Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Questions (215)

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

215. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he has engaged in correspondence or meetings with the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation since he assumed office; if so, the details of when such correspondence and meetings took place; and his views on the refusal by the Commission to grant interviews to the media or to come before Oireachtas committees. [9281/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

Since taking office at the end of last June, I have engaged in three formal meetings with the Commission of Investigation. The dates of these meeting were as follows:

- 27th July 2020

- 15th October 2020

- 13th November 2020

I have also corresponded with the Commission over this period in the context of the legislation enacted in October 2020 to protect its records; in relation to the receipt of its final report on the 30th October 2020; in relation to the matters raised by the Data Protection Commissioner; and to ensure the effective management of the transfer of its archive to my Department.

As an independent statutory investigation, it is a matter for the Commission itself to respond to any request for interview from the media or indeed any invitation from an Oireachtas Committee.

Higher Education Institutions

Questions (216)

Gary Gannon

Question:

216. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if his attention has been drawn to higher education institutions charging gym fees for the current academic year despite the lack of access to same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9009/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

Higher Education Institutions are autonomous institutions within the meaning of the Universities Act 1997, the Institutions of Technology Acts 1992 to 2006 and the Technological Universities Act 2018. Under this legislation the institutions are academically independent and are entitled to regulate their own academic affairs and administrative processes, and neither I nor my Department has a role in these internal processes, including in relation to gym fees.

The government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business and Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021, Plan for Living with COVID-19, combined with the HSA Return to Work Protocols and ongoing Public Health advice, provide the over-arching framework for all sectors of society for the operation of their facilities and premises in keeping with public health advice. Under Level 5 of this plan gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools will remain closed until at least 5th March 2021.

Publicly funded HEIs are prescribed bodies under the remit of the Office of the Ombudsman and as such the Ombudsman may examine complaints from members of the public who believe that they have been unfairly treated by certain prescribed bodies. If a student feels that they have been unfairly treated by or are not satisfied with a higher education institution’s decision, it is open to them to contact the Office of the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman can investigate complaints about administrative actions or procedures as well as undue delays or inaction. The Ombudsman provides an impartial, independent and free dispute resolution service.

Further and Higher Education

Questions (217)

Robert Troy

Question:

217. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if an additional 2,500 college course places will be provided in 2021, in addition to the 2,500 places provided in 2020. [9080/21]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

I am conscious of the impact that Covid-19 has had on the leaving certificate class of 2021, and will take action as necessary to ensure that a full range of further and higher education options are available to them.

I am aware of the high number of CAO applications this year, and my officials are engaging regularly with representatives from the higher education sector in relation to the 2021/22 academic year and demand for places. Information will become available next month on the types of applicants in the current year, and the courses they are choosing which will assist us in planning for the current year.

Funding was provided in Budget 2021 to both sustain additional undergraduate places and address demographic growth pressures. These places are in addition to the 1,330 additional places commencing in 2021, funded through the Human Capital Initiative Pillar 2, which will be on undergraduate courses in areas of identified skills needs.

I know how difficult a time it has been for students and parents, and my Department will continue to closely assess demand for higher education places and take action as necessary to ensure that this year's Leaving Certificate students have a range of pathways into further and higher education.

Further and Higher Education

Questions (218)

Seán Sherlock

Question:

218. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the contact details for the sections that deal with all ongoing and established grant funding in his Department and in each agency under the remit of his Department in tabular form. [9130/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

Further and Higher Education

Questions (219)

Richard Bruton

Question:

219. Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if students who received results from the November 2020 leaving certificate will have the opportunity to qualify for courses in autumn 2021 which have a health professions admission test, HPAT, entry requirement or a CAO process; and if a necessary change in closing dates can be made to accommodate same. [9145/21]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

The CAO process applications for undergraduate, and some postgraduate, courses on behalf of the Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). Decisions on admissions, including deadlines for submissions of applications, are made by the HEIs who then instruct the CAO in this matter.

The HPAT is independently administered by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) on behalf of the universities’ medical schools and RCSI. The selection criteria and process for admission to medical schools is a matter for those institutions in line with their statutory autonomy in relation to academic affairs. Neither I nor my Department have a role in the administration or running of the CAO or HPAT, and I do not determine the application deadlines in relation to either of them.

