Deputy Fitzmaurice and I want to discuss a date to reconvene the new beef task force. We are raising this issue today because the inaugural meeting of the task force, due last Monday, did not take place. My understanding is that when representatives of the Beef Plan Movement, the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association, INHFA, and Meat Industry Ireland, MII, turned up for the meeting, one of them got in the door but the others did not. The meeting did not take place due to unforeseen circumstances outside Agriculture House. Those unforeseen circumstances have left the beef task force parked. We need to have a date for the start of this process.
Topical Issue Debate
We need clarification on when the beef task force will meet. We all acknowledge that it is not good when people do not get to the table. There is a beef crisis. We cannot just bury our heads in the sand. We know that injunctions have been taken against some people. People were told that if the protests were stood down, the injunctions would be lifted. Can the Minister of State use his influence to help address that situation? In addition, the most important factor is that the farmers' representatives get back to the table and get the task force up and running. The beef industry is on its knees. We need solutions. We do not need to hear that this, that or the other set us back. We need to make sure that the chairman of the task force takes it by the scruff of the neck and moves it forward. If we listen to the farm leaders, we will not be able to move forward while there are injunctions hanging over people. That needs to be resolved.
The Deputies did not use up all their time. I know Deputy Eugene Murphy has an interest in this matter but, unfortunately, due to Standing Orders only those who tabled the matter can speak.
He can talk.
No, I cannot speak but that is all right.
As the Deputies will be aware, the inaugural meeting of beef task force scheduled for Monday, 14 October had to be suspended following events outside Agriculture House. Members of the task force were prevented from attending the meeting and were subject to physical violence and intimidation. Members of staff of my Department were also subjected to abusive and threatening behaviour. While I fully support the rights of individuals to engage in peaceful protest, I hope Deputies will agree that there are no excuses for the behaviour which occurred on Monday. It was completely unacceptable. I thank departmental staff who managed the situation in a calm and professional manner.
As I have previously stated, it is in the interests of everyone involved in the beef industry that the work of the task force goes ahead. The independent chair and my Department officials are continuing to consult stakeholders with a view to progressing key elements of the agreement. The task force's remit is to monitor the implementation of the actions arising from the agreement reached on 15 September and offers the most viable platform for strategic engagement with key stakeholders. The agreement involves a number of interventions which will provide immediate benefit for beef producers, as well as a range of strategic measures which seek to address structural imbalances in the sector. Beef producers will benefit from an immediate increase in a range of bonuses. This will increase the level of bonus being paid on certain animals, as well as significantly increasing the number of animals which will be eligible for a bonus. The cumulative effect is that more than 70% of all steer and heifers slaughtered will now be eligible for a bonus on top of the basic price.
A number of actions in the area of market transparency, beef promotion and strengthening the position of the farmer in the supply chain are included in the agreement. These measures set a course towards greater clarity for all stakeholders. The Department is also proactively engaging with several potential beef producer organisations which have the potential to strengthen the bargaining power of beef farmers in the supply chain. Two beef producer organisations have been formally recognised in recent weeks.
We established the beef market task force to provide the leadership to develop a sustainable pathway for the future of the beef sector in terms of economic, environmental and social sustainability. The intention was that the task force should provide a robust implementation structure for commitments entered into in the agreement, with timelines and stakeholder engagement. I urge all parties to make every effort to ensure that this important work can commence.
I thank the Minister of State for his reply but, regrettably, he has not provided what I sought, namely, a date. We all acknowledge the pressure on family farms. The formation of the new beef task force was one of the nuggets of the agreement secured on 15 September which encouraged people to step away from the picket lines. We need a date for when it will reconvene. We all agree that there are many questions to be answered and much work to be done.
What happened last Monday was regrettable on all sides. Nobody could condone it. I am sure I am not the only person who sent out an email advising of the potential for disarray outside Agriculture House. It could have been avoided but it was not. What I am seeking from the Minister of State in the House today is a date.
