Other Questions

Legal Aid Service

Sean Fleming

Ceist:

58 Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of interns recruited by the Legal Aid Board under the JobBridge scheme; the location of same; and the delays in accessing a civil lawyer via the Legal Aid Board. [24677/11]

The Legal Aid Board is a statutory, independent body in accordance with the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995. The matters raised by the Deputy are ones for the board. However, in order to be helpful to him, I have had inquiries made with the board. I had a meeting with its chairman following the announcement of the JobBridge programme to encourage use by the board of the internship scheme in order that many of the qualified solicitors currently unemployed would have an opportunity to gain job and work experience.

The new FÁS JobBridge scheme is an important element of the Government's jobs initiative designed to facilitate the provision of work experience and training opportunities for the unemployed. I very much welcome the active participation of the Legal Aid Board in the scheme. I am advised the board will be offering internships to qualified solicitors in order that they can gain practical experience in the areas of civil law in which the organisation provides services. I have every confidence that solicitors obtaining internships with the board will receive valuable experience and training that will help them on the road towards paid employment, notwithstanding the current difficult labour market conditions for legal practitioners. I also anticipate that the interns will make an important contribution to the work of the board during their time with it and that they will be of assistance in tackling the increasing demand it is experiencing for its services.

The locations in which the board initially offered internships had regard to both the current work demands of the organisation and the capacity of the law centres involved to provide the necessary support and development to interns during their placements. The locations initially advertised under the scheme were Newbridge, Ennis, Cavan, Cork, where there were two placements, and Nenagh, plus six internships in various locations in Dublin.

Since advertising with FÁS the board has received 28 applications from eligible candidates and all these candidates have since been offered interviews. The board has already placed an intern in Tallaght law centre and is in the process of offering further placements in the locations I detailed. To date, six additional applicants have been offered and have accepted internships and will be commencing in the coming weeks. The board also intends to offer some additional placements in the coming days and has recently asked FÁS to extend the scheme to all its law centres. This will ensure the board has the maximum flexibility in offering further internships and is a measure that I very much welcome.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The past three or four years have seen a considerable increase in demand to the board for legal services and this coincides with the downturn in the economy. In 2007, just over 10,164 persons sought legal services from the board in regard to general civil non-asylum matters. This figure increased to 17,175 in 2010 and I am informed that the number of applicants in the first six months of this year was almost the same as the total number of applicants in 2007. Inevitably, this has created huge pressures for the board's law centres and its capacity to deliver legal services within a reasonable period of time. As of 1 September 2011, the waiting time in 17 of the board's 29 law centres was greater than four months, and in six of those centres the waiting time was greater than six months. As of 1 September 2011, there were just under 4,500 persons waiting for a first appointment with a solicitor. This compares with 3,153 on 1 January 2011, 2,335 on 1 January 2010 and 1,681 on 1 January 2009.

The board is committed to ensuring applicants for legal services receive a substantive appointment with a solicitor within a maximum period of four months. This is consistent with the view expressed by the High Court in the O'Donoghue case. This has been difficult to achieve in a number of the board's law centres recently. Certain types of case are deemed by their nature to merit the provision of an immediate or near immediate service. Priority cases include those where there are allegations of violence, child custody matters and where statutory deadlines are fast approaching when clients make their first contact with law centres. These comprise 15% of all applications to law centres. A considerable number of other applications are referred quickly to private practitioners. Thus, up to 40% of all cases receive a very quick service. In addition, because the refugee legal service operates to strict statutory deadlines, every asylum case processed by the board is a priority case by reference to the speed of response from the organisation.

Civil legal aid in Ireland is delivered through the board's 29 law centres and a small number of specialist units. The service is complemented through the extensive use of private practitioners. Such use has had to be constrained, however, as a consequence of the increased demand and the extent of the board's financial resources to meet this. The board's grant-in-aid, which accounts for the majority of its funding, other than in regard to asylum, has fallen from almost €27 million in 2008 to just over €24 million this year.

Like all public service organisations, the board has also been subject to the public service recruitment embargo and the employee control framework. While the board had a full staff sanction of 384, the current staffing is in the region of 350. The board has sought to maintain its front line staffing to the greatest extent possible.