Students whose November Leaving Certificate results entitled them to a higher preference offer based on their 2020 CAO application will have received a deferred offer to start their course in the 2021/22 academic year. Such offers are part of the 2020 application cycle, and therefore will be based on the 2020 CAO points.

Students who wish to make a fresh application for the 2021 CAO cycle may do so if they have not already applied. Although the initial deadline for CAO applications has passed, the late application facility will be open from 5th March to 1st May, allowing students to apply for all non-restricted courses. It is my understanding that late applications for restricted courses will not be accepted, as these deadlines are in place to allow the necessary assessments such as interviews, portfolio assessments or the HPAT to take place.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (220, 221)

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

220. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the details of the outbreak of Covid-19 currently being experienced by the National University of Ireland Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9210/21]

View answer

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

221. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if a list of colleges, universities and higher education institutions currently experiencing outbreaks of Covid-19 will be provided to this Deputy. [9211/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 220 and 221 together.

Information and reporting on Covid outbreaks, including those associated with higher education, is a matter for public health authorities in the Department of Health and HSE and is subject to patient confidentiality and GDPR requirements. Therefore the information requested by the Deputy is not held by my Department.

In the context of its work in overseeing the impact of Covid on higher and further education and in particular ensuring that sectorial frameworks have been put in place to ensure that educational settings in tertiary education are safe for students and staff, my Department liaises closely with the sectorial representative bodies, higher education institutions and student union representatives in relation to any significant issues arising from Covid outbreaks that may be relevant to the national policy approach. In this regard my Department also participates in the central government structures for Covid under the aegis of the Department of the Taoiseach and engages with the Department of Health and the HSE in relation to public health advice and guidance on specific issues that arise for the tertiary sector as it seeks to respond and adapt to the impact of Covid on provision and seeks to attenuate the significant challenges faced by students and learners. However I have sought through my Department further information from the specific institutions in question.

Citizenship Status

Questions (222, 223, 224)

Marc Ó Cathasaigh

Question:

222. Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh asked the Minister for Justice the average waiting time for applications for citizenship; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9058/21]

View answer

Marc Ó Cathasaigh

Question:

223. Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh asked the Minister for Justice the levels of investment made by her Department in each of the years 2015 to 2019 in information technology systems and services with the specific objective to improve the efficiency of processing applications for citizenship; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9059/21]

View answer

Marc Ó Cathasaigh

Question:

224. Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh asked the Minister for Justice the levels of investment made by her Department in each of the years 2015 to 2019 in resources and services to support applicants for citizenship in their application process, for example, translation services, tutorials and easy-to-access information on the application process; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9060/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 222 to 224, inclusive, together.

The average processing time for applications decided in 2020 was 13.5 months.

A number of issues have impacted on the processing of citizenship applications over the past 15 months. A High Court case which was subsequently successfully appealed to the Court of Appeal resulted in significant delays in 2019. As well as this, a significant backlog has built up regarding the granting of citizenships due to the inability to hold in person ceremonies during the pandemic, which has prevented the holding of such ceremonies. These are usually attended by hundreds of new citizens and have become a welcome addition to our public and civic life.

The combined impact of the Jones judgment and the Covid-19 disruption has resulted in the loss of over six months processing time. As a result, the processing timeline for standard applications has increased.

Quite aside from those specific issues, for a broad range of reasons, some cases will take longer than others to process. Processing timescales can be impacted by incomplete applications having to be returned; further documentation being required from the applicant; where the payment of the required certificate fee is awaited; or if the applicant has not been engaging with the Immigration Service.

In some instances, the input of several government agencies, both within and outside the jurisdiction is needed and the request and receipt of information from these sources can result in delays in processing some applications. Issues can also arise at the final stage of the naturalisation process, for example, where additional information comes to light which is required to be considered before a final decision is taken.

