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Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 25 November 2021

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Questions (126)

Ruairí Ó Murchú

Question:

126. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for Justice the status of the implementation of recommendations contained in a report (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57834/21]

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Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Justice)

I hope Members were as lucky as me in getting tickets to Garth Brooks this morning.

To move on to something far more serious, my question is about the implementation of the recommendations of the report referred to in the question. We had the scoping exercise, the Guerin report, the implementation report and the difficulties in forming the implementation board. We all know the damage, the terror and the tragedy caused by the drug gangs in Drogheda. The question is about delivering on the recommendations of those reports.

I thought the Deputy was going to tell me he had convinced Garth Brooks to come to Drogheda, but I do not think that is case.

Or Dundalk.

As the Deputy will be aware, the publication and implementation of the recommendations of the Drogheda scoping report are key actions in my Department's justice plan for 2021. They are certainly a priority for me, as I know they are for the Deputy and others. I am grateful to the former director of the Probation Service, Mr. Vivian Geiran, who made over 70 recommendations in his scoping report on short- and long-term responses to challenges the community faces in Drogheda. We know, and we have seen, the challenges that the community faces there, but also the huge amount of community spirit that exists. The reason we are going to make significant progress is because of the work that we will do with the community. It includes measures around crime prevention, youth services, drug addiction, education, infrastructure and community development. The recommendations highlight the need for improved inter-agency co-operation in the administration and delivery of State services in Drogheda and the surrounding areas, as well as the need to provide additional resources, money and services in certain areas where they do not exist or where they need to be expanded or supported more.

In July, the acting Minister of Justice, Deputy Humphreys, obtained Government approval for an implementation plan for the report. The Government also committed to a special focus on Drogheda, including Departments and State agencies prioritising necessary funding applications for projects related to the Drogheda implementation plan. I am aware it is extremely important for the groups that where there is a request, Departments prioritise it. The Government has signed off and agreed to that.

The implementation plan identifies the relevant stakeholders for each recommendation and outlines the next steps for engagement and delivery. The plan will be a living, breathing document and will be reviewed by my Department each quarter, with progress reports produced twice yearly. This will facilitate ongoing engagement and consultation. My Department has completed the first internal quarterly review and the first progress report will be produced within the first six months of the implementation plan in quarter 1 of 2022.

There have already been some very positive steps in the plan. The Department of Education has provided supports to the three schools identified in the report, and my Department has provided further funding to the Red Door Project to ensure the continued provision of other important services. Funding has also been committed to the Moneymore Consortium to support its planning work, and to the Moneymore Childcare Centre to ensure the continuation of services. Additional funding is also being allocated. Perhaps I will touch on the structure in my next response.

We have all had multiple conversations on the necessity for multi-agency cross-departmental pieces of work that must be done to deal with the issue we have, which is caused by drug gangs and organised crime and the issues they cause in communities, particularly in working class communities. Obviously, the issue blew up in Drogheda, in particular. In fairness, a significant amount has been done and a significant number of promises have been made at this stage. We all accept that there must be early interventions at a community level and particularly at a family level, which is lacking across the board. I accept that some work is being done on increasing funding in relation to diversion projects. However, I am going to bring up again the issue of the family addiction support network, which deals directly with drug debt intimidation and provides supports for families who find themselves in such situations and who are dealing with addiction. There are difficulties at this point in time in relation to funding. We are aware of the moves made by the HSE and others towards groups operating at a State level. They talk about governance, but we really need to look at the ground-up operation.

The only way this will work is by providing additional funding and supports through our national and Government bodies and agencies, but also by supporting the community groups which have been doing a fantastic job over the last number of years. There is a space for them to work in tandem with the State agencies. We have spoken about the agency that the Deputy specifically mentioned before. My Department is engaging directly with the HSE on it. We will ensure that the support it needs, whether it is through funding from my Department or from the HSE, is provided to it in the same way that support is being provided to other organisations, not just from my Department of Justice, which often specifically focuses on victims of crime, but from other sources of funding.

On the structure, the first meeting of the implementation board has happened. I subsequently met with the board, Deputies Ó Murchú, O'Dowd and Nash, the former Senator Imelda Henry and others. I have since met with the community groups, which clearly stated that they wanted to ensure that there was a community representative on the implementation board. Following the appointment of the co-ordinator, which is happening this week, she will meet with the community groups, which can identify representatives to sit on the board. Of course, as we know, the subgroups are already being rolled out. Therefore, there are many layers to the plan. The community is involved at every stage, supported by my Department, all Government agencies and local representatives.

It is really good news that the co-ordinator is being appointed, because that was a missing piece of work. We must ensure that the Drogheda implementation board is able to deliver upon the promises that are contained within the plan. Obviously, it goes without saying that community representation is required. There must be buy-in from the ground up. We know there is a difficulty, and every group the Minister talks to across the State will say that is has become more difficult to deal with State agencies.

The Red Door Project, whatever the difficulties, has spoken well of the engagement with the Department of Justice. I am really glad that the Minister is taking a lead and is going to engage with the HSE and others. We need to deliver on the necessary funding for the likes of the family addiction support network, which is used by the Garda. I will chase that up with the Minister later. I ask the Minister to provide a roadmap, or battle plan, setting out how we go forward in relation to the vital pillars that we need to deliver on, and to deliver what should be a template for how we work in other major towns and cities across the State in dealing with the drugs pandemic.

I will not set out what the group is going to do or tell it what it needs to do. However, I think the actions are very clear. The subgroups have been created on the basis of those actions, the needs and requirements. Following the publication of the report, any engagement that my Department has had with the other Departments has been very positive and forthcoming. Indeed, the members of the localised implementation group, which includes members of the local council, Chief Superintendent Christy Mangan, representatives of the education board, Tusla and other agencies, have been very forthcoming and willing and really want to ensure that this works. Obviously, as Minister, I want to ensure it works. We will support the group however we can to ensure that it can work on the issues it has identified.

In that regard, the creation of a new fund of €2 million, which is specifically going to support groups that identify ways in which they can make their communities safer, is an extra layer. If a group identifies something that does not exist but that it feels would work for the community, it can apply for that funding. There is a lot of work going on. I look forward to working with the Deputy and other colleagues as that work continues.

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