The board has taken a range of measures with a view to addressing the increasing demand for services in a resource constrained environment. These include increasing the number of cases referred to private solicitors for the purpose of providing a service; an advice-only service which facilitates an earlier brief meeting with a solicitor where applicants are likely to have to wait in excess of four months for a substantive appointment; an integration of the delivery of all services with a view to ensuring the most effective deployment of resources; the recent introduction of a pilot integrated mediation initiative in Dublin involving the board co-locating and co-operating with the Family Mediation Service and the Courts Service, the purpose of which is to offer applicants for legal services alternatives to litigation in the courts as a better and, from the State's point of view, more cost-effective means of resolving family law disputes; the creation of specialist units for medical negligence and child care services; and the current development of a new legal case management system that is likely to improve the efficiency of service delivery, the management of risk in the organisation and provide for online applications. The board has also made use of a very limited exemption from the moratorium in regard to a small number of temporary front-line service delivery positions.

I thank the Minister for that information. This is purely a follow up question to a discussion we had on this matter prior to the summer recess. There was agreement among everyone concerned that this scheme would be used. Am I to take it that an intern from JobBridge will be placed in every centre throughout the country at the end of this process? Will the board consider the making of multiple appointments to centres given that there seems to be a low uptake of the scheme for whatever reason? Is that something the Minister could discuss with the board or with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton? Can the Minister outline the average delay, as opposed to the delay in various law centres, in getting an appointment to obtain advice on a civil law case?

As I said, the board is independent but I want to encourage it to use the scheme in order that the many young solicitors, in particular, who are currently unemployed will have an opportunity to get work experience and, in doing so, will do a public service by assisting the law centres that are under enormous pressure. There has been a huge increase in numbers seeking legal help from law centres throughout the country as a consequence of the economic difficulties we are experiencing.

To give the Deputy an indication of the figures involved, in 2007, just over 10,164 persons sought legal services from the board in regard to what I describe as general civil law matters excluding the asylum area. The figure increased to 17,175 in 2010 and I am advised that the number of applicants in the first six months of this year was almost the same as the total number for 2007.

I hope and expect and it may well be the case that JobBridge work experience can be provided in each of the law centres under the aegis of the Legal Aid Board. I hope that where there are facilities in law centres to do so, that some of the law centres will be able to take on more than one intern. It is important that the interns get proper job experience and proper supervision in the work they undertake. The capacity of individual law centres to take on interns will depend on the numbers working within the centre and availability of space.

Prison Inspection Reports

Pádraig Mac Lochlainn

Ceist:

59 Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the recommendations and demands made by Judge Michael Reilly, the Inspector of Prisons in his report on the 30 May 2011 in relation to prison conditions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24741/11]

I welcome the inspector's report which I published on 30 May last. It is a particularly valuable and comprehensive report. In it, the inspector stated that the Irish Prison Service and local management should be aware by now of what he regards as best practice and that he expects by 1 July that all prisons will comply with this. However, he also appreciated that prisons will not be able to comply in certain areas in the short term. In terms of progress, I have been informed by the Irish Prison Service that a number of the inspector's recommendations have been implemented or are being implemented. Improvements are being made even though this is subject to the availability of resources.

Areas mentioned by the inspector include the use of special cells, prisoners' complaints and the procedure to be followed following deaths of persons in custody. New procedures have been adopted and will be supported by changes to the prison rules which have been drafted and are being finalised in conjunction with the Office of the Attorney General. I hope those rules will be finalised very shortly.

The inspector also referred to minimum standards for prison accommodation and the regimes and services that should be provided. The Government is committed to the elimination of slopping out in prisons. The upgrade of more than 100 cells at Mountjoy Prison, including the installation of in-cell sanitation, will be completed by the end of October. The Irish Prison Service will then consider the feasibility of installing in-cell sanitation in the remaining cells of Mountjoy and to other facilities elsewhere. The completion of the Midlands Prison extension and the provision of 70 extra dormitory style spaces in the Dóchas Centre will mean that 80% of the prisons estate will have in-cell sanitation by mid-2012.

Unfortunately, the numbers in prison at the moment do not allow all of the inspector's standards to be met in the short term. The problem of prison overcrowding remains a challenging issue. As of 15 September 2011, there were 4,269 prisoners in custody. In 2000, that figure stood at 2,919 and 400 additional prisoner places will come on stream by mid-2012.

