Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Crime Prevention

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

115. Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Justice the way her Department intends to support the implementation of the proposals within a report completed by a person (details supplied) on challenges of criminal activities affecting the community in Dublin 17. [28087/21]

This question relates to the progress in implementing the policing dimensions of a report by Jack Nolan, a former senior garda, into the problems and "enduring challenges", as he called them, in an area of Dublin 17.

I welcome the recent report which has set out a socio-economic and community plan for Darndale and the surrounding areas in Dublin 17. Under the justice plan 2021, my Department is committed to supporting and working with Dublin City Council, DCC, to ensure the implementation of the report on Darndale, Belcamp and Moatview.

As the Deputy is aware, DCC commissioned this report in response to the escalating levels of violence in these areas of north Dublin in 2019 and 2020. The report provides a comprehensive overview of the areas’ assets, services, and significant levels of State supports, as well as its inherent challenges. The Darndale implementation oversight group was established in February of this year and meets monthly, and is chaired by former Assistant Garda Commissioner Jack Nolan. The importance placed on the implementation of the report by An Garda Síochána is demonstrated by the presence of the local chief superintendent, superintendent and inspector, all of whom sit on the group. Further reflecting the importance of this work, the implementation group and my Department have agreed that the Department will also now be part of this group.

While many of the report's recommendations relate to issues such as youth services, drugs services, the physical environment and community services and facilities, I am informed that implementation of the Garda actions is well under way, including the community hub proposal. As well as important recommendations related to crime prevention and dismantling gangs, two key recommendations include the need to strengthen community participation and leadership, and the need for more collaboration in the delivery of State services. This closely aligns with the work my Department is undertaking to develop a new community safety policy in line with the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. This new policy will ensure communities are safer and feel safer by making community safety a whole-of-government responsibility and priority, to be delivered at a local level through community safety partnerships, supported through a national governance structure. Three pilot partnerships are being established in Dublin's north inner city, Longford and Waterford and will run for the next two years.

Is the Minister of State in a position to report on whether there is any progress in, as she rightly says, the disruption of crime gangs that are a real problem? In the prevention of young people getting sucked into the backwash of the drugs trade and in the setting up a structured community policing for those three neighbourhoods, do we have concrete evidence of new resources and methods in place?

The Garda youth diversion projects are a fundamental support to the operation of the statutory Garda diversion programmes and provide a vital ingredient in enhancing community policing partnerships. These partnerships are community based, multi-agency crime prevention initiatives. There are 105 Garda youth diversion projects nationally and the intention is to further develop the service so it is available to every child in the State who could benefit from this.

On the budget for the Garda youth diversion projects, €18 million of funding has been provided in 2021 with a further allocation of €3 million for the Greentown pilot projects, the bail supervision scheme and the University of Limerick research evidence into policy, programmes and practice project. There is much work under way in relation to this.

I very much appreciate that. Can the Minister of State monitor the progress indicators of that initiative over time? Also, is she involved in the action, as envisaged in the programme for Government, of looking at districts like this on a wider basis and mirroring what happened in the north-east inner city, where there could be an education dimension, a youth services dimension, a tenancy policy dimension and so on?

That is a commitment in the programme for Government. Is the Department involved in preparing for the delivery of those initiatives? This area would be a prime candidate for such an initiative.

I am advised by local Garda management that it is continually monitoring and preparing all policing plans pertaining to the Coolock area in line with the needs of the community. This includes having regular liaisons with resident groups and taking into account evolving crime trends. The Deputy is correct that this issue needs to be monitored and we have to ensure that the outputs are meeting the needs of the local community. Prior to Covid, local Garda management conducted numerous clinics on a weekly basis, which served as an important conduit between the force and the local community. Despite the pandemic, and in line with Government guidelines, liaison continues between the Garda and the local community through online platforms where possible, supporting and assisting the most vulnerable in the community. With the further easing of restrictions and new public health measures being announced, local Garda management is currently reviewing a plan to reinstate a full community policing engagement programme. It is envisaged that all Garda clinics will be reinstated in the coming months, with the addition of a new Garda clinic based at the Darndale Belcamp Village Centre to serve the surrounding communities. Discussions have also been taking place with stakeholders and community leaders.

Public Inquiries

Gino Kenny

Ceist:

116. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Justice if she will examine calls for an independent public inquiry into the death of a person (details supplied); if she will examine legal opinions on the way this may operate in parallel with any Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, investigation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30219/21]

My question refers to the ongoing GSOC investigation into the death of George Nkencho. Will the Minister examine the possibility of a public inquiry into his death?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. First, I extend my deepest sympathies to all those impacted by the tragic events in Hartstown last December, and in particular to the family of George Nkencho. As is the case in every incident involving the Garda that results in the death of a person, the shooting is being fully and independently investigated by GSOC, which is chaired by a High Court judge, Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring. GSOC has confirmed that it has begun a criminal investigation under section 98 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. It is open to GSOC to make wider systemic recommendations on issues it investigates and it is free to do so in this instance. As GSOC is statutorily independent in its operation and administration, it would not be appropriate for me as Minister to comment on or interfere in what is an ongoing independent investigation with full powers. However, I am confident that GSOC is treating this matter with the utmost priority and with the gravity it deserves. It is important for the family and all those involved in this tragedy that the investigation is done thoroughly, but as speedily as possible in the circumstances. As the Deputy will be aware, the then Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, met with the Nkencho family in April to hear from them directly. She assured them of GSOC's independence and that it is the most appropriate body to complete a full and impartial investigation into all of the circumstances relating to the death of Mr. Nkencho. I hope the Deputy will appreciate that I cannot discuss this matter in detail, given the ongoing investigation.

I thank the Minister for her statement. I appreciate that she cannot give a positive or conclusive answer about the ongoing GSOC investigation but the family have called for a public inquiry into the death of their son. The Minister will acknowledge that some of the vitriol and toxic messaging about George's death and the incidents around it, particularly on social media, has been absolutely horrible and horrifying for the family. Some of the stuff that has been said about that family is utterly reprehensible. It is terrible. The least the family deserve is a public inquiry into George's death. Whatever the conclusion of the GSOC investigation, that is the least they deserve.

I accept what the Deputy is saying but I want to be very clear that GSOC is the body that has been established to carry out these investigations. It has full powers and the authority to carry out a criminal investigation. It was set up to investigate issues such as this.