I, too, thank the Minister of State for his reply. There are a number of issues on which clarification is needed. Where stands the price index promised a month ago? As pointed out by the Minister of State, threatening behaviour serves no purpose and none of us here would agree with it. In regard to the judgments hanging over people's heads, we need a goodwill gesture such as a phone call by the parent company. Someone needs to stand up and be counted.
The Minister of State might indicate how many times it is envisaged that the task force will meet. My understanding of the agreement that was reached is that four months notice is required before weights can be changed. Over the past week, processors have announced different weights and categories. Is this within their remit ? If not, why is this behaviour not being tackled? The chairperson of the task force must show leadership and stand up and be counted. He must ensure that issues are resolved behind the scenes before they get out of hand.
On the final point made by Deputy Fitzmaurice, the chairman has shown leadership. He and officials from the Department passed through the group outside Agriculture House to meet other farm organisations that had declined the offer to meet him in the Department. He will continue his engagement of bilateral discussions with each stakeholder.
I cannot indicate a date at this point. I wish I could. The issue of injunctions could have been dealt with at the meeting in Agriculture House had members of the task force been allowed in. Rather than preventing them from entering the building, the protestors should have allowed them to be confronted on that issue under the structure of the task force. The issue could, perhaps, have been dealt with as a preliminary to the meeting.
In the context of the proposed number of meetings, there will be as many as is necessary. I do not want to pre-empt the work of the chairman. There are a number of measures that need to addressed but all of them will not necessarily require consideration by the full task force. It may be possible for some of them to be addressed by working groups. However, I am only speculating. There may be a range of meetings that will be led by working groups comprised of members of the task force rather than the full task force.
There is an agreement in place and actions and measures that need to be taken and addressed. I will come back to Deputy Fitzmaurice on the price index because I do not have an answer to hand. These issues should be dealt with through the forum. I appeal to everybody, including those who feel aggrieved at the way they were treated on Monday last in not being allowed to attend the meeting and those who prevented them from doing so, to let this task force set about its work. There have been two meetings already, one in Backweston and the other in Agriculture House. Let the task force get up and running. It is the interests of those of us who are committed to the beef sector to seek progress on all fronts.
Yesterday morning, there was a devastating fire at Scoil Chaitríona Cailíní at Measc Avenue in Coolock. As a result, the school has been closed and approximately 200 pupils who attend it have no accommodation. The junior school has also been closed for the remainder of this week at least. The mood in Coolock, Artane and Harmonstown is one of absolute shock. Teachers and staff, parents and children, are upset and cannot believe what has happened. This school has been at the heart of the local community for almost 60 years and there has been huge loyalty to it, with parents actively involved in fundraising for it and maintaining its surrounding gardens and so on. The school also facilitates local charity and other events. The area is an old established Dublin community, as evidenced yesterday when local people, St. Paul's youth club and the Coolock Residents Association rallied to the cause and provided tea for all those affected.
When I visited the site yesterday, I spoke to some of the staff and parents. I again extend my solidarity and support to the principal, Ms Imelda Whelan, the deputy principal, Ms Fiona Gormley, the board of management of the school and all those affected by the fire. A Garda investigation into the cause of the fire is under way. Hopefully, we will know the outcome of this investigation sooner rather than later.
I pay tribute to the fire services for their professionalism and bravery in bringing the fire under control as quickly as possible. Six units of Dublin Fire Brigade fought the blaze and eventually extinguished it. Thankfully, nobody was injured. As a result of the efforts of fire-fighters, the junior school suffered only water and smoke damage and it is hoped that it will be up and running again soon. There are reports that the efforts of the fire services were delayed owing to poor water pressure in the area. Yesterday, I met a resident who told me that the fire hydrant outside his house is full of concrete and not working. I understand the area experiences poor water pressure on an ongoing basis. These issues will need to be examined by Dublin City Council, Irish Water and Dublin Fire Brigade.