With regard to improvements to address these issues, last month, I announced that a temporary system is now in place that will help to significantly clear the backlog over the course of this year. The temporary system enables applicants to complete their naturalisation process by signing a statutory declaration of loyalty. This signed statutory declaration replaces the requirement for citizenship applicants to attend citizenship ceremonies, which have been temporarily suspended during Covid-19. The new system is in place from 18 January 2021, and my Department will communicate with applicants regarding the requirements, on a phased basis over the next few months until in-person citizenship ceremonies are able to recommence. It is expected that the 4,000 applicants currently waiting on naturalisation will have been provided with an opportunity to gain citizenship by the end of March and I am pleased to say that more than 500 certificates have recently issued.

In addition to the provision of an alternative platform to large-scale citizenship ceremonies, a number of resources and services have been provided in recent years to support applicants for citizenship in their application process:

- The Citizenship website has been significantly revisited with a view to increasing clarity and enhancing the end user experience. The primary focus has been using simple and easy to understand language and expanding and simplifying guidelines. For instance, following analysis of customer feedback, the section on the provision of residency proofs has been expanded and clarified. In addition, guidance for those applying under Section 16 of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 as amended has been expanded, in direct response to customer feedback.

- Citizenship Division also engages with immigration NGOs in order to tailor information according to the needs of the client base.

- As part of this process, a new online chat conversation application, or “Chatbot” has recently been introduced. This provides users with an instant response to frequently asked questions and is called Tara. The application mimics real-time text or message exchange with a member of staff and has answered more than 10,000 queries since it was launched in December.

Further plans for the digitalisation of the naturalisation process are well advanced, in line with my plan to significantly modernise the Justice Sector through increased digital and ICT investment. As part of this process:

- Online payments have been trialled for Minor applications and the process is currently being rolled out to Adult applications on a phased basis.

- In addition, the Division is moving from a paper based transaction model currently utilised with the National Vetting Bureau to a digital platform. It is anticipated this will substantially cut application processing times once it is fully operational.

- From 23 November 2020, all adult applicants are required to have an up to date Tax Clearance certificate which is available electronically from the revenue commissioners.

The end result of the digitisation process will be to free up additional resources to focus on enhanced customer service delivery, ensuring the integrity of the process is protected and processing applications in a timely and efficient manner.

Immigration Status

Questions (225)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

225. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice the progress to date in the determination of an application for residency in the case of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9072/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

In response to a notification pursuant to the provisions of Section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended), written representations have been submitted on behalf of the person concerned. These representations, together with all other information and documentation on file, will be fully considered, under Section 3 (6) of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended) and all other applicable legislation, in advance of a final decision being made.

Queries in relation to the status of individual immigration cases may be made directly to my Department by e-mail using the Oireachtas Mail facility (inisoireachtasmail@justice.ie ) which has been specifically established for this purpose. This service enables up to date information on such cases to be obtained without the need to seek information by way of the Parliamentary Questions process. The Deputy may consider using the e-mail service except in cases where the response is, in the Deputy's view, inadequate or too long awaited.

Immigration Status

Questions (226)

Violet-Anne Wynne

Question:

226. Deputy Violet-Anne Wynne asked the Minister for Justice the position regarding the backlog of appeal applications to the visa office; if she will provide details of appeal applications from 2020 by month that are currently being processed; if efforts are being made to clear the current backlog; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9075/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

The Immigration Service of my Department has, since 29 January 2021, temporarily ceased accepting new visa applications, with the exception of critical/priority applications, which would include healthcare and supply chain workers.

In relation to applications which were on hand prior to the 29 January, these continue to be processed. However, where a decision is made to grant a visa, unless the application fits within the current Emergency/Priority criteria, the visa will not issue until such time as restrictions have been lifted.

Due to the ongoing Covid-19 situation there have been delays to the timeframe for the processing of cases as the necessary restrictions imposed for social distancing and non-essential travel requirements imposes restrictions on the numbers of staff allowed to attend the office any given time. Emergency cases are examined on an individual basis and the Immigration Service takes a tailored approach to them.

The number of appeals received for general visa types have decreased generally since March 2020, in terms of what would normally be received year on year. Processing times for long stay visa appeals, such as Join Family, invariably take longer and are generally determined by the volume of applications received, the particular merits of individual applications, their complexity, whether the need to investigate or enquire further, and the time taken to receive applicant responses.

