Garda Stations

Questions (30)

Aindrias Moynihan

Question:

30. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the discussions his Department has had with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and other State agencies regarding a new Garda station for Macroom, County Cork; if he is satisfied the plan is advancing; when he expects a new station to advance to construction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39638/19]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

The resources provided by Government to An Garda Síochána have reached unprecedented levels, with an allocation of €1.76 billion for 2019, as well as capital investment amounting to €92 million this year.  These resources are being provided in support of the Government's commitment to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country to maintain and strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance to citizens and deter crime.

The Office of Public Works has responsibility for the provision and maintenance of Garda accommodation. Works in relation to Garda accommodation are progressed by the Garda authorities working in close cooperation with the Office of Public Works (OPW).

The Garda Building and Refurbishment Programme 2016-2021 programme is based on agreed Garda priorities. It continues to benefit over 30 locations around the country, underpinned by significant Exchequer funding across the Garda and OPW Votes.  In addition to that programme, other major ongoing works to the Garda estate include the pilot Garda station reopening project, the development of a new facility at Military Road and the major refurbishment of Fitzgibbon Street station.  The clear goal of this investment is to address deficiencies in the Garda estate and provide fit-for-purpose facilities for Garda members and staff, as well as the public interacting with them.

The Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement included in the Building and Refurbishment Programme is intended to deliver new stations in Sligo, Macroom and Clonmel. The OPW has agreed to provide its expert services in the design of the three stations in question.

PPP projects are progressed under the auspices of the National Development Finance Agency (NDFA).  My Department, An Garda Síochána, the OPW and the NDFA are working closely in order to progress this project.

The establishment of PPP projects can be complex and it is vital to get the projects right at the planning and design stage. Pending delivery of the new stations, I am informed that Garda management and the OPW have been working to improve conditions and facilities at the existing stations in Sligo, Macroom and Clonmel.

Sexual Offences Data

Questions (31)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

31. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the status of the new SAVI survey; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40125/19]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

My Department signed a Memorandum of Understanding earlier this year with the Central Statistics Office (CSO) in relation to the National Sexual Violence Prevalence Survey. Preparations are now underway for this large scale survey, which will look in detail at the experience of women and men in Ireland of sexual violence and abuse, with repeat large scale surveys every decade. The goal is for an ongoing programme of high quality research in a sensitive and ethical way, to ensure a robust set of data to inform Government policy. 

Funding of €150,000 has been provided for 2019 to allow the CSO to carry out the preliminary technical research.

I am informed that, to date, the preparatory phase has involved a wide consultation process, including an open town hall stakeholder event, the establishment of two expert working groups, and a broad Liaison Group for the project with nominated experts from a range of organisations and agencies. The preparatory phase will include the conducting of a full pilot survey in the field in 2020.

Government has agreed in principle that once detailed budgets can be devised by the CSO, necessary resources will be made available to ensure the survey takes place.

Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal

Questions (32)

John Curran

Question:

32. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to ensure that the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal is adequately resourced to ensure cases is dealt with in a timely fashion and that the backlog of cases are cleared; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40173/19]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

As the Deputy is aware, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal administers two schemes:

- the Scheme of Compensation for Personal Injuries Criminally Inflicted and

- the Scheme of Compensation for Personal Injuries Criminally Inflicted on Prison Officers. 

The Tribunal is made up qualified barristers and solicitors. Under the terms of the Scheme, the Tribunal is limited to a Chair and 6 ordinary members who provide services on a part-time basis. It is entirely independent in the matter of individual decisions on applications for compensation.

Any decision to recruit a greater number of solicitors and barristers to service the Tribunal’s needs would amount to a Scheme change. I have asked my officials to consider this issue further.

I can confirm that five Departmental staff act as Secretariat to the Tribunal. These staff receive applications and gather the necessary information from applicants and other stakeholders such as An Garda Síochána in relation to each case. When all required information is available, Tribunal staff send the file to the Tribunal for consideration and decision. Where a decision is appealed, Tribunal staff make arrangements for a Tribunal appeal hearing.

