Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Questions (7, 8, 9, 10)

Brendan Howlin

Question:

7. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the policing reform implementation programme office in his Department. [46453/19]

View answer

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

8. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the policing reform implementation programme office within his Department. [47359/19]

View answer

Joan Burton

Question:

9. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the policing reform implementation programme office in his Department. [47390/19]

View answer

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

10. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach the status of the work of the policing reform implementation programme office of his Department. [47641/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 to 10, inclusive, together.

In December of last year, the Government published A Policing Service for the Future. This is a four-year plan running from 2019 to 2022 to implement the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland.

The plan was developed in co-operation with stakeholders, in particular the Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána.

The plan is set out across four key phases: building blocks, launching, scaling and consolidation. The first year of implementation, 2019, comprised the building blocks and launching phases. Both phases are six months in duration and were necessarily short to ensure momentum and show progress at an early stage.

As recommended in the commission's report, implementation of the plan is being overseen by a dedicated programme office in the Department of the Taoiseach. The programme office is resourced with appropriate expertise in the areas of project management, policing, justice and public service reform.

The plan is a living document and throughout the implementation process, the policing reform implementation programme office will be reviewing and updating the plan as required on a biannual basis and maintaining ambitious but realistic commitments, timeframes and milestones.

As the transformation programme progresses, detailed actions and key milestones for future years will be agreed and documented. The programme office is currently working on detailing actions for the scaling phase of implementation.

An implementation group on policing reform has been established with a former member of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland as its independent chair. The group has collective responsibility for the delivery of the plan.

Its core membership comprises senior officials from the organisations most closely involved in driving the transformation programme. These are An Garda Síochána and the Departments of Justice and Equality, the Taoiseach and Public Expenditure and Reform. Senior representatives of other relevant Departments and agencies are also involved in this group's work.

A high-level steering board, chaired by the Secretary General to the Government, is in place to help guide the work of the implementation group on policing reform.

Political oversight of the implementation of the plan is provided by the Cabinet committee on security.

Much has been achieved to date in 2019 under the plan. For example, a human rights unit has been established and the strategic human rights committee re-established in An Garda Síochána. An organisational census of An Garda Síochána has been completed. Phase 1 of the investigation management system has been implemented. Computer-aided dispatch has been deployed in the western and northern regions. The senior management team of An Garda Síochána has been trained on governance responsibilities. The director of the national security analysis centre has been appointed and the centre itself established. The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2019 has been enacted. The Government has given approval for legislation to be drafted to underpin the use of recording devices, including body-worn cameras, and for codification of legislation defining police powers of arrest, search and detention.

Two infographics on the progress made under A Policing Service for the Future have been published by the policing reform implementation programme office and are available on the policing reform portal on gov.ie.

At the beginning of this year, it was reported that Ireland had one of the lowest police-to-population ratios in Europe. The average ratio across the EU 28 was 318 police officers per 100,000 inhabitants while in Ireland, that figure was 278 gardaí per 100,000 inhabitants. This definition does not take account the number of civilian staff who are not directly involved in police work and vast numbers of civilian staff are involved in supporting police organisations in other EU states. Ireland has consistently lagged behind in the recruitment of civilian staff and that has been a consistent drain on front-line policing, as we have acknowledged for a number of years.

Both front-line policing and the civilianisation of the force were set to improve with 15,000 gardaí and 4,000 civilians to be recruited between the time of the announcement last year and 2021. We have already seen some signs of stalling. For instance, 800 new Garda recruits were set for next year but I understand the number provided in the most recent budget was 700 despite a greater-than-expected number of indicated resignations and retirements next year.

Can the Taoiseach provide a clear update on the programme of recruitment of those 4,000 civilian staff members, who are vital to free up front-line gardaí for duty? Can he further clarify whether the target that was set out for 2021 will actually be met?

As the Taoiseach knows, the establishment of the divisional protective services units is one of the reforms provided for in the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland report. These units were established to provide a consistent and professional approach to the investigation of sexual crime, human trafficking, child abuse and domestic abuse. Last week, the Minister for Justice and Equality admitted that just 13 divisional protective service units have been rolled out to date. This falls far short of what has been committed to in successive policing plans since 2016. The roll-out of the units was to have been completed across all divisions by the end of 2019, yet we are coming to the end of the year with only 65% of these protective service units delivered.

