I move amendment No. 2:
To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:
— the commitment in the Programme for Government to close engagement between An Garda Síochána and local communities;
— the Government’s commitment to implement the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland entitled ‘A Policing Service for the Future’, including the key action for the redeployment of members of An Garda Síochána away from noncore duties and into communities;
— the new Garda Operating Model which will reorganise resources around the delivery of frontline policing, emphasising engagement with communities and supporting victims of crime;
— the commitment of Government to continue recruitment to An Garda Síochána;
— the recruitment of more than 3,500 additional Gardaí since 2014, amounting to 14,648 Garda members at the end of August 2020, with an additional 3,344 civilian staff;
— that in addition to the 4,059 Gardaí assigned to the Dublin Metropolitan Region at the end of August 2020, 429 Garda civilian staff were also assigned to this region, which is an increase of 184 on the figure in 2010, supporting the release of Garda members from noncore duties to front line policing duties;
— that Gardaí in all regions are also supported by national specialist units such as the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, the Criminal Assets Bureau, the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and the Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau;
— that in 2020 to date, 520 Garda trainees have been attested as sworn members of An Garda Síochána;
— the Government’s commitment to combatting the use of unlicensed fireworks in the State, by restricting the availability of all hazardous fireworks to the general public;
— that the penalties for offences related to unlicensed fireworks are severe, such as fines of up to €10,000 or up to five years imprisonment;
— that licences under the Explosives Act, 1875, are issued by the Department of Justice and Equality only for the importation of fireworks to be used in organised displays conducted by professional and competent operators;
— that throughout the Dublin Metropolitan Region, Community Gardaí together with the Divisional Crime Prevention Officer, working in conjunction with Dublin Fire Brigade, will promote the awareness of the dangers associated with fireworks;
— that in response to a noted increase in concerns relating to unlicensed fireworks the Garda Operation Tombola commenced on 4th September, which is one month earlier than in previous years;
— that under Operation Tombola, Gardaí have put in place local operational plans to tackle the sale of fireworks, including through high visibility policing and utilising the Divisional Public Order Units as appropriate;
— that since 16th August, 2020, An Garda Síochána have seized a significant number of fireworks, in some instances resulting in prosecutions;
— the Department of Justice and Equality’s annual safety campaign, aimed at ensuring the public is aware of the dangers of illegal fireworks and bonfires;
— An Garda Síochána’s partnership approach to problem solving with the community and other agencies in the policing of the Halloween period and the importance of local Gardaí continuing to receive information directly from communities; and
— the very strong cooperation between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and An Garda Síochána, which takes place via a range of measures including a crossborder policing strategy, an annual crossborder seminar on organised crime, the Joint Agency Task Force and through parallel investigations and Joint Investigation Teams;
— that despite the Government’s policy on the matter, the use of unlicensed fireworks continues to be a problem and presents a significant safety risk, particularly in the weeks leading up to Halloween;
— the disturbance and distress caused by the unregulated and illegal use of fireworks in the lead up to Halloween and the impact on quality of life;
— the risk to health and safety of persons, animals, businesses and property by the illegal and unsupervised use of fireworks;
— the risk of injury, in particular to young children who are exposed to, or use illegal fireworks;
— the fear that can be experienced, in particular by elderly people in our communities and the impact on household pets and agricultural livestock; and
— the particular importance this year, given the impact of Covid19, that all steps are taken to prevent any additional strain on the public health system which could result from firework related injuries;
supports the Government’s:
— commitment to prioritise visible policing in communities and to redeploy Gardaí from noncore duties to enable an enhanced focus on policing matters, including community policing;
— plan to extend the powers of An Garda Síochána to use closed-circuit television (CCTV) to help prevent crime and prosecute those involved;
— commitment to establish an expert forum on antisocial behaviour;
— intention to introduce a national community safety policy and to develop community safety partnerships in every local electoral area which will bring together communities, An Garda Síochána, local authorities and essential services from across Government to jointly tackle community safety issues;
— commitment to introduce a new Youth Justice Strategy in the coming months which will bring together the full range of communitybased youth justice interventions to be tailored for the needs of local communities; and
— commitment to keep under review the start date for Operation Tombola each year to ensure a timely response; and
— its ongoing support for An Garda Síochána and the work the Gardaí do every day on behalf of communities across the country;
— its support of the Government’s commitment to support communities and take all necessary steps to reduce incidence of antisocial behaviour, including the illegal use of fireworks; and
— its support of the Government’s commitment to work with communities and support them in accessing the right services and empowering them to be involved in issues affecting their quality of life.”
While it is not possible for the Government to support the Private Members’ motion tabled by Sinn Féin, I welcome the opportunity to update the Dáil on the ongoing proactive work the Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána are doing to both raise awareness of the dangers and illegality of fireworks and to combat their importation, sale and use. An amendment setting out the current and future work of the Government in this regard has been tabled and moved and I will, with the agreement of the House, take it as read.
At the outset, I assure Members that the Government is committed to ensuring Ireland is a safe and secure place for all. The well-being of our communities is a priority and we want members of the public to be confident and secure in going about their lives at all times of the year. I share the concerns raised about the misuse of fireworks. Deputies will appreciate that at this time of year, combating the abuse of fireworks presents additional challenges for authorities. But I can assure Deputies that these challenges are factored into annual work plans and appropriate resources are in place to address them. That said, the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and I are all too conscious of the numerous incidents and, sadly, some serious accidents arising from the use of illegal fireworks.