The Deputy may be interested to know that agreement has been reached so that local gardaí in Blanchardstown will be involved in the creation of a local diversity forum based on the Garda national diversity forum model. I very much welcome this development, which I understand will be the first local diversity forum to be established, and I hope it will help create closer connections between gardaí and the black Irish community in the Blanchardstown area. I have written to the Nkencho family to inform them that the forum is to be established.

I welcome that. To give an overview of the history of GSOC, many people have found the GSOC model and its findings to be unsatisfactory because it is essentially the police investigating the police in this circumstance and in other situations where lethal force was used by the police. There must be a public inquiry into this matter and there has to be accountability and transparency, not only for the Nkencho family, their supporters and friends, but for the community as a whole. What played out on that day was absolutely unacceptable. There must be an inquiry into the incident that happened at the end of December.

The Deputy mentioned that the Nkencho family had been abused, which is disgraceful and should not be happening. Regarding GSOC's powers, it is a statutorily independent body, which was established to investigate matters such as this. It can also make wider systematic recommendations on issues it investigates. In fact, a GSOC investigation constitutes a much more powerful and intrusive investigation than any other form of statutory inquiry. In this context, the most appropriate course of action is to await the outcome of GSOC's investigation, as the appropriate body established to investigate such incidents. Should there be any outstanding issues at the conclusion of this process, I will consider any other actions that may be appropriate at that time.

The next question is in the name of Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan but he is tied up with a committee vote.

Question No. 117 replied to with Written Answers.

Domestic Violence

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

118. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Justice further to Parliamentary Question No. 1462 of 21 April 2021, the status of the audit of the way responsibility for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence is segmented across different State agencies; when the audit will be finalised and published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30211/21]

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

127. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Justice the status of the progress in addressing recommendation 1.3 of Supporting a Victim's Journey: A Plan to Help Victims and Vulnerable Witnesses in Sexual Violence Cases, (details supplied). [30067/21]

Brendan Griffin

Ceist:

137. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Justice the status of the development of the next strategy to tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29393/21]

I would appreciate it if the Minister of State could zone in on my question. We will hear a lot about the national strategy on violence that is to be published but my question is about the status of the audit into the way responsibility for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence is segmented across different State agencies. I ask the Minister of State to give me a very specific answer on that, amidst whatever else she is going to tell me.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 118, 127 and 137 together.

The Government is fully committed to combating domestic violence in all its forms. I am acutely aware of the effects of these awful crimes and there was a significant increase in calls to An Garda Síochána in this regard in 2020. Recommendation 1.3 from Supporting a Victim's Journey is focused on developing better inter-agency co-operation and communication and suggests three sub-actions to deliver on this. The first is to conduct an audit of how responsibility for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services are segmented. A draft report was recently submitted to both the Department of Children Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and the Department of Justice and has been finalised. I expect it will be presented to me shortly and I will then discuss its recommendations with the Minister, Deputy O’Gorman.

It might be helpful for the Deputies here if the Minister of State explained the process. Deputy Cairns may also wish to contribute.

I think that Deputy Connolly is the only Deputy in the Chamber in whose name this question was submitted.

Lovely. Does that mean I get all the extra time?

The other Deputies are not here, so I will be relatively relaxed. The clock is ticking.

The specific question I asked concerned the audit. The Minister of State is telling me that the draft is there. When was that draft presented to the Department? When will it be published? This is one of several actions in this context, as the Minister of State said. We are waiting on the audit of the available emergency accommodation for victims of sexual and gender-based domestic violence from Tusla. I asked about that matter yesterday. That is not available yet either. We know all the figures, and we know that the Garda has done its best and that the wonderful Operation Faoiseamh was put in place during the Covid-19 pandemic. The worry, of course, is whether the resources will be there afterwards. In addition, the immediate worry is the horrific increase in domestic violence. The Garda Commissioner's report stated that domestic assaults had risen by 24% compared with the previous year, from 2019 to 2020. Calls in that regard had gone up by 16%. I could go on, but I will not. I ask the Minister of State to respond with precision.

Regarding the figures for Operation Faoiseamh, which began at the start of the pandemic, An Garda Síochána and the Government have put a major focus on this area. An Garda Síochána received approximately 43,500 calls to respond to domestic abuse incidents in 2020, which was an increase of 17%. More than 4,000 criminal charges were created in 2020 for breaches of orders under the Domestic Violence Act 2018, which is an increase of 24%. The Garda received approximately 10,000 calls to respond to domestic abuse incidents in the first quarter of this year, an increase of 7%, and more than 1,000 criminal charges were created in the first quarter of this year for breaches of orders under the Domestic Violence Act 2018. The increase in reported incidents during the restrictions, together with the proactive approach taken by An Garda Síochána, has resulted in more files being referred to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, for prosecution. This demonstrates that Operation Faoiseamh is working and it reinforces the message that perpetrators cannot act with impunity.

Regarding the audit, I expect it to come before me very shortly and I will be discussing the report with the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman. I completely comprehend the urgency regarding this matter and it is a priority for the Department.

I thank the Minister of State for that response. I appreciate it, and I know she understands the urgency associated with this issue. However, I have heard the word "shortly" already in respect of the promise from Tusla on emergency accommodation. I think at least nine counties have no refuges at all for victims of domestic violence. We have all the numbers from which we could quote, but it is doing a disservice for us, myself included, to quote these figures in a bland sort of way, given the amount of violence and suffering that is going on and is increasing.

The segmentation of services through all the Departments was the reason for this audit being undertaken. That is why it is important. It is to ensure that there is one point of contact and leadership in this area. We saw something similar concerning the national maternity strategy yesterday, in respect of there being no leadership on driving and implementing it. We know the figures for domestic abuse. We know they are rising and it is unacceptable. We want action now. The Minister for Justice told us that there would be such action and we respected that statement. This audit is only a tiny part of that action.

That is a priority. Deputy Connolly raised this issue yesterday, as she said, in respect of funding for refuge spaces. That falls within the remit of Tusla and it has undertaken a review of the need for refuge spaces and other accommodation. The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, is committed to ensuring that the needs of service users are met and that the recommendations of the review inform strategic actions under the third national strategy for domestic sexual and gender-based violence. Tusla also continues its ongoing engagement with all its funded service providers regarding service needs and supports, as the Deputy is aware. There are some 60 services throughout the country and we are acutely aware that the housing crisis is placing additional pressures on refuges and is making identifying longer-term services more difficult. Tusla has also advised that the length of stay for women and families in refuges has increased due to the lack of appropriate move-on accommodation. I assure the Deputy, however, that we are doing much work at Government level concerning that audit and also regarding supporting victims' journeys. A great deal of work is happening in that area and its progression is a priority for me.

