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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 5 Jul 2022

Vol. 1024 No. 7

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Departmental Policies

Cathal Crowe

Ceist:

4. Deputy Cathal Crowe asked the Minister for Justice if consideration has been given to a register of those convicted of serious crimes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35643/22]

A conviction for a serious criminal offence is a very public event. If a person is convicted of murder, manslaughter or rape, they will be tried in public and the conviction will be announced in public. However, the public is dependent of a member of the press being in court in order to become aware of it. Taking into account Article 10 of the general data protection regulation, GDPR, has consideration been given to establishing a register of those convicted of serious crimes of violence?

I thank the Deputy. There is no register of convicted criminals currently in place and no such register is under consideration. Justice is administered, as the Deputy said, in public in accordance with the Constitution and court outcomes can be reported in the media. The Deputy will appreciate that a decision on whether to convict a person and for what crime is a matter for the presiding judge and, quite properly, I have no role in this. Under the provisions of the Courts Service Act 1998, management of the courts is the responsibility of the Courts Service, which is independent in exercising its functions. I assure the Deputy that the aim of the system is to make Ireland a safer and fairer place and I think we would all support that.

Appropriate sanction for those who commit crime is a key element of the justice system and, in the interests of public safety, the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders into the community is at its core. This is the most effective and sustainable way to achieve a reduction in reoffending and to encourage and support a change in behaviour.

Records are maintained by the Courts Service of all convictions. Garda vetting provides an essential layer of protection for our most vulnerable people. The National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Acts 2012 to 2016 provide a legislative basis for the mandatory vetting of anyone wishing to undertake certain work or activities relating to children or vulnerable persons or to provide certain services to children or vulnerable persons. Individuals can also apply to An Garda Síochána for details of their own convictions.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to review the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act. This is to broaden the range of convictions that can be considered spent. This is an important commitment designed to help us to move towards a safer society with safer communities by making sure those who make mistakes have an opportunity to move on with their lives, where the conviction is for a minor crime at a point in their lives at which there is a strong incentive to stop offending and get their lives back on track. The Deputy asked about where there is serious crime and I ask him to get into that in more detail in his response. A general register is not something the Department is looking at, nor is it something I would favour.

I do not suggest a register of persons convicted of minor or summary offences, or for other than violent criminal offences. What I suggest arises from the fact that I, like the Minister, recently met Jason Poole, whose sister Jennifer was brutally murdered a year ago by a man who had a conviction for stabbing another partner of his. The point Jason Poole made to me and many others was that, had she been aware of his violent past, she would not have commenced or continued a relationship with him. We need to look at information being provided to affected persons in respect of those convicted of crimes of violence. We publish details of those involved in tax fraud. When a solicitor or doctor is stuck off the register, that information is provided. I do not suggest we provide information about people convicted of minor offences, but for those convicted or serious criminal acts of violence, some assessment needs to be done as to how the public can be warned of that.

It goes back to the Deputy's original point, which I referred to in my response, that any person convicted of a serious crime will have gone before the courts in a public manner. The media can report, though I accept that does not happen in every instance.

In relation to Jason Poole and the awful circumstances of his sister's murder, I cannot commend him enough on the work he has done in advocating on her behalf and that of all victims of murder at the hands of their partners. I have given a commitment, as was clear in our strategy launched last week, to work with An Garda Síochána to examine the possibility of a register for perpetrators of domestic violence or serious crimes of this type. I have met with the Garda Commissioner, discussed it with him on two occasions and asked him and his team to come back to me directly on how this could work, taking into account GDPR, looking at other jurisdictions where it has come into place and seeing how it could be applied here. I have given a commitment to Jason that I will respond to him as quickly as possible.

It is interesting that whether a conviction is publicised depends, completely arbitrarily, on whether a member of the media is in court. A person could be convicted of rape in Dublin one day with huge media attention around it, while on another day there might not be that much media attention. It is unreliable to have a system whereby we are dependent upon members of the press being in court for the public to be given information that is publicly available and that we say should be publicised.

I ask the Minister to consider with her Department officials that we could have a register of those who have committed violent offences for which they have received custodial sentences. That information would be available to the gardaí, who could use it as they see fit, particularly where people find themselves in a relationship with somebody who has previously shown a propensity to commit violence in a relationship.

Anything we would introduce or consider would need to be with the support of and in consultation with An Garda Síochána to make sure it is effective. Where serious criminal offences are committed, it is important that the punishment matches the crime and that those convicted serve the right sentence or penalty, while acknowledging that we need rehabilitation and reform in our society. We need to make sure the sentence matches the crime and that is why in the last week I have made proposals that the maximum penalty for the general assault crime, under which many domestic violence acts happen, be extended from five to ten years. This will ensure that if a significant penalty is applied, even with mitigating factors, guilty pleas and other elements to a case, a person will serve the correct time.