Having considered the report of the Thornton Hall review group, the Government has decided in principle to proceed with the construction of new prison facilities at Thornton Hall and at Kilworth, County Cork, but on a smaller scale and design from that previously envisaged. The timeframe for these projects will be discussed soon in the context of discussions on capital spending priorities for 2012.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The Deputy can be assured that I am pursuing alternatives to custody. The recently enacted Criminal Justice (Community Service)(Amendment) Act 2011 requires the sentencing judge to consider the imposition of community service where a custodial sentence of 12 months or less is being considered. Work has also commenced on the development of a pilot scheme under which offenders may be offered earned earlier release in return for community service. In addition, I intend to give new guidelines to the Parole Board of Ireland for the application of a similar scheme to long-term prisoners and will make a further announcement on this in due course.

I welcome the fact that work has started on the procedures and rules relating to investigating deaths in custody. If the Minister has further information on that work I would appreciate his giving it to the House. For example, when can we expect those procedures and rules to be implemented?

One of Judge Reilly's recommendations was that prison governors would, by the end of June last, remedy simple matters such as broken windows, broken and leaking equipment and unpainted areas. Can I take it from the Minister's answer that these have been remedied?

It is my hope that they have been. I expect to get a full report shortly on the extent to which those aspects of the recommendations of the Inspector of Prisons have been implemented. I am anxious to implement all of his recommendations. Judge Reilly has done an extraordinary job. He is a man of great insight and is now an invaluable part of what I describe as the oversight architecture of the Irish Prison Service. I have a clear intent to do my level best to ensure we implement recommendations that come from him, put in place proper procedures and introduce an additional important element to investigations where complaints are made. When the draft prison rules have been finalised by the Attorney General, our intentions in that regard will be made clear to Members of the House.

I endorse the Minister's remarks about Judge Reilly. Has the Minister performed a similar exercise with the Irish Prison Service, as is under way with the Garda Commissioner, with regard to impending retirements? What will be the likely impact of those retirements on the service or on the Minister's plans for it?

The Department is engaged in an overall review of all aspects of the workings of the Department. The Irish Prison Service is a separate service but is dependent on funding from the Department. It is not yet clear what the position will be with regard to retirements from the Irish Prison Service or whether there will be a major difference this year from previous years. I expect to have a clear view in the coming weeks of where matters stand. It may not be fully clear until the end of November. The Deputy can be assured that any new arrangements that may need to be put in place arising out of retirements will be put in place and that we will ensure we have all necessary staff to guarantee the proper running of our prisons.

Crime Prevention

Dessie Ellis

Ceist:

60 Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to ensure a more focused multi agency approach to tackling mid level drug dealers at a localised level throughout the State involving the Garda, the Criminal Assets Bureau, local authorities, all relevant State agencies and with community input; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24744/11]

Tackling serious crime, including drug trafficking, remains a key priority both for the Government and for the Garda Síochána. These priorities are clearly reflected in the Garda policing plan for 2011. A key action in the plan is the proactive targeting by the Garda Síochána of drug trafficking, including low level drug dealing.

Under the direction of the Assistant Commissioner at An Garda Síochána's national support services, the Garda national drugs unit and the Criminal Assets Bureau are pursuing their respective remits. A strategic partnership has been established between the Garda national drugs unit and the Criminal Assets Bureau in identifying common targets who are then pursued through intelligence-led investigations, in order to maximise the response of law enforcement to organised crime gangs. In tandem with this, the asset profilers programme has now been rolled out nationwide, with asset profilers based in every Garda division. These profilers play a key role in tackling those involved in mid-level drug dealing. The Criminal Assets Bureau utilises the local knowledge supplied by the profilers to target the assets of well known drug dealers in local communities.

The National Drugs Strategy 2009-2016 puts in place a co-ordinated approach across the many Departments and agencies that hold a remit in this area, working with the community and voluntary sectors. Under our institutional arrangements, the implementation of the strategy is monitored by the oversight forum on drugs. This forum, which is chaired by the Minister of State at the Department of Health, is made up of representatives of both State and non-governmental bodies, reflecting the ongoing multi-agency and multi-sectoral approach in tackling this issue.

At local level, local and regional drug task forces also bring together representatives from these bodies, including the local authorities, to work with local community and public representatives and so help deliver a better co-ordinated response to the problem as it is experienced in local areas. In addition, the joint policing committee initiative brings together members of the Oireachtas, elected members and officials of local authorities, officers of An Garda Síochána and representatives of the community and voluntary sectors. This further enables a collaborative approach to be taken in tackling the problem of drug misuse at local authority level. Related to this, work is also continuing on the roll out of local policing fora to all local drug task force areas.