In terms of the duration of the process, I should note that it may take several years before an application for compensation is ready for submission to the Tribunal for consideration and decision. For example final Garda reports on the crime are required, as are the outcomes of any court cases initiated. In addition, in some cases the extent of injuries suffered by the victim may not be known for some years. It is also the case that the assessment of loss of earnings for consideration by the Tribunal may be complex to determine and may require employer assessment and social welfare reports. These and other factors can have an impact on the duration of any particular application. 

An assessment is currently being carried out by officials of my Department in relation to caseload in the scheme, including the extent and nature of any possible backlog.

Finally, the Deputy may be interested to know that in its fifth work programme, published in March 2019, the Law Reform Commission included a review of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme as one of 15 planned projects.  I welcome this project as an opportunity for a comprehensive examination of all aspects of this long-established Scheme, to ensure that the State’s arrangements for the compensation of victims of violent crime are in keeping with good international practice and meet society's needs into the future.

Garda Expenditure

Questions (33)

Martin Kenny

Question:

33. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the part of the budget of An Garda Síochána the estimated €15 to €18 million cost of the visits of President Trump and Vice President Pence came from; the breakdown of the expenditure in view of the cost and the fact that the visits were of short duration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40130/19]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

There has been very significant investment in Garda resources across the State in recent years.  €1.76 billion has been allocated to the Garda Vote for 2019, in addition to capital investment amounting to €92 million this year.  As the Accounting Officer for the Garda Vote, the Commissioner is responsible for managing and controlling the administration and business of the organisation, including the allocation of Garda resources.

The Deputy will appreciate that there is an obligation on the State to take appropriate measures to ensure the safety of every visiting dignitary in line with risk assessment.  The costs of such visits generally include salary costs including overtime, travel and subsistence, communications costs, equipment costs, station services and so on.

The Garda authorities have informed me that the costs compiled to date in respect of President Trump’s visit total approximately €11.5 million.  I understand that the costs of Vice President Pence’s visit are not yet compiled.  The Government fully supports the Commissioner in his performance of this role and in his efforts to ensure that the Garda Vote comes in on budget and the financial position of An Garda Síochána is kept under regular review by the Garda Commissioner and my Department.  As I have previously indicated, the resources available to An Garda Síochána are being examined in the context of the budgetary process.

Asylum Seekers

Questions (34)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

34. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the progress with regard to allowing asylum seekers apply for a driver licence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40126/19]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport is responsible for the issuance of driving licenses. That Department is currently examining the policy and law as it pertains to the issuance of Irish driving licenses to international protection applicants. There are on-going communications to determine if an appropriate solution can be found.  The issue is not straightforward and requires careful consideration of both EU and national driver licensing law. Officials of the Immigration Service of my Department sought background information from the European Migration Network as to the interpretation and implementation of the relevant EU law,  Article 12 of Directive 2006/126/EC on driving licences (recast), in other member states. This information has since been provided to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and we would expect that this will assist in bringing the matter to a conclusion in the near future.

Where there are any changes to the application system as it may pertain to international protection applicants this will be communicated by that Department accordingly, and by the relevant authorities who have oversight and responsibility for the issuance of driving licenses in the State.

Prison Service Data

Questions (35)

Jim O'Callaghan

Question:

35. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if the findings of the recent CSO Prison Recidivism Study will be addressed, namely, that almost half of prisoners here went on to commit another offence within three years of their release; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39987/19]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

Public safety is an absolute priority for me as Minister for Justice and Equality.  Working to reduce re-offending and minimise the risk of further harm to victims and society, through the implementation of effective evidence-based penal policy, is a key part of that task.

I welcome last week’s publication by the CSO of the most recent Recidivism Study which is part of a series dealing with re-offending following imprisonment and probation interventions.  It should be noted that this study shows a significant decrease in prison recidivism and clearly demonstrates that recidivism rates are on a downward trend. 