My party leader, Deputy McDonald, has regularly raised these delays with the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Garda Commissioner over the past two years. So slow has been the pace of delivery that the Garda Representative Association told delegates at its annual conference in May that the protective service unit in Cork, established in 2017, had been unable to take on any new cases since late last year.

We have also raised the missed deadlines on the domestic violence risk assessment tool first committed to in the policing plan of 2016. Garda management committed to developing and implementing a risk assessment matrix for all victims of domestic violence and sexual crime by the end of 2016. No revised date for the completion of this project has been provided and perhaps the Taoiseach can advise on that.

Yesterday marked the beginning of the annual 16-day campaign opposing violence against women. These policing reforms, already the norm in other countries, are critical to the protection of women and children, yet there is no sense of urgency from the Garda Commissioner or from the Minister for delivering on these existing commitments. What attention has the policing reform implementation programme office within the Department of the Taoiseach given to domestic and gender-based violence and policing commitments? Can we now expect a roll-out of the protective service units being completed?

Like many people in the Oireachtas, I have been out canvassing and campaigning on the north and south sides of Dublin in advance of the upcoming by-elections. In Dublin Mid-West, since campaigning for the by-elections began less than four weeks ago, a man was killed in horrific circumstances and the car in which he was found was blown up in a fireball. This happened in Lucan. The Taoiseach knows as well as I do what the situation is in Lucan. It is a lovely suburb and yet it is being visited by this kind of heinous crime.

A young man, only 22 years old, was shot down in cold blood on the north side of Dublin on Sunday night.

In addition to housing, the question I am asked about all the time is the issue of crime. Does the Government intend to do anything to give relief to communities that are beset by crime? In all of the policing documents, not least the current one, we are told that community policing will be at the heart of policing strategy to ensure that young people can walk around without fear of knife crime, being accosted in a public park, their phones being taken from them and, even worse, physical violence being done to them. We know that much of that is related to drugs and in particular to cocaine. Notwithstanding the lipservice to community policing, across Dublin, and I would say throughout the country, we do not have community policing in our streets and communities. We need that, particularly for young people, children, schoolgoers and students because they are the people who are living through this crime. It is very difficult for them not to be disturbed by the constant reports of really violent crime, most of which is inspired by the enormous profits to be made out of dealing in cocaine and other drugs. Has this group in the Taoiseach's Department walked the mean streets to see what is happening and the way communities are being put in fear in respect of crime or is it all about reports and relatively little action?

In the past few years, every time a Deputy raised an issue about serious crime and anti-social behaviour, the response has tended to be that everything is being attended to but there is no doubt that people have a growing sense of unease about crime. The habitual use of drugs in society, in campuses, on streets and so on, is causing major concern. The work of the National Crime Council and others on the large gap between certain statistics and the reality of crime on the ground, particularly in terms of people feeling intimidated in communities, is an issue the Government should take on board. The last survey of the National Crime Council showed that one in five people believe their lives have been affected by a fear of crime or a sense that there is a crime in their local community which could impact on them at any moment.

We know that many communities across the country are experiencing a rising sense of fear. That is true all across the country. People believe the State is losing control; that is the perception. The Taoiseach may argue with that perception but without question it is the case. It is impacted by the story of the use of serious drugs. The policing response needed is more than the deployment of resources, important as that is now. Can the Taoiseach give an assurance that he has raised that issue with the Commissioner? Can he give an indication of his response, particularly in terms of the spread of serious drug use across the community?

I raised with the Taoiseach previously the recent incident in Cork where 100 youths descended on the city, through social media incitement, wearing balaclavas and so on. The message was, "You only have 1 minute to yam that shop". It referred to a particular sports shop and was a copycat of what went on in London, Belgium and elsewhere. I see from the joint policing forum in Cork that 22 bikes are stolen in Cork city every month. That is now the norm. Cork did not benefit from any Garda deployment out of recent recruitments. The Taoiseach undertook to raise these concerns about street crime in Cork with the Commissioner. Has he had that conversation and what was the outcome?