With the proposed reduction in numbers, this brings into focus the role of the community in tackling drug addiction, drug abuse and drug dealing. The Minister touched on it when he spoke about the role of the joint policing committees and the local policing forums. They certainly have the capacity to contribute to a solution, but I think we need to look at their current role and maybe give them some additional powers, tweaking the way they operate. From my experience at these committees and forums in my own area, there is certainly room for improvement in order to ensure that there is a greater community participation in those structures. Has the Minister any proposals to look at their role and will he give them additional powers?

I will certainly give consideration to what the Deputy is saying. The Garda Síochána has been very successful in targeting drug gangs and drug criminals in recent months, and in intercepting very substantial amounts of drugs. As I have the opportunity to do so, I would like to congratulate the Garda on a haul of cannabis yesterday evening with an approximate value of €1.7 million. It is very important that the Garda targets those at the highest level who are engaged in drug dealing and who are preying on young people. They would have my absolute support in doing that, as long as we can enhance co-operation between local communities and the Garda, or enhance the interaction at local authority level between councils on the ground and members of the Garda.

From feedback I have received, some policing committees are working better than others, depending on the local authority. Some more work needs to be done on that, and I will give it until the end of the year. At that stage I intend to communicate with local authorities to get some overall national feedback on the number of times per year committees are meeting, and the nature of the engagement that is taking place to ensure that it is constructive and beneficial to the community and to the Garda. The committees must also be responsive in the sense that when local representatives are able to focus on a particular problem in their area, there is an appropriate response, where possible, to address it.

I welcome the commitment given by the Minister. It is important to review how the committees are working because, as the Minister stated, in some areas they are working better than in others. Will the Minister give a commitment that the so-called dial to stop drug dealing hotline will be funded throughout next year?

I agree with the Minister on the Garda drug find. Considerable work is being done in this regard at local level. I welcome, in particular, the use of asset profiling. Is the Minister satisfied that legislation to assist the Garda in following up on this type of work is sufficiently strong and favours the Garda rather than those who are being profiled?

I will quickly answer both questions. While I regard the hotline to which Deputy O'Brien refers as very important, I have great difficulty at the moment committing funding for anything for next year because were I to do so and having agreed to make a commitment on this issue, the next question I would be asked would be why I would not agree to commit to something else. Deputy O'Brien can be assured that I am very conscious of the hotline's importance.

On Deputy Calleary's question, I have previously stated that we are reviewing the legislation on the Criminal Assets Bureau to see if there is some tweaking or are some changes that could usefully be made to it that would assist generally in the work that is done and would be of particular relevance to the activity of drug trading and the criminal gangs engaged in it. If we bring forward amending legislation, I do not expect we will be in a position to do so until early next year. I am certainly conscious of this area.

Commercial Rents

Dara Calleary

Ceist:

61 Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the position regarding the issue of upward only rent reviews on existing commercial leases; when we can expect a proposal from him; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24669/11]

Eoghan Murphy

Ceist:

388 Deputy Eoghan Murphy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the position regarding the proposed abolition of upward only rent reviews for existing leases. [24779/11]

Dominic Hannigan

Ceist:

397 Deputy Dominic Hannigan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to introduce legislation to end upward only rent reviews in this Dáil term; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24893/11]

Alan Farrell

Ceist:

398 Deputy Alan Farrell asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to legislate for a ban on upward only rent reviews on existing leases; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24897/11]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 61, 388, 397 and 398 together.

The programme for Government indicates that legislation will be introduced to end upward only rent reviews for existing business leases. Following on from an initial consultation process with the Attorney General, I have forwarded outline proposals to her for further examination and development. Those proposals have been the subject of preliminary discussion by Government. The recently published legislative programme indicates the relevant legislation will be published during the current Dáil session.

It is also my intention to secure the swift enactment of the Property Services (Regulation) Bill 2009 which is awaiting Committee Stage in Dáil Éireann. Among the Committee Stage amendments which I will propose to the Bill is a series of amendments relating to the establishment of a public database containing relevant details of letting arrangements and rent reviews in the commercial property market. It has long been acknowledged that the absence of such a database has contributed to the undoubted information deficit which exists in this area. When established, the information contained in the database will introduce a welcome degree of transparency into the workings of the commercial property market. Accurate information about rent levels is a critical element in ensuring a true market rent emerges from the rent review process and I am acutely conscious that the perceived absence of such information has led to a lack of confidence in the current rent review system.