An Garda Síochána

Paul Murphy

Ceist:

119. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Justice if she has met with the family or representatives of a person (details supplied) who died in Garda custody in 2005; if she will examine the setting up of an independent or public inquiry into the circumstances of their death; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30234/21]

Terence Wheelock left his home to buy a paintbrush 16 years ago yesterday. He never came home. He was picked up and arrested by gardaí and brought to Store Street Garda station. Terence entered a coma as a result of injuries he received there and he died in hospital three months later. The gardaí state that he hanged himself, but his family do not believe that and there are very good reasons to not believe it. The family continues to campaign for a public inquiry. The question then is whether the Minister will meet with the family and initiate a public inquiry.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I extend my deepest sympathies to the Wheelock family for their terrible loss, and the pain Terence's tragic death has caused to them. I am very conscious that yesterday, 2 June, was the 16th anniversary of the events which led to Terence's death in September 2005 and I know that this will be a difficult week for the family. My Department has recently written to the Wheelock family in response to a request they made for a public inquiry to be established to examine the circumstances surrounding Terence's death.

The Deputy will be aware that these events were the subject of an inquiry by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, and that the report of the inquiry was published by GSOC in March 2010. I also note that legal proceedings arising from these matters were settled in 2014. The Deputy will appreciate that GSOC and the courts are fully independent in the exercise of their functions and it is not open to me to intervene in or comment on any inquiry that has been carried out by GSOC or on the outcome of any court proceedings. As these matters have been fully considered by GSOC, and have also been the subject of legal proceedings, a further inquiry into Terence's tragic death is not being considered at this time and my Department has outlined this to the Wheelock family in the response to them.

I met the Wheelock family yesterday. I pay tribute to their bravery and courage in continuing to campaign for justice. The members of the family are not satisfied with the response they have received. It is open to the Government to initiate a public inquiry. It is a power which rests with it. Regarding the GSOC inquiry, does the Minister not think it was problematic that it was led by a former Garda who had previously worked, not at the time of the death, at Store Street Garda station? Turning to the legal proceedings, those were civil legal proceedings where, as I understand it, the family sued for negligence and that has no relationship to whether a public inquiry should be carried out.

Let me list some of the issues which exist regarding the circumstances of Terence's death. His cell was completely renovated and repainted rather than being preserved after the incident. Photos show substantial evidence of bruising and cuts that were not on Terence's body when he was arrested and were not recorded as being there. His clothes were also heavily bloodstained, changes were made to his custody record and there were also significant problems with the timeframe between the supposed incident and an ambulance being called.

What can I say, but that this is another very sad situation for a family? I note the Deputy mentioned the cells being upgraded, which they have been. The programme of replacement and refurbishment of Garda accommodation is progressed by the Garda authorities, as the Deputy will be aware, in close co-operation with the Office of Public Works, OPW. I am informed by the Garda authorities that all cells have been risk assessed for ligatures, and that was one of the findings, as I understand it, and recommendations in respect of what should happen.

I am further advised that 91 cell refurbishment projects have been completed under the national cell refurbishment programme since 2011, including 41 projects from the period 2016 to 2021. Those renovations have been carried out for the safety of prisoners into the future.

The point about the cell renovation was not that cells were renovated subsequently but that the cell in question was immediately painted and renovated before it could be investigated. That is suspicious rather than something good. The suggestion is that with his bare hands, Terence tunnelled into the walls of the cell, found an anchor point to tie the cord of his tracksuit, which he was left with, and hanged himself while he was on his knees. This is very problematic.

I have two basic requests from the family, the first of which is that the Minister for Justice would meet them to discuss these issues and their call for a public inquiry. The family can give the Minister multiple pieces of evidence which indicate all of the problems with the circumstances of Terence's death and with the GSOC inquiry which followed. The second request is for an independent public inquiry. That is the only way we can get to the bottom of this matter so that the family can feel they have gotten justice. Otherwise we will be raising this again and again and the Minister will force the family to continue to struggle and fight for justice for Terence.

Again, I want to express my sympathy to the family. As I said earlier, Terence's tragic death was the subject of a comprehensive GSOC inquiry which was published in 2010 and is available on the GSOC website. A settlement was also reached in the courts. As Minister for Justice I cannot comment upon or intervene in the outcome of any GSOC inquiry, nor can I comment upon the outcome of any court proceedings. The independence of GSOC and the Judiciary is a key part of our democracy and I cannot interfere in any way with the outcome of previous inquiries and legal proceedings regarding Terence's death. As such, while I am truly sorry for the pain and anguish suffered by the Wheelock family, it would not be appropriate for me to discuss these matters with them.

Naturalisation Applications

David Stanton

Ceist:

120. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Justice if stamp 1 permissions obtained by non-EEA fishermen employed under the atypical work scheme are eligible for transfer to stamp 4 permissions after a five-year period; if such permissions under the scheme are also reckonable towards naturalisation requirements; if not, if her Department plans to amend the criteria for stamp 4 permission and naturalisation to ensure that those employed under the scheme are eligible; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30028/21]

I am glad the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, is here because being from Wexford, he will understand the import of the question. It relates to the pressure the fishing industry is under at present and the difficulty of getting suitable fishers to work on boats at sea. The atypical working scheme has been in operation for a number of years and it is possibly time to re-examine and re-evaluate it. I look forward to the Minister of State's response.

I thank Deputy Stanton for raising this important matter. As the Deputy is aware, the atypical working scheme was established as a cross-departmental response to address the matter of non-European Economic Area, EEA, workers on certain categories of vessels in the Irish fishing fleet who are not currently eligible for permission under the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment's employment permit system. The scheme provided, for the first time, a framework for the employment of non-EEA workers within defined segments of the Irish fishing fleet. The scheme was welcomed as a solution to the risk of exploitation and to guarantee employment rights and protections to non-EEA fishers availing of the scheme.

