Thursday, 3 October 2019

Questions (7)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

7. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the extent to which it is anticipated that the new Garda operational structures and divisions will improve policing in general with particular reference to bringing the operation of the force here into line with best practice in other countries, making adequate provision for community policing, juvenile liaison personnel and the rapid response in both urban and rural areas and incorporating the maximum use of technology; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40165/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Justice)

My question seeks to ascertain the extent to which the recently announced operational restructuring will impact on the services provided by An Garda Síochána, with particular reference to quick response, local and community policing and the need to ensure rapid deployment to areas in which anti-social behaviour is taking place.

I welcome Deputy Durkan's support for the new Garda plan which, I reiterate, is not a ministerial, Government or political plan but is rather a Garda plan designed and drawn up by the Garda Commissioner and his team. I support it, as does the Government, and I ask for support for the plan from every Member of the House in circumstances in which the functional model now proposed has long been recommended by independent policing specialists, including the Garda Síochána Inspectorate and in report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. The roll-out of this model meets a key commitment in A Policing Service for the Future, which is the four-year implementation plan giving effect to the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland.

While new to Ireland, the model is the norm in other countries. It is designed to reduce bureaucracy and will shift real decision-making power from Garda headquarters to chief superintendents.

It will ensure that decisions are made closer to the communities that they serve and will result in significantly more sergeants and inspectors on the ground where leadership, supervision and mentoring are crucial.

The Deputy asked about the impact of the model in making adequate provision for community policing, juvenile liaison and rapid response. The new model is specifically designed to provide a more responsive, localised policing service. It reorganises resources around the delivery of front-line policing, placing an increased emphasis on engaging with communities and supporting victims of crime. There will be much greater community engagement in the new model, including a dedicated superintendent leading the community engagement team in the new divisions. By contrast, in the old district model, superintendents would have been balancing this important work with competing priorities such as the investigation of major crime. In terms of that engagement and speed of Garda response, the bottom line is that there will be more gardaí on the front line, more sergeants and more inspectors will be on the ground and more streamlined administrative structures will allow Garda senior management to focus more directly on policing tasks. Overall, this new model will mean a more responsive, visible policing presence on the ground in communities.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Can I further inquire as to the extent to which it is anticipated that patrols will be mobilised and increased throughout urban and rural areas? We have experienced significant instances of repeat crime committed by people on bail. To what degree will the new structures be able to intervene in a positive way from the point of view of the general public?

I am sure they will intervene positively. The Garda Commissioner and his team are willing to meet joint policing committees across the country to further discuss the issues raised by Deputy Durkan, all of which are important, and address any other questions about the implementation. It is important to note that these changes are being introduced and this is the nub of the Deputy's question when he speaks about ensuring the availability of, and need to ensure, ongoing resources. Current investment in An Garda Síochána is €1.76 billion as well as capital investment amounting to €92 million this year. Capital investment in ICT will amount to €342 million between 2016 and 2021. A wide range of ICT projects are being pursued. Deputy Durkan may be particularly interested to note that a new computer aided dispatch programme is one of these projects and will provide a modern integrated system for Garda command and control. Investment of €46 million is also being made in the Garda fleet between 2016 and 2021 to enable gardaí to be mobile and responsive in line with operational demand. As we come towards the end of the year, I advise the Deputy that, by the end of the year, 300 new Garda vehicles will have been deployed on our roads and in our communities this year. I am confident that this ongoing investment in Garda resources, together with the ongoing reform process, will result in improved policing services in Kildare and beyond for all communities.

I welcome the changes and wish the Garda administration well in the operation of those changes. Will the deployment of gardaí to trouble spots in rapid response to calls become a feature of the new system? I ask that question in light of recent events that all of us in this House have spoken about and everyone in the country has read about. Will modern technology be utilised to the extent that it is required in the pursuit of criminality? To what extent will there be ongoing review throughout a given year whereby cognisance may be taken of issues that arise that require attention and a response?

The common theme in all of this programme of reform is a greater level of community engagement and a more responsive and localised policing service. The model reorganises resources around the delivery of front-line policing. That will involve the level of investment in ICT that I mentioned earlier. We are coming from a pretty low level in An Garda Síochána. The Garda service was constricted and constrained during the financial crisis of some years ago but we are now rebuilding through investment and greater recruitment. Side by side with that, we have the programme of reform which will result in a greater level of community engagement, including a dedicated superintendent specifically engaged in community relations tasks. The bottom line will be more gardaí on the front line, more sergeants and inspectors and more streamlined administrative structures for An Garda Síochána. All of this is predicated on the need to continue with the type of investment we are seeing in the Garda fleet and infrastructure, for example, the hand-held devices that are being rolled out to aid with road traffic policing. Every division will have a Garda inspector available 24-7 which is not the case currently. There will be more available expertise in specific, new types of crime, including cybercrime and other fraudulent activity, which will meet the needs of communities.