Will the Minister provide a flavour of the outline proposals? I understand they have been discussed informally with some representative organisations of business, yet the Oireachtas has not had sight of them. Are the Minister and Attorney General singing from the same hymn sheet on this issue or are there differences of opinion between them, significant or otherwise? The question was tabled before the legislative schedule was published. When does the Minister expect the proposed changes to hit the street, as it were? In other words, when will traders who are suffering at present see the results on their bottom line?

I confirm that I have met different organisations to obtain their views on different approaches that may be taken in the development of the legislation. I do not normally sing hymns but I assure the Deputy that the Attorney General and I are co-operating very closely in the development of the legislation. This is a difficult and complicated area to address. There are various rights issues of which we must be conscious in the manner in which we approach this. We have yet to bring what I describe as the final form of the Bill to Cabinet. There has been, however, a preliminary discussion by the Government on the approach we are taking. While we hope to publish the legislation before the end of this term, I am not in a position to give the Deputy a specific time. As we continue to develop the Bill and progress through October and into early November, I hope to have a clearer perspective of the exact time. The legislation is part of the programme for Government and is in the A list of Bills to be published during this session. I am anxious we meet that commitment.

While the Minister may not sing hymns, he has some good broken records in his collection. Will he be required to consult the troika on the provisions of the Bill?

That is an interesting question to which I am not sure of the answer. The legislation is a commitment in the programme for Government in the context of it addressing a very important issue which is impacting on our economy and the viability of otherwise viable businesses. On the other side of the equation, in the context of its relevance to the operation and functioning of the National Asset Management Agency and the disposal of properties, there are a broad range of issues to be addressed, all of which we are conscious of. I envisage that we will bring forward a carefully balanced Bill which I hope will meet the needs in this area in a practical and usable manner and will try to ensure the needs of businesses that would otherwise be viable, save for the fact that they may be tied to rental levels that reflect what I describe as the super-rents that seemed to emerge during the boom years, may be addressed. A number of technical issues need to be addressed in the context of the legislation. I do not want to pre-empt the final decisions that will be made and hope to bring forward the necessary legislation as soon as possible.

Garda Operations

Jonathan O'Brien

Ceist:

62 Deputy Jonathan O’Brien asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the average response times for callouts by the gardaí in each district within the Cork city division; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24736/11]

I am informed by the Garda authorities that statistics relating to Garda response times for call-outs in Cork city are not readily available as incidents referred to the Garda control room for Cork city are manually recorded. I have been advised by the Garda authorities that the highest importance is given to emergency calls in Cork city and that they are responded to on a priority basis. The Garda authorities have also informed me that the system for dealing with emergency calls in Cork city is kept under ongoing review and they are satisfied the current service is effective in delivering efficient arrangements to the community.

The Minister's response raises two questions. Given the unavailability of response times, how can one judge whether they are sufficiently quick? If one does not record response times, how does one determine whether they are improving?

Last night, I attended a successful meeting of my local policing forum attended by approximately 180 people. I was struck by a comment by the superintendent of the Mayfield district of Cork, in which Cork Prison is located, that a considerable number of Garda resources in the district are used for the transport of prisoners to the courts. Is the Minister examining the transportation of prisoners with a view to freeing up Garda resources, especially given that Garda numbers are declining? Is the proposed civilianisation of aspects of policing an option for addressing this issue?

Since my appointment as Minister for Justice and Equality no one has drawn my attention to there being major difficulties with regard to call-out times in Cork. In circumstances in which a manual system is still operating, there is a difficulty in accessing the information the Deputy is seeking. If such information were electronically maintained, it would and should be readily available.

The transport of prisoners is a major security issue. We cannot have untrained civilians driving prisoners to and from courts. On a regular basis prisoners coming from the prisons to the courts may be constrained in a particular way and there are particular difficulties. It is not unusual that the Garda is involved in the transport of prisoners. However, in the context of using members of the Garda Síochána to the best advantage to the benefit of the public and utilising the expert training they have received, I know the Garda Commissioner is examining all the various functions gardaí perform to see to what extent they may be civilian-based.