There is now an urgent need to provide alternative accommodation for the teachers and pupils. Everyone in the area is anxious that this be done as soon as possible. I acknowledge that the Minister and his officials visited the school site yesterday, and I thank them. The junior school which was damaged by water and smoke needs to be reopened quickly. Options for the senior school include temporary prefab accommodation on site. As the school is located on a large site, there is space for prefab accommodation but there may be planning requirements around putting them in place. As a result, consideration may need to be given to availing of spare capacity at other schools in the area. When the Minister spoke to the parents yesterday, they told him that they want their children to continue their schooling in the immediate area. I hope this can be facilitated.
It is hoped that the process of repairing and renovating the damaged school building can commence without undue delay, with a contractor on site in the shortest possible timeframe. This is a resilient school community that will overcome this setback. I look forward to hearing from the Minister what progress has been made since he visited the school yesterday.
I thank Deputy Haughey for raising this matter. As he stated, I met him and other representatives from the area at the school yesterday. I know all of them want to see this matter prioritised. We are as one in that regard.
In raising this matter, the Deputy has given me the opportunity to outline the steps being taken to ensure that Scoil Chaitríona Cailíní agus Scoil Chaitríona Naíonáin reopen as quickly as possible following the fire early yesterday morning. Like the Deputy, I commend the principal, Ms Imelda Whelan, and the deputy principal, Ms Fiona Gormley, on their leadership in respect of this issue.
I heard very strong sentiments coming from the community that it is looking for a locally based solution. I will pass that on to my officials.
Scoil Chaitríona Cailíní agus Scoil Chaitríona Naíonán are located on the same site at Measc Avenue, Coolock, Dublin 5. Scoil Chaitríona Naíonán is the junior school and enrols boys and girls from junior infants to first class. Some 236 pupils were enrolled in this school in September 2018 and the current staffing is a principal, 13 mainstream teachers and three special education teaching posts. Scoil Chaitríona Cailíní is the senior girls' school and enrols girls from second to sixth class. The enrolment in this school in September 2018 was 202 pupils and it has a current staffing of a principal, nine mainstream teachers and 2.6 special education posts. Boys from the junior school are enrolled in the adjacent St. Brendan's national school which has not been impacted by the fire. All three schools participate in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, programme.
As the Deputy is aware, following a fire early yesterday morning, Scoil Chaitríona senior national school was completely destroyed. While Scoil Chaitríona junior school was not damaged by the fire, it suffered some minor water damage. Both schools will remain closed for the rest of this week. I visited Scoil Chaitríona Cailíní yesterday morning to see for myself the impact of the fire and speak to the principal and school management. This is obviously a traumatic incident for all those connected to the school. My Department will provide every assistance to the school community during this difficult time. The immediate focus is getting the schools back in operation as early as possible next week. I understand that a number of local schools have offered assistance in meeting the immediate accommodation needs of Scoil Chaitríona senior school. Scoil Chaitríona junior school, while not damaged by fire, suffered some minor water damage. It will remain closed for the rest of this week and will hopefully be in a position to open next week.
The Department had a senior official liaising with the principal and school management throughout yesterday and this liaison will continue for as long as necessary. A senior architect from my Department was also out at the schools yesterday to assess the situation and met the principals of both the senior and junior schools. I understand the school authorities are meeting today, although I have had no feedback from that meeting at this juncture. They will update parents and staff in the first instance on the accommodation arrangements proposed for next week. Once the school has reopened, my Department will be in discussion with the school patron and board of management to explore all options available to address the school's accommodation needs pending the reinstatement of the destroyed building.
I thank the Minister for his response. I appreciate that this is an evolving situation and that meetings are taking place today, as the Minister said. Parents and children are very anxious about this matter. They need more definite arrangements to be conveyed to them as soon as possible. I appreciate that discussions are ongoing and various options are still under consideration, including utilising spare capacity in neighbouring schools. I thank those schools for offering their assistance. The sooner we can have clarity on all of these issues, the better. Deputies will be aware of the inconvenience caused for parents in particular when their children are off school. Parents have work and various commitments. It is not good for the children themselves, although they may not appreciate it, to be off school for long.