Every effort is made to keep processing times to a minimum, and a number of measures have been put in place to deal with the backlog of Join Family appeal cases. This includes the assignment of additional staff to help process these applications, utilising capacity in overseas visa offices to assist the Dublin Office and, more generally, the streamlining of visa processing where possible.

Resumption of normal operations and timeframes remains under constant review subject to the Government’s pandemic measures and once commenced, decisions will be issued in chronological order. As with all our immigration processes, the matter is receiving ongoing attention and as soon as a practical plan is in place for the re-commencement of normal service delivery notifications will be placed on the Department's website.

The table below sets out the details of appeals for the Dublin Visa Office:

2020

Monthly totals

January

152

February

89

March

130

April

31

May

39

June

21

July

24

August

20

September

32

October

50

November

52

December

48

Totals

688

Outcomes

440 Decided

248 In process/pending

The Immigration Service also staffs seven Visa Offices overseas in London, Moscow, Ankara, New Delhi, Beijing, Abu Dhabi and Abuja. The total number of appeals currently in process/pending in those offices which were received in 2020 or to date in 2021 is 124.

Departmental Funding

Questions (227)

Seán Sherlock

Question:

227. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Justice the contact details for the sections that deal with all ongoing and established grant funding in her Department and in each agency under the remit of her Department in tabular form. [9133/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

It has not been possible to collate the information requested by the Deputy within the time allowed. I will write to the Deputy to provide this information as soon as it is available.

Immigration Status

Questions (228)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

228. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice the progress to date in the determination of a case pursuant to section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended) in the case of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9144/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

In response to a notification pursuant to the provisions of Section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended), written representations have been submitted on behalf of the persons concerned. These representations, together with all other information and documentation on file, will be fully considered, under Section 3 (6) of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended) and all other applicable legislation, in advance of a final decision being made.

Queries in relation to the status of individual immigration cases may be made directly to my Department by e-mail using the Oireachtas Mail facility (inisoireachtasmail@justice.ie) which has been specifically established for this purpose. This service enables up to date information on such cases to be obtained without the need to seek information by way of the Parliamentary Questions process. The Deputy may consider using the e-mail service except in cases where the response is, in the Deputy's view, inadequate or too long awaited.

Garda Data

Questions (229)

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

229. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Justice the number of gardaí currently stationed in each county. [9226/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

The resources provided by Government to An Garda Síochána have reached unprecedented levels, with an allocation of €1.88 billion for 2020 and of €1.952 billion in Budget 2021. This level of investment is enabling sustained, ongoing recruitment of Garda members and staff. There are now approximately 14,600 Gardaí nationwide, supported by over 3,000 Garda staff. Taken together, this number of Garda members and staff is delivering a significant growth in operational policing hours nationwide.

The Deputy may wish to know that the Garda numbers by rank in all Garda stations is available on my Department’s website in tabular form. This information is updated every month with the latest data provided by An Garda Síochána, at the following link:

http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/002_Garda_Numbers_by_Division_District_and_Station_2009_to_December_2020.xlsx/Files/002_Garda_Numbers_by_Division_District_and_Station_2009_to_December_2020.xlsx

The information provided in the attached spreadsheet sets out the number of Gardaí by Division, District and Station at 31 January 2021.

The Garda Commissioner is by law responsible for the management of An Garda Síochána, including personnel matters and deployment of resources. As Minister, I have no role in these matters. I am assured, however, that Garda management keeps the distribution of resources under continual review in the context of crime trends and policing priorities, to ensure their optimum use.

Garda Numbers

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (230)

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

230. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Justice if her attention has been drawn to outbreaks of Covid-19 in prisons in 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9227/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I am advised by the Irish Prison Service as of 16 February 2021 that there have been 67 confirmed cases of Covid-19 identified amongst the prisoner population.

Of the 67 cases, 40 were community based infections and were detected by the early intervention testing of all new committals to prison. The remaining 27 cases were prisoners in the general population.

As the Deputy may be aware, the Prison Service has put in place an extensive range of measures to prevent Covid-19 transmission within prisons, detect early any possible infection in a prisoner or staff member and prevent the spread of infection should there be a confirmed case.

Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the Irish Prison Service has provided weekly updates on the management of the Covid pandemic.