Every year in the run up to Hallowe'en, my Department and An Garda Síochána, together with local authorities and the emergency services, engage in additional work to try to keep everyone safe and to raise awareness of the dangers associated with improper use of fireworks. Just today, the Minister, Deputy McEntee, launched the Department of Justice and Equality’s annual fireworks awareness campaign. We are asking people thinking about using and buying fireworks to think again and not to add to the problems already faced by so many in our communities during this pandemic.
Our emergency services are battling Covid-19. We owe it to them this Hallowe'en not to unnecessarily increase the pressure they are facing by filling emergency rooms with preventable injuries caused by the use of illegal fireworks. Our elderly neighbours, who already are worried about the pandemic and who have cocooned and restricted their movements, do not need the extra worry of fireworks going off near their homes. When it comes to fireworks, we are asking people to not add to the problem.
Nobody disagrees with the fact that fireworks are explosives which can maim and even kill. Nor will anyone contest the fact that fireworks are dangerous in untrained and unlicensed hands. They also cause serious distress for pets and livestock. What we cannot agree with is the suggestion that the Government and An Garda Síochána are not proactively addressing these issues. It is not correct to infer that the increased use of fireworks is as a result of lacking resources or action on the part of Garda authorities or that members of the Garda are not working closely with local communities to deal with this in an appropriate way. We have strong legislation dealing with the importation, sale and use of illegal fireworks. An Garda Síochána already has launched its Hallowe'en policing plan, Operation Tombola. This year, it was launched a month early in Dublin in recognition of the increased use of fireworks.
The sale or use of fireworks by unlicensed people is not only incredibly dangerous, it is illegal. Government policy restricts the availability of all hazardous fireworks to the public. Licences under the Explosives Act are issued by the Department of Justice and Equality only for the importation of fireworks to be used in organised displays conducted by professional and competent people. The penalties for misusing fireworks go right up to fines of €10,000 and five years in prison. The penalties are high because the dangers are real.
In addition to the power to make arrests for the possession of unlicensed fireworks, the Garda has available several strong legislative provisions to combat antisocial behaviour more generally. These include the Criminal Damage Act 1991; the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994; the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 2003; and the Intoxicating Liquor Acts 2003 and 2008.
Deputies should acknowledge the significant efforts made all year, but redoubled at this time, by An Garda Síochána to combat the importation, sale and use of illegal fireworks. Operation Tombola runs across the country until the end of October. It focuses on combating the illegal importation, sale and use of fireworks and ensures appropriate policing plans are in place over this period. Each district has its own plan, focusing on preventing public disorder and antisocial behaviour through the deployment of resources, including Garda public order units to augment local plans, as appropriate and necessary.
As well as recognising this work, I ask the House to also recognise the close and ongoing co-operation between the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, and An Garda Síochána. Mechanisms are in place that provide a good overarching framework for co-operation between the two forces, support law enforcement efforts and allow the policing services to identify the appropriate and most effective response in all matters, including the movement of illegal fireworks across the Border. In fact, the Minister, Deputy McEntee, was informed by the Commissioner that this specific issue will be discussed at a strategic level at a forthcoming meeting of the cross-border joint agency task force strategic oversight group in the coming days.
Regarding Garda resources, it is important to note that the Commissioner is responsible for managing and controlling An Garda Síochána and for the allocation and efficient use of Garda resources. This includes decisions regarding the allocation and deployment of Garda personnel nationwide. The Commissioner and his management team are best placed to make the expert judgments necessary about where to place Garda resources. It would not be appropriate to substitute our judgment for that of the Commissioner and his management team. That said, I assure Deputies that the Government is committed to continuing to train and induct new recruits into An Garda Síochána annually. Funding has been provided to An Garda Síochána in budget 2020 for the recruitment of up to 700 gardaí, and additional Garda staff, the balance of which will be for the Commissioner to decide, based on identified operational demands.
The programme for Government gives priority to more visible policing in rural and urban communities and the removal of Garda members from administrative, technical and other non-core duties to allow them focus on core policing matters. A key commitment in the policing reform plan, A Policing Service for the Future, is the roll-out of An Garda Síochána's new operating model, which reorganises resources around the delivery of front-line policing, placing an increased emphasis on engaging with communities and supporting the victims of crime. This will strengthen further community policing and engagement and will provide a more localised, responsive policing service for each division nationwide.
I also draw attention to the Government's plan to bring the full range of community-based youth justice interventions together in a way that allows for them to be tailored to the needs of local communities and the specific challenges posed by young people in those communities. The youth justice strategy will set out specific commitments, and it is intended that it will be brought to Government before the end of the year.
We all agree that fireworks present more dangers than many seem to realise. These include dangers associated with explosion, which can injure, main or even kill, not to mention the negative impacts on the well-being of our communities. In light of Covid-19, the Government is aware that now, more than ever, it is particularly important that all steps are taken to prevent additional strain on the resources of hospitals, such as those which could result from preventable firework-related injuries.
The Government and An Garda Síochána are committed to combating the sale and use of unlicensed fireworks and to addressing related antisocial behaviour. We are working proactively together to do this - this year more than ever - and I ask the House to support the Government's amendment moved to reflect this intention. My colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy McEntee, will address the issues raised by the Deputies in her closing remarks later this evening.