The scheme commenced in February 2016 and was initially only open to non-EEA crew members who were already working in the fishing industry in Ireland. From July of that year, all non-EEA workers came under the remit of the programme and the atypical worker permission, which is stamp 1 with conditions from my Department and a visa clearance, if applicable, prior to entering the State applies to these people. The scheme also provides for the annual renewal of the permission granted and permits the employee to transfer employment within the sector. However, the permission granted is not transferable to any other employment sector within the State.

Holders of atypical working scheme permits do not meet the eligibility criteria for conversion to a stamp 4 permission under the long-term residency administrative scheme operated by my Department. Eligibility for long-term residency is restricted to holders of an employment permit from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. It is open to the fishing industry to apply for inclusion in the Department's employment permit scheme and I understand that my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy English, advised them of this at a meeting with industry representatives last week. Inclusion in the employment permit system would secure stamp 4 status.

Holders of atypical working permits can make an application for a certificate of naturalisation once they meet the residency criteria of five years legal residence in the State. The stamp 1 permission granted to sea fishers under the terms of the atypical scheme is considered reckonable residence for the purpose of making an application for naturalisation.

I thank the Minister of State for his very positive response and for the information provided with respect to the work being undertaken by the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy English. The scheme has been in operation since 2016, over five years ago and there are people who have been here for that period of time because the permit can roll over continuously. In that context, would the Minister of State consider examining the circumstances of those people and changing the criteria so that they could transfer to a stamp 4 permit, having been here for over five years continuously? They have made Ireland their home now. This would also help the fishing industry because there would be more certainty. In the meantime, I would encourage the Minister of State to support the work of the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy English, because that would certainly help.

Have any of the people on the atypical work scheme applied for naturalisation or citizenship?

Again, I thank Deputy Stanton for raising this important matter. I do not have figures on how many, if any, scheme participants have applied for naturalisation but will endeavour to get them for the Deputy. It is important that we make those people aware that they can apply for naturalisation and that the period under a stamp 1 permit is reckonable, which they may not know. I will engage with the Minister of State, Deputy English, on this matter to see what, if any, solutions can be found. As I said, without a working permit, it will not be possible for people to move onto a stamp 4 permit but I will engage with the Minister of State on that and raise Deputy Stanton's concerns with him.

Again, I thank the Minister of State for his very positive response. I am very encouraged by it. I ask the Minister of State to let me know at some point how many people have been here under the atypical work scheme for two, three, four and five years and how many have been here for the full five years. It would be helpful if we could assist those people to get a stamp 4 permit. I am really happy to learn that they can apply for citizenship which is something many of them do not know. Would the Minister of State be open to meeting industry representatives to discuss these matters?

I have no difficulty with meeting representatives of the industry. Indeed, I am quite happy to do so. As I said, I will engage with the Minister of State, Deputy English, on the matter. I do not have the figures the Deputy is seeking but I will get them for him as soon as possible. I am very much aware of the issues involved here and perhaps, in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine which also has an interest in this area, we can find a way to raise awareness among scheme participants that their period is reckonable for naturalisation, which is important.

Citizenship Applications

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill

Ceist:

121. Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked the Minister for Justice the number of citizenship applications currently being reviewed; the number of persons that have been granted citizenship to date in 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27632/21]

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill

Ceist:

123. Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked the Minister for Justice the number of adults and children, respectively, waiting to receive a certificate of citizenship; when the next citizenship ceremony, virtual or otherwise, is planned; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27633/21]

Neale Richmond

Ceist:

133. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Justice her views on the backlog of applications for Irish citizenship that have built up during the Covid-19 pandemic; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27646/21]

The issue of citizenship is very important to people, particularly post Brexit. I am aware that the Department of Justice has made very good progress this year with applications but that is set against a very considerable backlog. Substantial work remains to be done and I ask the Minister to outline the situation in the Department, including what is being done to address some of the procedural and communication difficulties that people are facing in the process.

I thank Deputy Carroll MacNeill for raising this very important matter. I propose to take questions Nos. 121, 123 and 133 together.

As the Deputy will be aware, my Department has continued to accept and process citizenship applications throughout the pandemic and at all levels of public health restrictions. Unfortunately, processing rates have been impacted by the necessary health and safety related restrictions imposed and we have been unable to hold in-person citizenship ceremonies since March 2020.

In addition to the Covid-19 disruption, a High Court case in 2019, which was subsequently successfully appealed to the Court of Appeal, also resulted in significant delays and the loss of over six months of processing time.

There are just over 24,600 applications on hand, almost 22,200 from adults and 2,400 from children. These applications are at various stages within the system, ranging from those who have just received citizenship to those where a decision has been made but it is not yet possible to issue an invitation to a ceremony. On 18 January 2021, my Department opened a temporary system that enables applicants to complete their naturalisation process by signing a statutory declaration of loyalty. Approximately 2,500 people have received their Irish citizenship since then by way of this process. A further 1,853 people have returned their signed statutory declarations and will receive their certificates of naturalisation in the coming weeks. By the end of this month, we will have communicated with 6,500 applicants, offering them the opportunity to complete their citizenship through the statutory declaration process.

To further address the volume of applications on hand, we are assigning additional staff to the citizenship team. A number of measures have been introduced to increase the digitisation of the process, including the introduction of eTax clearance and eVetting; rolling out online payments; revising the Department's website to make it more user-friendly for customers; and launching the first immigration chatbot, Tara, which has answered more than 12,000 customer queries in a user-friendly way since last November.

The end result of the digitisation process will be to free up staff resources to focus on processing applications in a timely and efficient manner, to improve services to our customers and to reduce waiting times. At the end of April, my Department hosted the first virtual citizenship celebration. We plan to hold another event next month to celebrate everyone who has received their citizenship since then. The next in-person ceremonies are provisionally scheduled to take place at the beginning of December, subject to the safety of all involved being assured.

What we are attempting to do here is not only resolve the current backlog that has arisen as the result of a court case and Covid-19 but also to put in place digitisation reform to ensure that the processes are more streamlined, easier and more effectively used for the future. We are taking this opportunity to ensure long-term reform for this area.