This was a devastating fire. There are a number of issues that need to be investigated. I know it is not the responsibility of the Minister but the Garda investigation should be concluded as soon as possible. Issues in respect of water pressure were reported in some of the media today and I heard about them at first hand yesterday. Apparently there was a delay in getting adequate water supply to the school to deal with the fire and water had to be taken from the Malahide Road, which is a little further away. All these issues need to be looked at but the sooner we can have clarity on this outcome and the new arrangements to be put in place, the better.
This is a resilient school community. It has experienced a setback but where there is a will, there is a way. We need the practical help and support of the Minister and his officials in their discussions with the school authorities to ensure that the accommodation is provided as soon as possible and the school is repaired and renovated in the shortest possible timeframe. Normality for all concerned has to be restored as soon as possible.
I agree with the Deputy and reiterate that a timeframe is needed. An outline is needed to allow families to make preparations. We are hoping to be in a position to have the junior school back next week. We are looking at all options in respect of temporary provision prior to the school being rebuilt, from prefabs to spare capacity in local schools. Everything is on the table. I do not want to highlight one option over another but we need a common sense solution. We certainly have an understanding that we need some sort of outline that gives parents confidence that their sons and daughters will be back in the classroom. We will keep the communication lines open. As soon as we get an information update, it will be conveyed to the parents through the usual channels of the principal and leadership of the school.
The Deputy used the word "resilience". I should say to everybody involved, from the emergency services right through to the Garda and school community, when push came to shove yesterday the community came together. We have a duty in the Department to respond to the needs and demands of that community and I am happy to step up to the plate in that regard. As soon as we have any direction or information on what will happen in the short term, not the medium to long term, I will be happy to forward it.
Urban Regeneration and Development Fund
Newbridge in County Kildare has seen significant population growth in recent years. With a population of more than 22,500, it is the biggest town in County Kildare and the tenth biggest town in Ireland. It also has potential for further sustainable growth and development through planned developments as well as land zoned in other areas. Newbridge faces challenges, however. The main challenge is that of traffic as the main street is choked with congestion. Kildare County Council has an important proposal that identifies a site for a second bridge over the River Liffey. Along with road construction, it would create a link between Great Connell Road and the Athgarvan Road. While the council still needs to acquire planning permission for the bridge, some of the road linkages are being developed through private sector developments as part of ongoing planning permissions.
As the Minister of State is aware, Project Ireland 2040, the Government's national development plan for the years to 2040, acknowledges the direct pressure on areas Kildare, which I represent, and Meath, which he represents. These areas experienced massive growth during a very short period in the Celtic tiger. Many housing developments were built while the key infrastructure around them was not built at the same speed or to the same capacity. Project Ireland 2040 identifies the need to support areas like these where we can play catch-up. Newbridge is a perfect example. We need to see investment in key infrastructure; the return on investment for the State will be tangible.
I am mindful that the next round of the urban regeneration and development fund, URDF, is due to open soon. I am raising this matter to see what steps Kildare County Council needs to take to strengthen its previous application and make a second bridge for Newbridge a top priority in its new application. The previous proposal sought to reduce congestion by moving traffic out of the town centre and off the main street. A new bridge would also complement other projects that have been developed or are being worked on. A grant has been allocated under the URDF towards the development of a cultural quarter in Newbridge. This will be at the lower end of the town closer to the river, where it will complement the redevelopment of our county grounds in St. Conleth's Park, the refurbishment of our town hall, which has happened, the planned upgrade of Riverbank Arts Centre and the development of a state-of-the-art library in that area. All of those elements are being funded through Project Ireland 2040 and there are ongoing plans for development of this cultural quarter. On the other side of Newbridge, further away from the river, we have a thriving retail hub around the Whitewater shopping centre.
Our main street has benefited from that. Our side streets can take more capacity and investment, all of which stems from ensuring we have a sustainable traffic plan for the future.
