochána, Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council and, indeed, all of the local community groups and volunteers who work so hard at this period to make the festival of Hallowe'en safe and enjoyable. There is obviously a special responsibility on business to ensure materials such as pallets and tyres do not end up in the wrong hands. The Minister listed the legislation available to An Garda Síochána, but he told me before the summer that there were no Garda members in the north division of the Dublin metropolitan region who are assigned to full-time public order duties. He told me that the north Dublin division received ten new inspectors and 20 sergeants but there appears to remain a major gap in that area. The Minister told me also that €15.3 million had been allocated for the youth diversion programme in 2019 and referred me to 106 related schemes. However, he has an action research project at the University of Limerick and we are wondering if the experience of that project comes down to our area on Dublin's north side. I refer finally to behaviour warnings issued to children for the period 2007 to 2019. There has been almost no activity in that area. While there was such activity approximately a decade ago, it seems to have lapsed entirely as a way to address problems with children in the area.

I had the opportunity to visit the Deputy's constituency a few months ago. I assure him of the full support of my Department and others in ensuring that there is a community response to the issues involved. I was pleased to engage in collaboration with ministerial colleagues and I refer to the contribution in that regard of Deputy Broughan and, from the Government, the Minister, Deputy Bruton, and the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, as local public representatives. Community policing remains at the heart of Garda work. It provides a means to recognise that every community, including those in the Deputy's constituency, has its own concerns and expectations. Gardaí have a role to play in community policing. In practical terms, the new model which is being rolled out will mean less duplication, less bureaucracy at senior level and greater decision-making power locally for superintendents. That is because, as I said earlier, a policing plan in my constituency or that of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle should be very different from a plan for Deputy Broughan's constituency. That is what we need to get from the new plan and I am confident we will do so.

The reality is sometimes very disappointing. We all walk around and visit all areas of our constituency constantly. I was very disappointed last Friday, for example, to visit an open space amenity area in my constituency, which Dublin City Council tries to look after, and to see a burnt out vehicle in the very middle of it. There was debris and other evidence of the mayhem which had taken place the night before. That took place five weeks before Hallowe'en. There are clear issues to address. As the Minister knows, there is a long-standing demand for a new divisional Garda headquarters in the burgeoning north fringe of the city. I might raise the issue later today in another debate. There is a massive population of perhaps 25,000 to 50,000 people with no Garda station. While it is the Commissioner's call ultimately, it is a matter we will have to address. I note also that the quarter 1 crime figures were disappointing. We heard recently of increases in the numbers of attempted murders and threats to murder, assault, harassment and related offences, sexual offences, damage to property and so on. There have been disturbing increases in crime. For example, our journalist colleague, Conor Lally, has drawn attention to the series of wanton assaults that has been taking place across the city and in other parts of the country and which has left people with serious injuries.

The Deputy raised a number of issues, one of which he has raised with me previously, namely, the matter of a Garda station for the Clongriffin-Coolock area. I am advised that An Garda Síochána has had preliminary discussions with Dublin City Council on the possible provision of a site for the development of new facilities in north Dublin. My Department has been informed by Garda management that the question of developing a Garda station in the Clongriffin area will be the subject of further consideration. It is an issue to which we can return as matters develop. Another issue that has previously been raised with me by the Deputy is the need to tackle anti-social behaviour on our rail network. In that regard, I acknowledge the establishment of Operation Twintrack, which sees An Garda Síochána involvement in a new community engagement and rail safety initiative. It involves gardaí travelling on DART, Luas and commuter rail services in the greater Dublin area, in particular in Deputy Broughan's constituency, to ensure there is a Garda presence at major and busy train stations from time to time. I welcome the initiative, which is one I am sure we will have an opportunity to engage on further as we continue the Garda recruitment drive into next year on foot of the forthcoming budget.