The report covers a group of 1,000 offenders released from prison in 2011 and 2012, and follows them up to the end of 2014 and 2015 respectively. The recidivism rate stood at 55% in 2007, but the report shows it fell to 45.8% in 2012.  Overall, this represents a decrease of 9.3% over a five year period.  

I was also pleased to note that the CSO study published in June last in relation to offenders sentenced to probation also recorded noted significant reductions, with a drop of nearly 8 percentage points in re-offending rates recorded between 2008 and 2012.  The report shows that those sentenced to a Community Service Order were less likely to re-offend than those sentenced to a Probation Order.  

I also particularly welcome the finding that Community Service continues to show very good outcomes. Over 350,000 hours of community service work were carried out around the country in 2018. This not only benefits communities nationwide and allows offenders a chance to make amends for their criminal actions in a tangible way, but the findings of the CSO’s work clearly shows that such orders can also help reduce re-offending rates by the individuals involved.

While there is clearly scope for further improvement, overall this evidence is very positive. It means that more ex-offenders are turning their lives around, and fewer are going on to re-offend, with all the negative consequences that brings for our communities.

I expect that future studies in this CSO series are likely to show a continuation of the downward trend as, since 2015, a range of enhanced prisoner programmes aimed at reducing re-offending behavior have been introduced by the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service. These include targeting offenders with high recidivism rates, in particular through the Joint Agency Response to Crime (JARC), a multi-agency approach to prolific offenders which prioritises them for targeted interventions and supports to address their behaviour and thus reduce crime and victimisation in local communities.  Independent evaluations have found that the JARC pilots are helping to reduce both the frequency and severity of reoffending among their clients groups and indeed have helped many offenders to move away from criminality altogether.

I am confident that interventions of this nature will assist in continuing the positive downward trajectory in recidivism, as identified by the CSO’s most recent report.

International Protection

Questions (36)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

36. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when the promised independent inspectorate will be established further to the recent release of the national standards for accommodation offered to persons in the protection process; the make-up of the inspectorate; if it will be empowered to make unannounced inspections of accommodation centres; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39978/19]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

On 15 August, the National Standards for accommodation offered to people in the protection process were published by my Department.  The Standards were prepared by a Standards Advisory Group, established in 2017 and comprising officials from my Department, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the HSE National Office for Social Inclusion as well as representatives from AkiDwA, Children's Rights Alliance, the Core Group of Asylum Seekers and Refugees, the Jesuit Refugee Service, SPIRASI,  and the UNHCR.  The standards will come into force in January 2021.

The standards address a range of themes including accommodation provided for those people seeking the protection of the State, food and catering, individual, community and family life, health and wellbeing, governance and meeting the special reception needs of applicants.  They therefore build on the work done in the 2015 McMahon Report and meet the requirements of the Recast Reception Directive.

The policy on how the new inspection process will operate, in accordance with the standards, has yet to be finalised.  However, I would anticipate that this will be decided in the short term in order that the new inspection regime can be put in place prior to the introduction of the standards in January 2021.  As such, the determination of who will undertake the inspection process and whether unannounced inspections will be incorporated has yet to be fully decided.

I am committed to developing a robust independent inspection process to monitor and ensure compliance with the standards following their implementation.  I would note, however, that at present all accommodation centres are subject to regular unannounced inspections by both staff of my Department's Immigration Service and an independent inspector and that the current procurement process in respect of direct provision accommodation was designed with a view to ensuring that all direct provision accommodation will adhere to the National Standards.

Probation and Welfare Service

Questions (37)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

37. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of community service supervisor vacancies; the length of time the positions have been vacant; the location of the vacancies; the reason such positions are vacant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40124/19]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

As the Deputy is aware, the Probation Service is the lead agency in the assessment and management of offenders in our communities. It has a national remit with services delivered locally by staff located across the country.