That would be welcome because people are worried about, for example, sending in their passport, particularly when the quality of communication, not from the Minister of State but from the Department, is sometimes opaque about what is being sought. I have complaints from people who say there is nobody to talk to, there is only a generic email address and they do not necessarily get a response. I have four cases of people who are married to Irish citizens and have Irish kids. One lady was married to an Irish citizen for 41 years and domiciled here for 50 years. These people are all in difficulties in trying to get citizenship. All of them are in the system for two years and in some cases for over two years. It is very difficult because of the implications on their lives. We put in representations on behalf of these people, including one gentleman who has been living full-time in Ireland for nearly ten years. I was told that his application was at an advanced stage two years into the application. Three months later the answer is unchanged. That may be so but people need better information than that, particularly when they are being asked for years and years of bank statements, current passports and everything else. They are putting their lives in the hands of the process and they are not getting the information back.

I sincerely thank the Minister of State for that substantive response. I am slightly enthused by it because every crisis presents an opportunity and the pandemic crisis presents us with an opportunity to address the major problems that exist within our naturalisation process, problems that landed at the doorsteps of so many citizens and wannabe citizens across the State. Deputy Carroll MacNeill eloquently talks about the families that are separated and put at risk. Is it feasible, with the major reforms and staffing changes announced by the Minister of State, to prioritise the many front-line workers who have dedicated themselves to our safety, security and public health over the last trying 15 months or so? Is there a possibility to prioritise them and like the French have done, include them in the first new citizenship ceremonies and in undertaking the process in due course?

I again thank the Deputies for raising an important issue around citizenship. As a Minister of State, I am a great believer in plain English. In everything we are doing I want to see that there is a simple and clear process, especially so that people can engage with the system and get those simple and clear answers when necessary. I will be visiting Burgh Quay in the afternoon and processes are being put in place there to have a simple one-stop application in place where people can apply for information on their processes. Sometimes information is spread out among a number of people within the Department and it can be hard to collate that back. We should also triage the urgent applications.

On front-line workers, I greatly appreciate the fantastic work and commitment that has been given by all of them, well above and beyond the call of duty. They work in a challenging environment and deal with vulnerable people on a daily basis and their exceptional commitment has been particularly clear throughout the pandemic. However, all applications for a certificate of naturalisation are processed and assessed individually in accordance with legislation. There are no provisions to apply different criteria depending on the category of employment of the applicant. All applicants are required to meet minimum periods of reckonable residence and standard checks are carried out as part of the overall process. There is no way within the system to pull out people's employment details either. Under the legislation and the systems in place, it is simply not possible to prioritise one category of applicant over another.

I accept the Minister of State's response although I will note a tone of disappointment. If the French can do it why can we not? More pertinently, I would like to point to the elephant in the room, an issue I have raised with the Minister of State's predecessors, namely the exorbitant cost of the citizenship process. Ireland has the second most expensive naturalisation process in the European Union. It is topped only by Austria. We talk about front-line workers in low-paid jobs who would love to apply for citizenship, who have been here for a considerable amount of time, who are wedded to the community and who have provided such service and duty over the last 15 months but they are not in a position to get the money together. Equally, post Brexit I mention the tens of thousands of British nationals who have been here, in some cases for up to 50 or 60 years or who just happen to have been born in the UK and to have moved here as young children. They are completely prohibited from taking their citizenship. They are Irish. We need to recognise that and to substantially look at the cost of naturalisation in this State.

Deputy Richmond raises the question of fast-track citizenship for those working on the front line. I understand the difficulty in prioritising one employment group over another within that process. There is another way of looking at it, as set out in a letter sent to the Government and to the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, by 50 consultants from Beaumont Hospital on how front-line workers are being treated. It is about the stamp 4 system and how one can acquire stamp 4 status. This is for eligibility for training, which is so important for progressing to consultant status and being able to remain in the country. We have people who are coming top of their classes who are leaving Ireland because they cannot get the training to continue to progress their careers. The letter, which I will send to the Minister of State, outlines that clearly. One can get the stamp 4 status through marriage but not through working in the HSE. People are coming here, spending hundreds of thousands of euro on their training in our medical schools, from which our medical schools are benefiting. They are not then eligible for internship. I appreciate that is a matter for the Department of Health but because of our immigration system and because of the backlog in citizenship, as well as this stamp 4 issue, they are then not eligible to stay and progress their careers for us to benefit from their experience and expertise. I will forward the letter and I would be obliged if the Minister of State would look at it.

On the issue of costs, when the Department increased the costs around the citizenship process, one thing it found was that the quality of applications significantly increased and in turn the processing was far more effective and quicker. The costs reflect the cost of processing the applications. I know it impinges on people, however. I have dealt with a lot of British citizens in particular in my county of Wexford who have been living in Ireland for a long time and who want to take out Irish citizenship. I acknowledge the costs that are there but they are reflective of the overall costs.

On Deputy Carroll MacNeill's points, I will talk to the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, on that matter.

International Protection

Cathal Crowe

Ceist:

122. Deputy Cathal Crowe asked the Minister for Justice the impact of Covid-19 on the processing of international protection applications; the steps taken to address same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28734/21]

It is great to see the team of the Minister and the Ministers of State here divvying up the workload of the Department. It is progressive politics and I am glad to see that the Minister, Deputy McEntee, has since had her baby and all is going well on that front.

I want to ask our team serving the Department of Justice how the processing of international protection applications is going.

Has it been stymied or delayed in any way by Covid-19? What mitigating measures are being taken by the Department to speed things up a little bit?

I thank the Deputy for raising an important matter encountered by people who seek international protection. I am very conscious of the difficulties and trauma encountered by people who seek international protection and I am glad that, throughout the pandemic, my Department's international protection office has remained open to allow people the opportunity to do so in line with our international obligations.

The provision of the facility to allow people claim international protection is considered an essential service at all times, including during Covid-19. Staff have worked both on-site and remotely since the pandemic began to ensure the protection process continues to operate and I am grateful for their effort and dedication. Physical attendance in the office has been strictly limited in line with public health guidance. Ensuring the safety of applicants, legal representatives and staff has resulted in additional logistical challenges that have limited the processing of applications and efforts to improve processing times, including the target set to make first instance decisions in the vast majority of cases within nine months. Despite these challenges, 2,276 applications for international protection were processed to completion last year, which is just under 67% of the total achieved in 2019.