We can work on these projects because the National Transport Authority has a national transport framework developed for Newbridge. This plans to make Newbridge Main Street more accessible to pedestrians, cyclists and public transport. The project could result in investment of €10 million by the NTA into Newbridge. The proposed improvements would see the displacement of traffic off the main street, but the delivery of a second bridge is crucial to that. The improvements would result in a reduction of our carbon footprint as well, allowing more residents to move within the town, either by cycling or as pedestrians, and by ensuring that the traffic is taken away. This was identified in the previous application from Kildare County Council, which sought to help compact and consolidated development on the zoned lands in Newbridge's south-east quadrant. This bridge makes sense in a whole realm of different areas and I ask the Minister of State how Kildare County Council can put its best foot forward for the next round of funding for the urban regeneration development fund.
I thank Deputy Heydon for raising the need for a second bridge over the Liffey at Newbridge, County Kildare to be progressed through Project Ireland 2040 and the urban regeneration development fund, and for giving me the opportunity both to discuss that today and to outline how we as a Government believe that Project Ireland 2040 helps causes like this and helps to achieve, through the urban regeneration development fund, vital infrastructure like the bridge the Deputy has just outlined and other infrastructure.
The Deputy is correct in saying that Project Ireland 2040 sets out the plans for the next 20 to 25 years in this country, and through it we are going to try to rebalance population growth and housing construction with all of the required services. It will not just happen on the east coast, in Meath, Kildare, Dublin and many other places, but throughout the country. An important part of that regional balance is that while accommodating future development and growth in all counties, including additional growth in Meath and Kildare, we rectify some of the mistakes of the past. A key part of Project Ireland 2040 is recognising that examples can be seen in many areas in the greater Dublin region of Kildare, Meath, Wicklow and probably Louth where increased housing development, with all of the pressures that brings, was not matched with the infrastructure or services required. We want to try to correct that through the various funds as well as allowing for more compact development, developing a lot of those back streets in towns and villages, which the Deputy referred to, together with those brownfield sites that are not necessarily being used very well.
The urban regeneration development fund, URDF, is a flagship element of Project Ireland 2040, comprising an allocation of €2 billion in the national development plan to 2027, with €58 million available in 2019 and an overall Exchequer allocation of €550 million earmarked up to the end of 2022. The URDF was established to support more compact and sustainable development - sustainable is the key word when it comes to Newbridge - through the regeneration and rejuvenation of Ireland's five cities and other large towns, like Newbridge, in line with the objectives of the national planning framework and the national development plan. This is to enable a greater proportion of residential and mixed-use development to be delivered within the existing built-up footprints of cities and towns and to ensure that more parts of our urban areas can become attractive and vibrant places in which people choose to live and work as well as to invest in and visit.
That is the key part here, which is trying to go back into areas that experienced housing development - the Deputy pointed out Newbridge has quite a large population of 22,500 - and make such places are more attractive as places that people want to live in and raise their families. It is also to help these towns win investment and jobs to support people already living there and who will live there in the future. It is important that we get that right. We know that by investing through these funds, we are making towns, villages and cities more attractive and secure. This is about future-proofing communities, neighbourhoods, towns and villages, and that is what we are trying to achieve here.
Bids were invited from public bodies for funding under the URDF and a total of 189 applications were received by my Department in the first call for proposals earlier in 2018. On 26 November 2018, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, announced the initial URDF support of €100 million for a total of 88 projects throughout the country. The applications received contained a wide variety of themes and sectoral areas, from urban regeneration and public realm works to enabling strategic infrastructure to leveraging further development to cultural and amenity development. Applications received fell into two categories: projects that were ready to go and funding to support the initial development of projects, that is, master planning feasibility to ensure a pipeline of projects into the future.
The Deputy asked me what Kildare can do. Kildare County Council submitted seven proposals on the previous occasion, one of which was Newbridge. It was not successful at that time. It was the link road on the bridge from Great Connell Road to Athgarvan Road in Newbridge. This proposal did not achieve full marks and was not awarded the go-ahead then. The Deputy asked whether planning should be applied for. Planning would certainly help. There is also funding available under section B, to progress the planning, study, marketability and feasibility of that, which is also the case in Celbridge, County Kildare. That funding can be used as proof of concept to bring it through the various planning stages and to have it ready for funding under section A as well. There are two options with this fund that would suit this project, and Kildare County Council should make another application, as applications will be open again in the near future before the end of this year. I hope such an application will be successful this year.