I certainly do not envisage untrained civilians driving prisoners to the courts or using handcuffs. That would be not only inappropriate but dangerous and it is not a policy I would favour.

That is not what I was suggesting. I am suggesting that, when considering the roll-out of the civilianisation process, we give special attention to those Garda districts which contain prisons. We should consider freeing up as many gardaí as possible in order that we do not compromise either on the transport of prisoners or the service provided for communities in terms of response times. Can we focus on putting as many people as possible in administrative roles within the districts containing prisons?

I generally support the idea of civilianising basic administrative functions, some of which are currently undertaken by members of An Garda Síochána, and the issue forms part of the review. As Minister for Justice and Equality, I have an obligation to reduce expenditure. We must be careful that as garda numbers decrease in line with our EU-IMF commitment, we do not spend almost as much recruiting large numbers of civilians to undertake administrative tasks. There is a balance to be maintained and operational decisions must be made by the Garda Commissioner. The Deputy can assume it is my view and that of the Government that gardaí should be placed as frequently as possible in positions in which they can utilise their training and provide the front-line policing services required. We should not have members of the Garda force unnecessarily working on administrative tasks in a back office if such tasks could well be undertaken by civilians.

Garda Vetting Service

Pearse Doherty

Ceist:

63 Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to increase the efficiency of the garda vetting unit in preparation for a greater workload and remit in the near future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24743/11]

The Garda central vetting unit, GCVU, provides employment vetting for a large number of organisations that employ or engage in a voluntary capacity persons to work with children or vulnerable adults. There are more than 18,000 organisations registered with the GCVU. In the period 2007 to 2010 the number of vetting applications increased from 187,864 to 291,938. That is, by any standards, a huge increase in demand. I am conscious of the need to keep the time required to obtain vetting to the minimum possible. Since I was appointed Minister, I have take a number of initiatives to reduce this timeframe. However, it is only right that I praise those employed in the vetting unit who do a substantial amount of work under increasing pressure in terms of the number of applications for vetting.

A number of steps have been taken to improve the position. The sanction of the Department of Finance was obtained to retain the services of ten temporary employees. Further sanction was obtained to engage an additional ten temporary employees who have recently commenced work in the GCVU. Other measures aimed at improving turnaround times are also under consideration. All of this should have a positive impact on processing times. I am informed by the Garda authorities that the average processing time for vetting applications received at the GCVU is approximately ten weeks.

Responsibility for the deployment of Garda personnel is an operational matter for the Garda Commissioner, taking into account all the various demands and requirements. I am informed by the Garda authorities that there is a total of five gardaí, 76 full-time Garda civilian personnel and 20 temporary civilian personnel assigned to the GCVU. This represents a significant increase in the number of personnel assigned to the unit which stood at only 13 before the current process of development of Garda vetting began in 2005.

The Deputy will be aware that the Government has approved the draft scheme of a national vetting bureau Bill. The Bill which will establish a statutory basis underpinning vetting procedures for persons who are to work with children and vulnerable adults will be published in accordance with the Government's legislative programme. The establishment of a national vetting bureau which will take over the work of the GCVU will have resource implications which I will be pursuing with my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

The Minister mentioned other measures were being considered to improve waiting times. Can he give us more information on what these are?

I hope it will be possible to provide, under the new internship scheme, some internship experience for persons currently unemployed. I had a conversation with the Garda Commissioner when the new JobBridge scheme was announced and it is my understanding the Garda has taken the initial steps necessary to recruit interns to the vetting unit. Working at the unit will give them important job experience while contributing to a reduction in waiting times for vetting.

I do not regard ten weeks as an appropriate time for the completion of vetting applications. I have talked to the Commissioner about this and believe it is a necessary objective to get the timeframe down to an average of about four weeks, save where there are unusual circumstances — for example, in cases in which information must be sought from abroad. When we entered government, the waiting time was 14 weeks. This has been reduced to ten weeks and I hope further progress will be made as we continue through this year and into next year.

Is there a facility for people who have urgent requests for vetting? I know of one case in which a guy needed Garda clearance to get a visa. Can we consider urgent applications on a case-by-case basis?