In respect of Garda numbers, An Garda Síochána is once again a growing organisation. There are more than 14,200 gardaí now, aided by 2,900 Garda staff nationwide. These numbers continue to increase. The Government's aim is to reach a total workforce of 21,000 by 2020, and we are confident that target will be met. An additional 200 new gardaí will be sworn on Friday in Templemore. As a result of this Garda deployment, all areas of the country have benefited from this increased recruitment. Garda management keeps the distribution of resources under continual review, in the context of crime trends and policing priorities, to ensure their optimal use.

In respect of Cork, and I have raised this with the Garda Commissioner and will do so again when I see him on Friday, I am told by the Garda Commissioner that at the end of 2016, a total of 644 gardaí were assigned to the Cork city division, aided by 59 Garda staff. As of the end of October, that has increased to 700 gardaí. That is an increase from 644 to 700. The number of Garda staff has increased from 59 to 92. There are also 33 members of the Garda Reserve in Cork city. The significant increase in Garda staff numbers in Cork city means that as well as new gardaí assigned to the division, additional gardaí can be redeployed from administrative to operational policing duties where their training and policing expertise can be used to best effect. Taken together, it can be expected that this increase in Garda members and staff numbers means a real increase in the operational policing hours in the Cork city division. Nationally, since 2018, 500 gardaí have been redeployed from administrative duties to front-line visible policing.

It is also worth saying that divisions in County Cork have similarly benefited from the additional resources in these years. Three hundred gardaí and 28 staff were assigned to the Cork north division in December 2016 but now there are 335 gardaí, aided by 31 staff. In the west division, there were 281 gardaí. That figure is now 304, and the Garda staff figure has increased from 24 to 31.

The establishment of the divisional protective services units, DPSUs, which are the Irish equivalent of the special victims units the Deputy mentioned, is a commitment under A Policing Service for the Future. There is a four-year implementation plan giving effect to that. I am informed by the Garda authorities that the DPSU in Cork city is now operational. The roll-out of these units nationwide was always intended to be on a phased basis. So far, 13 have been established. It can take time to make the necessary arrangements for each new DPSU. They require appropriate accommodation and staffing, and other arrangements need to be made to ensure that the unit, when operational, is effective and can meet the needs of victims and vulnerable witnesses. I am informed by Garda management that the remaining DPSUs will be phased in by the end of the first quarter of next year. While we all look forward to seeing those units being operational, there is a reasonable and realistic timeframe, and this is it. It is also necessary to respect the fact that the Commissioner and Garda management have responsibility for Garda resources and deployment of its personnel. I have been informed that internal competitions for selection of personnel for these units is now complete in some cases and progression is expected to commence shortly on others.

On the issue of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, particularly violence against women, the national strategy was launched in January 2016 and is a whole-of-government response to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. So far, there has been a national awareness campaign, which hopes to raise awareness and change attitudes to support the prevention of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, particularly against women. There has been a range of legislative changes, including the enactment of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 and the Domestic Violence Act 2018, which made it easier to access a barring order and created new offences of coercive control and forced marriage.

I have mentioned already the establishment of DPSUs, with 13 now established. A system of victim offender mediation for victims of sexual violence has been established by the Probation Service. A domestic violence perpetrator programme is being developed and I refer to the establishment of a postgraduate research network on domestic violence and sexual violence, as well as improved data collection. Research and data are very important in this area, and other areas also. There is also the development of an awareness and education programme for primary and second level schools in respect of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.

The strategy also contained actions which were required to enable Ireland ratify the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women, which is known as the Istanbul Convention. That included creating a new offence of forced marriage and a new criminal offence of coercive control. As a result of that, we were able to ratify the Istanbul Convention on 8 March, which was International Women's Day. It came into force on 1 July.

Regarding the murder in Clonshaugh and the murder in Lucan, the Garda is investigating both of those appalling crimes. As a result, I am limited in my comments. We need to support the Garda and give it time and space to investigate these crimes, gather evidence and secure prosecutions.

Local patrols are being supplemented now by armed support units, and there is ongoing liaison support being provided by relevant sections within the serious crime operations security and intelligence section. The Minister for Justice and Equality has sought an urgent report from the Commissioner seeking details of the actions in Lucan, Clonshaugh and Coolock.