The Irish Prison Service have categorized an Outbreak having occurred on eight occasions, this may be a cluster of staff or prisoner cases. During an Outbreak the Irish Prison Service provide daily management updates. Upon confirmation of an outbreak situation, an Outbreak Control Team is established to work with the prison on containing the outbreak. The team is led by a Director and comprises of prison management; Healthcare staff; National Infection Control; with representatives from the HR Directorate, Operations Directorate; the press office and the Prison Officers Association.

The Outbreak Control Team serve to support the prison in ensuring compliance with the overall response to the Covid pandemic The Outbreak Control Team meet as often as necessary and guide, advise, support and oversee the coordination of the outbreak. The essential security and safe custody of processes and day to day operation of the prison is not compromised as part of Outbreak Control Management.

Sex Offenders Treatment Programme

Questions (231)

Cathal Crowe

Question:

231. Deputy Cathal Crowe asked the Minister for Justice if she will make the Building Better Lives treatment programme compulsory for sex offenders serving a custodial sentence; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9247/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I fully understand the very natural public safety concerns regarding the rehabilitation of sex offenders and I am aware of the recent media coverage of the participation rates in the Building Better Lives programme. This Programme is an intensive programme aimed at a certain cohort of sex offenders and like all treatment programmes available for people convicted of sexual violence, it is voluntary in nature. The Deputy will appreciate that treatment programmes of any kind are generally only effective where the person concerned accepts that their behaviour has caused serious harm and wants to take ownership to change their own behaviour.

There are a number of reasons why individual sex offenders do not participate in the Building Better Lives programme and it is important to note that men who are assessed for treatment may be deemed not suitable for the programme.

The criteria for participation includes a prison sentence of 18 months to provide time to complete the programme, admission of sexually harmful behaviour, robustness of mental health, intellectual, social and developmental capacity, some literacy capacity and those not appealing their conviction.

It is important to understand that, while the programme tends to be a particular focus for attention, it is only one of a number of assessment and intervention (treatment) pillars provided by the Irish Prison Service and Probation Service for people convicted of sexual violence.

The Irish Prison Service provides alternative pathways of intervention for people who are not suitable for, or decline to attend, the Building Better Lives Programme but who are willing to engage in other interventions, in order to facilitate cognitive, emotional and behavioural change and social reintegration and seek to reduce the risk of recidivism and help ex-offenders lead law-abiding lives.

Prison in-reach Psychiatry services are available for stabilisation and maintenance of mental health where a mental health diagnosis is made. A Sex Offender Risk Assessment and Management (SORAM) programme has also been established to support the cooperation and coordination between key statutory organisations involved in managing the risk posed to the community by convicted sex offenders, as well as the Safer Lives Community Group Work Treatment Programme. A significant number of those released who do not participate in Building Better Lives Programme, are managed through one or more of these programmes and the Irish Prison Service.

For the reasons I have set out, and in keeping with best practice, the Irish Prison Service has no proposals to make offence-focused treatment for sex offenders mandatory.

Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission

Questions (232)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

232. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Justice if she is satisfied that the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, has sufficient resources to carry out investigations in a timely way if it provides families with a family liaison officer in the same way as An Garda Síochána does, such as in the case of a family (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9277/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

As the Deputy will be aware, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has a very important role to play in ensuring public confidence in An Garda Síochána and it has extensive powers under the Garda Síochána Act 2005 (as amended).

The Government is committed to ensuring that GSOC has the necessary supports and resources in order to fulfil its statutory functions and mandate. I can inform the Deputy that Budget 2021 made provision of €11.273 million for the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to provide for the staff and expenses of GSOC’s operations.

In recent years, additional resources have been provided to GSOC in terms of an increased staff sanction, which has seen an additional 42 staff across the range of GSOC activities (investigation, case work and administration). The majority of these staff are now in place with a small number of vacancies to be filled in the coming weeks. My Department does of course engage closely with GSOC to keep any resource requirements under review.

I am informed by GSOC that in relevant investigations where a death has occurred, or is likely to occur, a Family Liaison Officer is appointed. GSOC have a number of trained Family Liaison Officers, who are drawn from within the pool of investigation staff. They are deployed when the need is identified by the Senior Investigation Officer leading the case and in conjunction with GSOC's Family Liaison Coordinator.