My Department's main focus now is to get its processing system functioning as effectively and efficiently as possible, while adhering to all measures in place to combat the spread of Covid-19. We continue to explore new ways of working. In-person contact and support is an indispensable part of the process, but also presents the greatest challenge at this time. From 10 May, interviews in Dublin by video link were commenced. The applicant is in one room linked by videoconference to an interviewer in another room of the same building. This is in full compliance with health and safety guidance. Interviews by video link from Cork have also resumed and we are working to expand our videoconferencing programme with a view to making interviews by videoconference a significant element of international protection operations and to use them going forward. My Department is committed to implementing the key recommendations in the expert advisory group report.

I thank the Minister of State. It sounds like a big effort is being made to clear any backlog and I appreciate that. I am from Meelick, County Clare and since the Hungarian revolution in 1956, there has been, on an on-off basis, refugees and asylum seekers in our community. We value them. We have got to know their stories over the years. They are harrowing, compelling and are not always heard. As a local person, who taught in the local school for a number of years, I have stood as guarantor to help some of those asylum seekers with the legal process. Overall, I do not think direct provision is ethical or humanitarian. It also does not provide value for money. It has cost €175 million in the past year to provide direct provision accommodation for 5,200 people. That breaks down roughly to €33,000 per person. It costs the State €170,000 per annum to accommodate a family of five at a time the average house price in Clare is €200,000. We must move to a point where direct provision ends in 2024, as the Government has committed to, and housing asylum seekers within the country so they can become active citizens of Ireland.

I thank the Deputy. I am aware of his genuine interest in this matter. My Department is committed to implementing the key recommendations of the expert advisory group report to reduce processing times of both first instance decisions and appeals to six months, as outlined in the White Paper to end direct provision and establish a new international protection support service. Work is under way in my Department towards identifying mechanisms to support improved processing times, including an end-to-end review of processes, which is being undertaken to streamline processing as much as possible.

In the context of the current backlog of international protection cases, my Department intends in the first instance to prioritise the processing of all cases using improved processes and the planned ICT investment in the system. My Department will, by October 2022 at the latest, commence a review of the progress made in reducing and improving processing times.

I appreciate the Deputy's genuine interest in this topic and his compassion for people in the refugee centre in his county, which is one of the oldest in the country.

It is welcome that direct provision will cease three years from now and people will be accommodated, helped and aided in different ways. However, there is a real concern within both the local direct provision centre and the wider community that enough might not be done to support those seeking international protection between now and then.

Perfect cognisance is not always taken of the situations that those seeking direct provision accommodation face in their home countries. I know of one man who, for several years, slept in the dugout of our local GAA pitch because he feared sleeping in accommodation by night beside individuals with whom he would have been fighting and in conflict in his homeland. We need to have more cognisance of where these people are coming from when we accommodate them. We need to look beyond 2024 and consider what we will do with direct provision centres and the land on which they sit. Meelick GAA club, Parkville Football Club, Ballynanty soccer club, Thomond Rugby Football Club and Limerick IT are all on our doorstep in Meelick. It would be a good gesture of the State to give a little back, in the form of sporting provision, to a community that has supported people seeking international protection for almost 70 years.

The Deputy is correct. People who seek refuge in this country have often experienced traumatic events that have led them to seek the protection of another state. The White Paper proposes that the new system should be operational by 2023. My Department will be represented on a programme board to be established and chaired by my colleague, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, which will set performance indicators for the new model and monitor progress against those indicators. My Department is responsible for progressing improvements in processing times for international protection applications in the intervening period and we will not be found wanting in that regard. Any decisions on accommodation, including future arrangements for any existing centre, are, of course, a matter for the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman.

The Deputy has raised an important point. In bringing in all of these new processes, we must always keep in mind the people who are affected, namely, the people seeking refuge and the local communities. We must ensure that both of those communities are supported and put into a place of being able to integrate and support each other.

Question No. 123 answered with Question No. 121.

An Garda Síochána

Rose Conway-Walsh

Ceist:

124. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Justice the status of the retirement age for a chief superintendent; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30167/21]

I thank the Minister for taking this question. My concern is that we are in breach of the European equality Acts and directives on retirement ages in the EU by forcing senior members of the Garda to retire at the age of 60.

Before I answer the Deputy's question, I thank Deputy Cathal Crowe for his kind comments. I know the rest of the Deputies will join me in congratulating the Minister, Deputy McEntee, on the birth of her lovely son, Michael Shane. We wish her well in her maternity leave.

I thank Deputy Conway-Walsh for raising this matter. As she will be aware, retirement of all members of An Garda Síochána, including those at the rank of chief superintendent, is governed by legislation that sets the mandatory maximum retirement age at 60. This reflects the operational nature of many of the roles in An Garda Síochána, including the requirement to work a variety of 24-hour rosters.

Members of An Garda Síochána may also opt to retire before reaching the age of 60. Those who joined prior to 1 April 2004 may retire on full pension at 50 years of age once they have served at least 30 years and those who joined on or after 1 April 2004 may retire on full pension at 55 years of age with 30 years’ service.

I can inform the Deputy that, in the context of the extension of retirement ages generally across the public sector, a review of the mandatory maximum retirement age is currently being carried out by my Department. As part of this review, an examination has been undertaken of compulsory retirement ages in a number of other national and regional police services. Consideration is also being given to the impact of such an increase of retirement age on career progression for other Garda members, including the importance of career succession, operational capacity and workforce planning within An Garda Síochána. Any changes to the maximum mandatory retirement age will need to be considered very carefully and will require amendments to both primary and secondary legislation. Detailed consultations will also be required with my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, on the issue of retirement age across the public sector and the potential costs of any increase in the retirement age.

The Deputy may wish to further note that the Garda Síochána (Retirement) (No. 2) Regulations 1951, SI 335/1951, allow the Commissioner, with the consent of the Minister, to extend the age of retirement of a Garda member where this is in the interests of the efficiency of the Garda Síochána due to special qualifications or experience in policing possessed by that member.

I would argue that it does not reflect the operational nature for a senior garda to be forced to retire at 60 years of age. The equality authority under the remit of the Minister's Department agreed that the State could face compensation claims from senior officers who have been forced to retire at the age of 60 instead of aged 63. Could the Minister clarify if that is the case?

There is a precedent for the signing of a statutory instrument in this regard. Senator McDowell, as Minister, previously signed one for the age to be moved from 57 to 60. As the Minister said, this can be done for those who joined before 2004. We addressed the inequality in the entry age of people joining the Garda and it really must also be addressed now at the other end. It is taking far too long.

Deputy Calleary is indicating.