I thank the Minister of State for his detailed response and will take his points of view on board. I am glad the urban regeneration development fund will open up for applications again before the end of the year. I will work closely with officials in the Kildare County Council, as I have done up until now, to ensure that we put our best foot forward for a second bridge for Newbridge. This bridge meets the objectives of the national planning framework, that is, sustainable, balanced development. It ticks all of those boxes. There is a pot of money of €10 million from the NTA for it to use Newbridge as a pilot scheme to develop an overall transport framework that could then be rolled out as a template for other provincial towns. This is a massive opportunity for us and we cannot allow that opportunity to be wasted. A second bridge is needed for that plan to work in its entirety.
Project Ireland 2040 is about making our towns and counties better places to live in. Many of my constituents in Newbridge aspire not to have to travel up the N7 or on the overcrowded trains out of Newbridge every day, and instead to be able to work locally in the area. A second bridge over the River Liffey would make Newbridge an even more attractive place for industry to invest in. We have jobs, industry and investment at the minute, but we yearn for more to give more options to our residents to live there.
I take the Minister of State’s point of view on board that it would help if the bridge had planning. There are ways that we can further that objective, perhaps, as we have developed sections of road privately. It may be possible to do that as well with a bridge. We will continue to do that work.
I will finish by saying that there are maps dating back to 1752, drawn up before the town started, marking the new bridge in the vicinity of Old Connell, and that gave its name to Droichead Nua. Hundreds of years later, our needs are very different but the demand and pressure on our town is very significant. Newbridge requires a second bridge or traffic will have nowhere to go off Main Street because it is currently congested. The benefits for residents and for the wider socio-economic environment in the greater Newbridge-south Kildare area are very significant, and I look forward to an application going into the Minister of State in the near future.
The Deputy is making a strong case for Newbridge and this infrastructure in the next round of funding. I understand the council has engaged with the officials in my Department since the previous round, in which it was not successful, although it had some success in other areas. It would be important that it would make a second application and make it as strong as possible by highlighting all the issues the Deputy has just highlighted, such as the potential growth of the town, the spaces that could still be used for compact development, more housing, community services, and – the key phrase – winning jobs to match the existing housing and population. That is what these funds are for.
Something that always happened was that long-term plans were set out, but under Project Ireland 2040, we are trying to back up those plans and make them happen by putting real money behind them. There is no point in having long-term planning and thinking if they are not backed up with the finances. For the first time, with the national development plan and the national planning framework, we have a ten-year plan of €116 billion in taxpayers’ money that is being and will be spent. A review of the first 18 months of Project Ireland 2040 shows that is happening. It can be seen that projects are part of a national plan. It is very important that when local authorities are making applications to these funds, they align them to the national objectives and strongly align them with local objectives to allow for a greater proportion of residential and mixed-use development to be delivered within the existing built-up footprint of cities and towns, which is exactly what the Deputy outlined in Newbridge. There is the opportunity, and it might correct some of the mistakes of the past and free up space and land for future development. That is key, as is making those links very clear. I hope that Kildare County Council will do that in the next round of funding, which I am happy to clarify will be open for applications before the end of the year.
I commend the front-line personnel, particularly those from Dublin, on their bravery. I commend the personnel in An Garda and Dublin Fire Brigade and the hospital staff on their actions last year and in previous years. I congratulate all those who were involved in community festivals and the like last year. Annually, a crisis seems to be caused by a shortfall in the Garda Síochána budget. This year, the Commissioner has announced that there is an overtime ban in place. This will obviously affect the deployment of gardaí around the Hallowe'en period. It is bizarre that at Hallowe'en, the busiest time of the year for An Garda, personnel are expected to operate with reduced numbers. If the ban is not reversed, there will be 50% fewer gardaí on duty this year to give support to Dublin City Council. Council staff will come under attack when removing illegal bonfire material from public parks, back gardens and derelict sites. There will be 50% fewer gardaí on the streets to stop the attacks on Dublin Fire Brigade personnel when they seek to put out bonfires and the like. There will be 50% fewer gardaí to prevent criminal and anti-social behaviour during what is supposed to be a joyous occasion. I appeal to the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, to release the funding required so that people throughout Ireland, not only in Dublin, will be safe in their homes and neighbourhoods this Hallowe'en night and in the run-up to the festival.