The role of the Family Liaison Officer is to act as a point of contact between the investigation team and the family. This will allow for a managed communication flow to keep the family concerned updated on the progress of the investigation and to provide information or evidence to the investigation team. Where the lead investigator wishes to communicate information to a family, this will normally be done through the liaison officer. Similarly, any questions which the family have for the investigation team are channelled through the Liaison Officer. Family Liaison Officers keep a log of all contacts and exchanges of information

A Family Liaison Officer can also provide information to families on available support services such as grief counselling, dealing with inquests, etc. Liaison Officers provide information packs to families containing appropriate support material which is individually tailored to the needs of the family concerned and the specifics of the case.

Community Policing

Questions (233)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

233. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Justice the discussions she has had with the Garda Commissioner on community engagement following the death of a person (details supplied); the engagement proposed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9278/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I would again like to extend my deepest sympathies to all those impacted by the tragic event in Hartstown, and in particular to the family of the late Mr George Nkencho. All incidents resulting in a fatality are deeply distressing events and I know that the local community have experienced real trauma as a result of these events.

I understand that Gardaí have been engaging with the local community with regard to the distress caused by the incident, and family liaison officers from both the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) and An Garda Síochána have been available to the family.

As with every incident involving a member of An Garda Síochána that results in the death of a person, this case is being fully and independently investigated by GSOC, which is chaired by a High Court Judge, Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring.

Such incidents are very rare in Ireland but all are fully investigated independently. GSOC have commenced an investigation under section 98 of the Garda Síochána Act, 2005. It needs to be clearly understood that GSOC can make wider systemic recommendations on issues they investigate and they are free to do so in this instance also.

I have been assured by the Garda Commissioner that An Garda Síochána engagement with community representatives has continued since the tragedy. Community policing is, and has always been, key to the work of An Garda Síochána and An Garda Síochána works proactively to maintain positive relationship with all communities.

The Garda Síochána Diversity and Integration Strategy 2019-2021 reflects the organisation’s strong commitment to engage proactively and respectfully with all members of society, including those from minority groups and diverse backgrounds. This Strategy builds trust and identifies the policy needs of all diverse minority and ‘hard to reach’ communities.

The Garda National Diversity and Integration Unit (GNDIU) forms part of the Garda Community Relations Bureau and has a very positive working relationship with the African Community in Ireland. The latter are represented on the Garda National Diversity Forum, which informs the Garda Diversity and Integration Strategy.

Along with the Garda Commissioner and my colleague the Minister for Children, Equality, Integration and Youth, I met with the Network African Irish Leaders on 8 February and discussed a number of recommendations with them. I intend to meet with them again in the coming weeks to discuss how those recommendations might be taken forward.

Garda Diversity Officers in Blanchardstown have engaged with the local African community and representative groups. Garda Youth Diversion Project workers have also responded to the needs of the family and of many younger people affected by the incident.

In this context, I understand that Juvenile Liaison Officers report having very positive engagements with young people and their parents and guardians from all backgrounds in the Blanchardstown area. It is their view that the relationships between young people and Gardaí, and specifically Juvenile Liaison Officers, are very strong and mutually respectful, both before and after this incident.

The Juvenile Liaison Officers report that the level of participation and engagement with Garda Youth Diversion Projects by young people in the Blanchardstown area is extremely good. Additionally, the GNDIU have recently begun engaging with a group of young Irish people, Black and Irish , in the Kildare Garda Division. This group is keen to explore opportunities with the Gardaí with a view to breaking down barriers and positive engagement.

I can further inform the Deputy that my Department is also engaging with the Garda Youth Diversion Project (GYDP) in the area and has approved funding to employ an additional Youth Justice Worker for the project to cater for the increased number of referrals being experienced and the specific circumstances in the local community. Minister of State Browne met with representatives of the local GYDP and staff to be briefed on the issues facing the project in the area and to identify any further supports or responses required from our Department. The discussion will inform our implementation of the new Youth Justice Strategy, which I intend to bring to Government shortly.