I thank the Acting Chairman for his latitude. As the Minister said, this issue is happening right across the public service and we are seeing judicial cases dragging the public service to make progress on this. Let us, therefore, be proactive and try to move this forward.

Can the Minister clarify the last point she raised about SI 335 of 1951? Is it a matter for the Commissioner to initiate that process with the Minister or vice versa? Surely, the Minister would agree that somebody at the age of 60 has an awful lot to give in terms of experience, energy and commitment. Forcing people to retire because of what was policy many decades ago is now depriving them of their chance to continue to make a contribution, and it is depriving society of their experience and knowledge. This policy belongs to a different era and is in urgent need of change.

I thank Deputies Conway-Walsh and Calleary. The Garda Commissioner, with the consent of the Minister, can extend the age of retirement of a Garda member where this is in the interests of the efficiency of the Garda Síochána due to special qualifications or experience in policing possessed by that member.

In terms of the Covid-19 pandemic, Garda members who had reached the age of 60 and had significant experience in policing, and the particular skills to support the Commissioner's urgent policing priorities during the pandemic, were given the opportunity to extend their service. The Commissioner was very keen that this would happen. He, therefore, invited applications from those who would otherwise have been required to retire because of their age, and extensions of up to 12 months were granted to 49 Garda members, including three at the rank of chief superintendent.

Since the start of 2020, approval has also been given to requests by the Commissioner to extend the retirement age of five other Garda members, including two at assistant commissioner rank, to assist in succession planning and prevent the loss of essential skills to the Garda organisation.

I would argue that this almost creates an inequality within an inequality where some requests are granted and others are declined. It also makes no sense financially because we obviously have to pay pensions to senior gardaí when they retire. They may as well be working and having an output. I cannot, therefore, see the sense in that. I cannot see any impediments either. As I understand it, all associations and unions are in favour of extending the age limit. Perhaps the Minister could clarify that as well.

Numerous questions were raised today around criminal activities, including killings, corporate crime, gangland violence, drug crimes, domestic violence, sexual crimes and cybercrime. All those things are posing huge challenges to An Garda Síochána, as well as the organisation undergoing a huge change management process. To take experienced senior gardaí out of that position and deter them from applying for promotions in their 50s does not make sense either.

I agree with Deputy Conway-Walsh. I detect that the Minister is anxious to change it because she is dealing with the other side of the issue with her social protection hat on. We need to be embracing of experience and age, however. We should be proactive on this issue rather than being forced to act on it as a consequence of legal decisions.

We have seen it going to legal fora in semi-State organisations because they were not proactive in acting on this issue. This policy of retirement at a certain age belongs to a different era. It excludes people of experience and passion who wish to continue to contribute that experience and passion in their chosen field, which could be within the public or private sector. Government should be proactive in terms of moving away from that system and saying to people that as long as they are able, fit and willing to do the job, it will help and encourage them and take away all legal blockages.

I agree absolutely with Deputy Calleary. We need to be proactive and look at things through the lens of a modern world, where we are all living longer and are much healthier, thank God. My Department is currently carrying out a review of the mandatory maximum retirement age of 60 for the Garda Síochána. This review is taking account of retirement ages that apply generally across the public service and that apply in other uniform services, such as the Defence Forces and the Prison Service, the physical nature of the role and the need for An Garda Síochána to maintain operational capacity at all times.

The review is also undertaking detailed analysis of compulsory retirement ages in other policing organisations at an international level. In both the UK and Northern Ireland, for example, the compulsory retirement age for the ranks equivalent to superintendent and above is 65 years of age compared to 60 years for An Garda Síochána, whereas lower retirement ages apply for lower ranks.

There is a bit of work to be done on this but it will continue over the coming months and the review will be completed in the latter half of this year. If required, legislative changes will be brought forward at that time. It is, therefore, something we should progress.

Question No. 126 replied to with Written Answers.
Question No. 127 answered with Question No. 118.
Questions Nos. 128 to 131, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

An Garda Síochána

Rose Conway-Walsh

Ceist:

132. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Justice the education and training An Garda Síochána receive in relation to autism; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30168/21]

I thank the Acting Chairman. I was not expecting my question to come up so soon. On the previous question, because of Covid-19 and everything that is happening, I do not know if there is provision to extend the current list, or for the Commissioner to be able to add other retirements on to that list, to deter experienced senior gardaí from retiring.

My question is with regard to training in autism for An Garda Síochána.

Was Deputy Carroll MacNeill indicating?

I am asking questions on behalf of Deputies Creed and Griffin. I believe they communicated this at an earlier stage. I can do so after Deputy Conway-Walsh.

That was not communicated to me, to make that clear.

I thank the Deputy for that. I call the Minister in response to Deputy Conway-Walsh.

This question relates to the training An Garda Síochána receives with regard to autism.

In reply to Deputy Conway-Walsh's previous question, I am happy to look at any case and recommendation the Commissioner makes to me. I understand that he advertised to see if people wanted to stay on and it was up to them to make an application. I do not have the figures here but I can provide them. Some people applied but I believe it was not as many as we thought. If the Commissioner recommends that it is necessary for somebody to stay on, I am happy to receive those recommendations.

I thank the Deputy again for raising this issue. As she will be aware, under section 26 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the management and administration of Garda business, including the education and training of Garda members and staff. As Minister, I have no role in the matter.

However, I am assured by the Garda authorities that members of An Garda Síochána are acutely aware of the importance of respecting neurodiversity and the training they require to provide an appropriate service to autistic people.

In this regard, the Garda has been engaging with AsIAm, Ireland's national autism charity group, on this issue. This includes the development of a specific training programme on autism awareness, which is expected to be released on 1 July 2021, via the Garda learning management system, to all personnel. All Garda trainees complete the BA in applied policing programme. The programme's community-centred policing module aims to equip students with the personal and professional expertise to proactively police Ireland's diverse community. AsIAm has delivered a presentation to trainees as part of this module. I am informed that An Garda Síochána has also discussed the development of an e-learning modules for trainees with AsIAm.

I am further informed that under its human rights strategy for 2020 to 2022, An Garda Síochána will establish a network of human rights champions who will promote awareness of human rights issues throughout the organisation.