I will give the Minister of State an illustration of the scale of the problem in Dublin City Council and the problem facing Garda Síochána management, using an example from my area, Dublin South-Central. Some 175 tonnes of bonfire material was removed from premises in my area, at a cost of €43,000, not including the cost of the clean-up. Hundreds of tonnes in addition were removed across the city. Some 3,500 pallets were removed in my area alone. They were stockpiled dangerously in flat complexes, at the rear of shops, on derelict sites, at houses and in garages. They were a threat to residents. I appeal to the Minister of State to address the shortfall in the Garda budget and to appeal to the Commissioner to lift the overtime ban for the duration of the Hallowe'en festival period.
I received an email from the Dublin South-Central Forum, which was concerned not about the fact that the Commissioner has control over overtime funding but that there would not be enough gardaí on the streets in the next week or so over the Hallowe'en period. It is crucial to residents and Dublin City Council officials and staff, including those in the parks, to have the support of gardaí, especially between 6.30 and 10.30 on Hallowe'en night. In most areas of Dublin South-Central festivities proceed satisfactorily, but there are pockets of anti-social and crime related activity. Such activity was evident last year, causing major problems in the area. There was great concern. Residents' associations and others, along with Dublin City Council, had to try to deal with the matter with the Garda.
It is very important to indicate to the Commissioner that where the council indicates there are problems, gardaí should be doing overtime on the evening in question to control any serious activity. Is there a cut? Will gardaí be deployed? Will there be more gardaí on the streets on Hallowe'en night?
On behalf of the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, who cannot be here this afternoon, I thank both Deputies sincerely for raising this important issue. I join Deputy Ó Snodaigh in recognising the work of front-line personnel at this time and throughout the year, in addition to the community personnel, who do such good work. The Deputy is correct in what he says.
As the Deputies will be aware, the allocation of all Garda resources, including personnel, is solely a matter for the Garda Commissioner and his management team. The Minister has no direct role in this regard. However, I can assure the Deputies that An Garda Síochána continues to take all forms of anti-social behaviour very seriously.
An Garda Síochána has put in place measures in every division to prevent and detect the sale and organised importation of fireworks in the lead-up to Hallowe'en. Operation Tombola is designed to address all aspects of the policing of the Hallowe'en period, including the prevention and detection of illegal fireworks for sale and associated public disorder and anti-social behaviour. Specific policing plans under Operation Tombola are designed and determined by local district officers in advance of and during Hallowe'en night. These plans address issues of anti-social behaviour that may arise through the incremental deployment of resources, including public order unit personnel, to augment local plans where required.
Gardaí have developed a partnership approach to problem solving with the community and agencies. Intelligence is collated and appropriate actions are taken to make any necessary seizures. Local intelligence is acted upon through searches under warrant where appropriate, with liaison maintained with local authorities to ensure the removal of bonfire material. Immigration officers at ports work closely with customs staff at points of entry to the State in the run-up to Hallowe'en, including to search for illegal fireworks being brought into the country.
Liaison is also maintained with Dublin Fire Brigade in the run-up to and including Hallowe'en night. Routine patrols by plain-clothes patrols and high-visibility uniform personnel are also carried out to combat the sale of illegal fireworks and prevent or mitigate against public disorder and other anti-social behaviours. Garda personnel are briefed on and watch out for the use of fireworks, with checkpoints mounted on principal roads to search for any illegal fireworks being transported into this jurisdiction.