It is about striking the right balance. We also have to make sure that, where individuals commit a crime, they are allowed to get on with their lives and to try to change them without a record constantly hindering them or preventing them from moving forward, although this again comes back to the issue of serious crimes versus smaller crimes. It is about striking that balance. Anything we do would have to be done in consultation with An Garda Síochána.

Question No. 5 replied to with Written Answers.

Youth Services

Michael Moynihan

Ceist:

6. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Justice if she will provide an update on the expansion of youth diversion projects; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35741/22]

Will the Minister provide an update on the expansion of youth diversion projects and make a statement on the matter?

Justice Plan 2022 commits to the implementation of the Government’s youth justice plan whose aims include preventing offending behaviour from occurring and diverting children and young adults who commit a crime away from further offending and involvement with the criminal justice system. The youth diversion projects, YDPs, are community-based projects that offer that vital support to the statutory Garda youth diversion programme. There are currently 105 YDPs across the State and the youth justice strategy commits to expanding the network to provide cover to every child and young person who needs to access their services. I see Deputy Stanton in the Chamber. He did a great amount of work in developing that strategy, work that is being carried on by my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne.

Youth justice services were allocated an additional €6.7 million in funding for 2022. The Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, announced on 22 June that more than 50 youth diversion projects will benefit from this additional funding. This funding has been provided to do the following: extend the boundaries of some of the YDPs to increase geographical coverage, as provided for in the youth justice strategy; increase funding to engage with the cohort of referrals who are harder to reach; provide additional early intervention supports; provide family supports to the relatives of those young people engaged with the YDPs; and further develop the Solas Project in Dublin.

It will be of interest to the Deputy that, of this €6.7 million, €780,000 has been set aside to establish a limited number of YDPs this year to cover geographical areas which cannot be covered sufficiently through the expansion of existing YDPs. The projects are funded through my Department but, as the Deputy will appreciate, the funding needs of individual YDPs differ based on a range of criteria such as the geographical area in which the project operates, the number of referrals to the YDP and the number of referrals who are in the hard-to-reach cohort, among other things. My Department offers funding appropriate to the needs of each YDP as determined by standard budgetary process. Funding fluctuates based upon the YDPs' determination of their needs and the budget available for youth justice services each year.

I join with the Minister in complimenting Deputy Stanton on the amount of work he did on this. The YDPs have used Government resources to target people and families in a very meaningful way. Some areas are not being picked up on. The YDPs are based in large urban centres. There is scope within the new budget announced just a few weeks ago to operate in rural areas. What targets are there in respect of rural areas? There is no clear guidance or mechanism to encourage young people back into education. There is a certain percentage of people we should target at a very young age with a view to keeping them in education to prevent crime becoming a way of life for them. These projects have predominantly operated in urban settings and they have worked well in some settings. Has the Minister or the Department looked at the need outside of the main urban centres? Have they looked at the statistics on crime, young people coming before courts, people not attending schools and so forth and made a decision as to how to better target different areas through the YDPs?

I fully agree. I acknowledge the youth diversion projects in my own county. Knowing the fantastic work they do with young people, it is absolutely vital that they are supported. The Department has identified gaps and is looking at areas in which the current 105 YDPs cannot provide the needed service and support through expansion. This list has not been finalised and we will need to have further engagement with An Garda Síochána but the provisional list identifies south and west Wicklow, south Monaghan, Claremorris and some surrounding areas, part of north Tipperary including Thurles and Templemore, west Cork north of Bandon and east Clare. This will go to public consultation and expressions of interest will be sought. These areas have already been identified and we are engaging with An Garda Síochána. This is something that will be of interest to the Deputy. It is about trying to expand the services that are there. That is where the additional funding provided in the last two weeks is going. However, I acknowledge that more work needs to be done. That €780,000 has been set aside specifically to expand into some of those areas which the Deputy has noted as not having been covered to date.

The Minister mentioned her Department's consultation with An Garda Síochána, which has the information at first hand. Has it looked at other State agencies that have information that might be pulled together to identify particular areas of concern at which youth diversion projects could be targeted? I am thinking about young people who are not attending school or who are dropping out early. I ask the Minister to instruct her Department to look at those statistics, which may be held by other Departments and other State authorities, and to put them all together. An Garda Síochána has a very significant amount of information but perhaps there are other State agencies that could help identify young people so as to ensure that resources are targeted at them and that they are kept away from a life of crime or prevented from getting involved in crime in the first instance.

I compliment the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, on the work they are doing in this area. As my colleague, Deputy Michael Moynihan, has just said, it is of great importance. How is the youth joint agency response to crime, which is related to this question in many ways, going? Are there plans to expand it?