I am pleased to hear the Minister's reply. My experience leads me to commend An Garda Síochána on its interactions with autistic people, including adults and teenagers Garda members are often on the front line dealing with behavioural issues because of gaps left by the HSE and other organisations that are statutorily required to provide the supports that are needed. In my experience, it is often the case that the only interaction and support parents get is from An Garda Síochána. I am pleased that AsIAm will provide autism-specific training to members of An Garda Síochána. I commend Adam Harris of AsIAm on the brilliant work the organisation is doing on this subject.

The Deputy is absolutely correct that Adam Harris is a great advocate for people with autism. There is great work going on and great co-operation between his organisation and the Garda. We are very supportive of that. As I said, a specific training programme on autism awareness is expected to be released on the Garda learning management system on 1 July 2021.

As the Minister knows, one in 60 children is born autistic. The supports required for those children are something for which we need to prepare. Where supports and services are provided in a timely way, we can have academic brilliance within that population, but there needs to be investment. We also need to invest in ensuring that behaviours relating to autism are understood. I will not say "dealt with" but "understood". If the Garda Síochána can have a better understanding across the board of autism and autistic people, it will be to the benefit of the whole of society. It is wrong that the HSE defers many of its responsibilities to An Garda Síochána. That needs to stop.

It is good that this work is ongoing, including on another phase of training for the human rights champions initiative. That will involve representative bodies, including Mental Health Ireland, ADHD Ireland, AsIAm, Merchant's Quay Ireland, the National Office for Suicide Prevention, and the National Disability Authority. The Garda Síochána has carried out a number of changes to its website to make it more accessible to people with disabilities. It has provided an accessibility assistive toolbar solution, Recite Me, which allows website users to customise their experience on the site in a way that suits their needs. Recite Me provides features to enable accessibility such as text-to-speech functionality, customisable display and styling features, reading aids and a translation tool with more than 100 languages, including 35 text-to-speech voices. This shows that the Garda is reaching out and trying to improve its service for those with disabilities.

An Garda Síochána

Michael Creed

Ceist:

125. Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Justice the actions that will be taken to increase diversity within An Garda Síochána in line with the programme for Government commitment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29601/21]

Question No. 125 is in the name of Deputy Creed and is being taken by Deputy Carroll MacNeill.

I welcome the Minister's reply to Question No. 132. This question is somewhat linked in that it concerns the commitment in the programme for Government to increase diversity in An Garda Síochána by recruiting and retaining members who represent more diverse and minority backgrounds.

I thank the Deputy for her question. As she said, the programme for Government contains a commitment to increase diversity within An Garda Síochána, prioritising the identification and removal of barriers to recruiting and retaining people from diverse and minority backgrounds. This work is being taken forward as part of An Garda Síochána's equality, diversity and inclusion, EDI, strategy. The Garda Commissioner and the Secretary General of my Department are leading on this issue across the public service. My Department's Justice Plan 2021 commits to supporting the EDI strategy to ensure An Garda Síochána can attract, retain and develop a diverse and inclusive workforce, including preparation of a diversity recruitment roadmap. This roadmap will be informed by the ongoing work of An Garda Síochána to identify key challenges related to the recruitment and retention of individuals from minority backgrounds.

The EDI strategy sets out 11 strategic goals to be met by the end of this year to increase equality, diversity and inclusion within the Garda organisation, including the establishment of governance structures to ensure the strategy's goals are met. The EDI leadership council, chaired by the newly appointed deputy commissioner with responsibility for strategy, governance and performance and comprising colleagues from across the public sector, including my Department, and academia, has been established to oversee this work, including addressing the issue of greater diversity in recruitment within the Garda.

The Deputy will be pleased that the EDI strategy also provides for the establishment of an internship programme for both school-leavers and graduates. The aim of this programme is to attract graduates and school-leavers from communities that have been traditionally under-represented within An Garda Síochána.

To support the objective of attracting, developing and retaining individuals of talent and representation from minority and diverse communities, the Garda national diversity and inclusion unit, GNDIU, in conjunction with the Garda human resources, equality, diversity and inclusion section, is actively engaging with representatives of minority groups.

I thank the Minister of State for her comprehensive response. I am conscious that she and I are speaking as members of a minority in this Parliament but very much as privileged people in terms of gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity and expression. It is great that we are having a conversation about this important issue. It is not in any sense a side issue but, rather, an issue of core importance to how we reflect and protect everybody in our society. It is very important that this conversation is led by the people who have experienced discrimination and barriers that the Minister of State and I may not have experienced. I want to put the issue in that context, recognising that privilege and the impact it has. This is great and really important work. Will the Minister of State comment on how we can make sure the people engaged in this broad body of work hear the voices they need to hear?

Members of An Garda Síochána will undertake training that covers hate crime and diversity awareness. That training includes contributions from a number of minority communities as well as NGOs. The training will be delivered to both Garda members and staff and will build on the diversity training embedded into all aspects of the BA in applied policing that is undertaken by all trainee and probationer gardaí. The training will support the delivery of a human rights-based policing service to diverse communities in a non-discriminatory and professional manner. This is a key target of the Garda diversity and integration strategy for 2019 to 2021.

There are currently 281 Garda diversity officers located across the country. In addition, the GNDIU is available to assist and support all members on the front line. The unit monitors hate crime and hate-related incidents via PULSE, engages with social and written media on developing policy and strategy, and advises and supports investigators.

As the Minister of State will know, Fine Gael is placing a very strong emphasis on what we can do to support better integration and intercultural understanding. Fine Gael has within its membership an intercultural integration group and we are trying to listen and ensure it is led by people who are impacted by barriers. I urge that with the conversation on An Garda Síochána, the discussion is lead by people who have been impacted by discrimination and by barriers rather than an assumption that it is sufficient to talk to that community via the existing Garda diversity officers, who may not have experienced discrimination. I urge the Department to talk to An Garda Síochána to ensure it is bringing in people where they are needed and to ensure that conversation is led by people who have experienced discrimination and who understand how it feels and the importance of change.

The Deputy made valid point. Garda diversity forums has been established and they are going to liaise and communicate directly with different minority groups. There is ongoing communication between different groups, including, for example, the Cavan Cross Cultural Community, Dublin City Interfaith Forum, The Federation for Victim Assistance, the Garda Traveller advisory group, the Immigrant Council of Ireland and the Irish Criminal Justice and Disability Network. There is significant engagement between a number of sectors and An Garda Síochána to ensure the strategy is rolled out.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.