Leading up to Hallowe'en every year, special efforts are made by An Garda Síochána to combat the illegal importation, sale and use of fireworks. I remind Deputies that each year as Hallowe'en approaches, my Department runs an advertising campaign highlighting both the public safety aspects of using fireworks, in addition to the illegality. The campaign will be launched this Monday, 21 October 2019, and will commence in print and online media.
The Commissioner is, by law, responsible for managing this budget. I am aware of his recent direction regarding measures to address budgetary pressure, including a halt to certain discretionary spending, including on overtime for administrative duties. The overtime budget cannot be considered in isolation, however. As part of the Government's plan to achieve an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021, there is ongoing and increased recruitment of new gardaí in addition to Garda staff, allowing for redeployment of gardaí to operational duties at the front line. There are currently more than 14,200 gardaí nationwide, supported by more than 2,700 Garda staff, and these numbers are increasing. This ongoing recruitment will provide the Commissioner with resources to deploy increasing numbers of gardaí to deliver a visible, effective and responsive policing service to communities across all Garda divisions. This ongoing investment is with a view to providing the best possible policing service to all our communities, rural and urban.
In all that, I did not hear that the overtime ban was being lifted. I heard it is a matter for the Commissioner. He is trying to save €6.5 million with the overtime ban, yet he had to spend in excess of €13 million on security for the US President, Mr. Donald Trump, and the US Vice President, Mr. Pence. That would go a long way towards addressing the shortfall and the dangers posed by overtime ban, especially in the period in question. There are successful festivals in local areas, such as the Liberties, Markievicz Park and California Hills Park, Ballyfermot, and at Clogher Road sports centre. There are quite successful diversionary projects but we are talking about very dangerous elements who cause major damage to public properties. I ask the Minister of State to consider the consequences for the affected communities, at the time and afterwards. Can a supplementary budget be considered to address the shortfall in the Garda Síochána Vote to ensure that all communities, not only in Dublin but also throughout the rest of the State, will have the required level of policing so there will be no major damage done or loss of life as a consequence of an overtime ban?
I agree with Deputy Ó Snodaigh. The Minister of State, in his reply, made no reference to requesting the Commissioner to work with his superintendents to find out the areas that could have problems. There was no reference to identifying where the problems were last year, particularly considering there were crime related groups involved in the anti-social behaviour. They nearly started a turf war last year in parts of Dublin South-Central.
I understand that there will be a meeting of superintendents tomorrow morning. It is their routine Friday meeting. Perhaps they could be asked to consider these areas and approach the Commissioner to say that additional resources are needed. We cannot have 50% fewer gardaí than last year in areas where there are serious problems. It was difficult enough to deal with them last year.
I again thank the Deputies for raising this very important matter, and I mean that. Working with communities to tackle public disorder and reduce anti-social behaviour is a key priority for the Garda.
The Garda cannot get the extra resources for that work.
This approach includes a strong focus on quality-of-life issues and collaboration with local authorities to help address the causes of antisocial behaviour. I agree that Garda visibility in our communities is important, especially during the Hallowe'en period. The Government remains committed to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country in order to maintain and strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance to citizens and deter crime. The Garda Commissioner makes the decisions on the ground, though. The Garda's new operating model is structured to achieve these goals. It will mean increased numbers of gardaí working on the front line and community policing teams dedicated to working with communities to identify and tackle problem crimes in their areas. These changes will see the delivery of a more responsive, more efficient and better service to local communities.
The Government is making an unprecedented investment in the Garda. The allocation for 2020 is increasing by €122 million to an unprecedented €1.88 billion. The capital allocation in the Garda Vote is also increasing by 26% to a total of €116.5 million. Some €95 million was provided for Garda overtime in 2019. This level of overtime is being maintained for 2020. The ongoing recruitment and increasing size of the Garda workforce is expected over time to alleviate pressure on the overtime budget. The more gardaí we have in the force and the more we can release to the front line, the less pressure there will be on the overtime budget.
We will ensure that the Garda Commissioner is made aware of the Deputies' concerns. I will also speak to the Minister to ensure he is aware. I thank the Deputies for raising this important matter and for their interest in it.