The Probation Service notes that vacancies in community service can arise from time to time due to retirements. I am informed by the Probation Service that it attempts to fill these retirement vacancies as they arise. 

I am further informed by the Probation Service that it has in recent years been responding to increased needs in relation to community service associated with changes in legislation, in particular the Fines Payment and Recovery Act 2014, and increases in some areas of referrals from Courts and the Community Return Programme.  The Probation Service indicates that this increase in demand has been addressed in a number of ways, including by offering additional days of work to existing part time staff. 

I can confirm however that the Probation Service was given sanction in 2018 (over a two year period) to recruit additional community service supervisors, to meet demands anticipated from operation of the Fines, Payment and Recovery Act 2014. 

I have requested the Probation Service to provide confirmation of the total current number of vacancies for community service supervisors and I will write directly to the Deputy when I receive that information.

I would note that the Probation Service currently employs 52 Community Service Supervisors nationwide.  Additional staff have been recruited on a rolling basis. A number of public competitions have been held in 2019 to recruit for key locations nationwide. I am informed that some successful candidates have completed the recruitment process and have taken up their new positions; while others are expected in the coming weeks.  I will write directly to the Deputy when I receive additional information on the matter raised.

Garda Operations

Questions (38)

Martin Kenny

Question:

38. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the position regarding passport checks taking place on the Border at Garda checkpoints and on public transport; the rationale for this activity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40129/19]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

As the Deputy will appreciate, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for managing and controlling the administration and business of An Garda Síochána. Further, the allocation of Garda resources is a matter for the Commissioner, in light of identified operational demands. 

As the Deputy may be aware, the Garda National Immigration Bureau is a national unit which supports the immigration-related work of all the Garda Divisions across the country.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the Immigration Border Control Unit conducts immigration checks along the border including on public service vehicles travelling from Northern Ireland and that these checks include inspection of the Enterprise train. I am further informed that these checks have been conducted for a number of years in order to identify and prevent persons from illegally entering the jurisdiction.

I am further informed that all members of the Immigration Border Control Unit have been provided with training on the Code of Ethics for An Garda Síochána, which sets out the standards and conduct expected of each member.  

Such checks are fully compatible with the Good Friday Agreement and Common Travel Area arrangements.

Ministerial Priorities

Questions (39)

Jim O'Callaghan

Question:

39. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his priorities for budget 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39990/19]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

Engagement with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is currently ongoing in relation the Estimates for 2020 in respect of the Justice Vote Group and information in relation to these matters will be published on Budget Day.

Asylum Seeker Accommodation

Questions (40)

Jim O'Callaghan

Question:

40. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of asylum seekers being housed in emergency accommodation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39988/19]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

My Department is responsible for offering accommodation and related services to international protection applicants while their claim for protection is being examined. These services are demand led and generally it is difficult to predict demand far in advance. Due to an unexpected rise in applications (figures are up 53% in the first nine months of this year), existing Direct Provision Centres, which offer accommodation, food, utilities and a suite of State services, have reached capacity.

There are on-going tendering processes for new accommodation centres. Pending the opening of such new centres, and to ensure that we continue to provide accommodation for all applicants who require it, the International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS, formerly the Reception and Integration Agency) has been accommodating applicants in emergency accommodation in hotels and guest houses.

I am advised that as of 26 September 2019, there are 1,389 applicants residing in 34 emergency accommodation locations around the country. My Department does not disclose the specific location of emergency accommodation centres in order to protect the identity of international protection applicants.

It is important to note that there is no obligation on any applicant to accept the offer of accommodation. Applicants may source their own private accommodation or choose to stay with friends or family. 

Every effort is being made to re-accommodate applicants in emergency locations to a dedicated accommodation centre as quickly as possible. My Department is actively working on securing additional capacity, both in existing centres and through sourcing new centres. IPAS has sought expressions of interest from parties who would be interested in providing accommodation and related services to people in the international protection process and has also launched a nationwide, regional tendering process to source new accommodation centres.