I raised with the Garda Commissioner the need for what I described as a fast-track system for special circumstances in which job offers were available for only a short period of time and vetting had to be undertaken with some speed. The difficulty, of course, is that if everyone sought to use this system, it would undermine its effectiveness. It has not yet proved possible, because of the number of applications being received, to establish a regular fast-track system. I am aware that there have been occasions on which there has been genuine, readily identifiable urgency with vetting applications; in such cases those in charge of the facility in Tipperary have co-operated and engaged in vetting with some speed when they had the information necessary to ensure the process was completed properly.

Garda Deployment

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

64 Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if the Garda Commissioner is required to produce service level agreements; if so, the role population figures, existing crime rates and so on play in determining the resource allocation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24605/11]

The levels of service to be provided by the Garda Síochána are set out each year in the annual policing plan which is laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas. The annual plan sets out the policing priorities for that year, the key actions to be taken in respect of each priority and the performance indicators by which the outcomes can be measured. The allocation of Garda personnel is determined by Garda management using a distribution model which takes into account a number of factors, including population, crime trends and the policing needs of each Garda division.

If that was the case, I certainly would not be asking this question. I have no confidence whatsoever in the equitable sharing of resources, particularly in view of the blunt instrument that is the public sector recruitment embargo. Areas that have a disproportionately low number of gardaí relative to their populations do worse in such an environment. Commuter belt areas that have grown rapidly in recent years are a case in point. Does the Minister think it fair that a county such as Kildare, with a population of 209,000, has 328 gardaí, while the combined area of Sligo-Leitrim, with a population of less than 100,000, has three gardaí more? No matter how one looks at it, counties Meath, Kildare, Wicklow or Wexford are the kinds of places which are not getting a fair share. I believe criminals themselves are reading the numbers because there have been some high profile happenings in recent years that virtually invite the committing of crimes in places known to have a low ratio of gardaí. One cannot police without adequate numbers.

I reiterate that these are operational decisions made by the Garda Commissioner. In that context it is worth bringing to the Deputy's attention that the detailed allocation of Garda resources, including equipment, and the allocation of personnel to various units are a matter for the Garda Commissioner to decide upon on the basis of his identified operational requirements. These vary from location to location. The deployment of Garda personnel throughout the country, together with overall policing arrangements and operation of strategy, is continually monitored and reviewed. Such monitoring ensures optimum use is made of Garda resources and the best possible Garda service is provided to the public.

The Deputy may not be aware that Garda management is aided by what is known as the Garda establishment re-distribution model. The Commissioner advises that this model indicates the most effective means to distribute Garda personnel and acts as a guide to Garda management decision making. It takes into account many different policing variables, including socioeconomic factors, census information, crime trends and the minimum establishment required for each district. The allocation of Garda personnel is determined by these factors which also take account of the policing requirements of each division. This very much influences the approach taken by the Garda Commissioner.

As Minister for Justice and Equality, it is not my role to direct the Commissioner as to how many gardaí to allocate to individual districts or Garda stations. The needs in these areas can vary from time to time, depending on crime levels, instances that occur or special events that may give rise to concern.

I have made the point, as have other Deputies in my area, of meeting very senior gardaí, up to the rank of assistant commissioner. They do not disagree with us. It appears to be that what one has one holds. In the context of an embargo, there is no commitment to redeploying people.

I have been listening to this for years. I now have an opportunity to ask the question or put the point whereas for many of those years I did not. I do not accept that the model is working. It certainly does not work in developing areas.

The review taking place throughout the Garda Síochána, and the feedback sought by the Garda Commissioner from his senior officers last June to a document produced to them, give senior officers in every area an opportunity to feed into the process. In so far as any senior officer is of the belief that his or her station and the needs of the community he or she serves are not being adequately considered, or in so far as he or she believes there should be a redistribution of the resources of the force in the context of manpower, womanpower or patrol cars, those senior officers have a unique opportunity to feed into that process. Even without it, if senior officers have a complaint to make or a concern to express, they have a direct line to the Garda Commissioner. I reiterate that it is an operational matter for the Garda Commissioner.

I refer to an earlier question. The police committees that involve co-operation between senior members of the Garda and members and officials of local authorities provide a very useful forum for local communities to focus on their concerns, or for a senior member of the Garda to raise concerns openly about differences being experienced in any particular station, thereby engaging with local elected representatives. All of this can feed into ensuring we have a better, more responsive and community-oriented police service. That was the initial purpose of providing these committees, to encourage that type of interaction between members of the Garda locally, local communities and elected representatives.