An Garda Síochána is the agency we initially engage with when identifying areas in which there is a need to expand but we also engage with the 105 YDPs to determine whether the expansion of their services can serve the areas where they currently do not operate. That is where these issues have been identified. We are not just working with An Garda Síochána but with the youth diversion projects who, in turn, are working on the ground with many of the organisations and agencies Deputy Michael Moynihan referred to. I will get absolute clarity with regard to further engagement because expressions of interest will be sought before anything is finalised. The list I read out is not finalised.

Expansion of the youth joint agency response to crime is also being looked at. As Deputy Stanton will know from his work on the strategy, it is very beneficial. The increased level of funding for this year is not only for the expansion of the youth diversion projects but for many other strands in this area. I will get a stronger note on that issue for the Deputy.

An Garda Síochána

Neale Richmond

Ceist:

7. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Justice the number of gardaí in Ireland broken down per county; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35719/22]

Will the Minister lay out the number of members of An Garda Síochána currently serving in the State?

As of 31 May, there were 14,347 members of An Garda Síochána throughout the country. The Government has allocated An Garda Síochána an unprecedented budget of over €2 billion for 2022. This level of funding is enabling sustained ongoing recruitment of Garda members and staff. As a result, the number of gardaí is now 14,347 and we have more than 3,100 Garda staff nationwide. The Deputy may be aware that there was a very strong interest in the recent Garda recruitment campaign, which only closed recently. Over 11,000 people applied to become a member. The recruitment process is continuing to identify candidates to enter the Garda College over the coming period. I acknowledge the significant increase in the numbers of women, those from minority communities and those not generally represented within An Garda Síochána applying to become members.

As the Deputy will be aware, in accordance with the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the Commissioner is responsible for the management and administration of An Garda Síochána. This includes responsibility for deployment in which, as Deputies will know, I have no role.

However, I am assured that Garda management keeps the distribution of resources under continual review in the context of policing priorities and crime trends to ensure their optimal use. I understand that it is a matter for divisional chief superintendents to determine the distribution of duties among the personnel available to them, having regard to the profile of each area within the division and its specific needs.

It is very welcome that 316 gardaí have come through Templemore this year. We will have 50 more this week. From September onwards, 200 recruits will be coming through Templemore every 12 weeks. That will only serve to increase our numbers and reach that target of more than 15,000. My preference is to continue with that and go even further, while also making sure we increase the number of civilian gardaí and continuing to increase the number of gardaí on the ground as our population increases.

I am grateful to the Minister for that update and the specific numbers in her response. I was very lucky to attend the centenary celebrations of An Garda Síochána in my local Garda station in Stepaside in the past few days. Having spoken with current and former members of An Garda Síochána who had been stationed at that station, as well as others, there are two issues they asked me to bring back to this Chamber. The first is the desire among serving gardaí to get out into communities and practise on-the-beat policing. That is not just the case in suburban stations such as Stepaside but in city centres such as Dublin, Cork, Galway or elsewhere. The second is the proposal to use civilian staff more efficiently in order that gardaí can spend more time on the street, in communities, liaising with schools, parents and everything else. We should allow the administrative burden to be taken on by those civilian staff. I appreciate that some of that is down to the deployment and action by the Commissioner. I ask the Minister to lay out how we can have those 15,000 gardaí on the beat as much as possible.

The way we will achieve this is through the roll-out of the new operating model. This new model has been proposed through the Commission on the Future of Policing and the subsequent implementation plan, which will result in the reduction of the number of districts. Most important, it will entail a merging of Garda members working in the back office, in the various finance and HR functions, allowing for more front-line gardaí. There are four key areas of finance, HR, crime and community engagement. Merging finance across two districts will allow for more gardaí to be out on the beat on the ground. In my county, Meath and Westmeath are merging, so finance will be based in one area. Every area will see that benefit and increase, with a focus on crime and on community engagement. Covid-19 has stopped progress being made as quickly as we would like but that background merging has still been happening. Cork is the only county that has introduced all four new models. It is happening bit by bit. Having spoken to the Garda Commissioner two weeks ago, the overall intention is that by the end of 2024, all new divisions will have all four operating models in place, which will mean more gardaí on the ground, on the beat, doing front-line duties.

I appreciate that. While Covid got in the way of many of the operational aspects of reform, in many ways it also showed potential positives for an Garda Síochána, not just with on-the-beat policing but also with smart policing. We will hopefully have 15,000 gardaí in due course. Leading up to the budget discussion, will the Minister ensure those gardaí will have the necessary equipment and supports to carry out the role? I am thinking not just of the obvious such as cars and stab vests but also ICT equipment and modern technology because the face of crime is changing ever so rapidly.

One issue I was asked to bring to the Minister by serving members of An Garda Síochána, and I have no doubt she will have heard the same when she addressed the Garda Representative Association conference, is the ongoing debate about rostering. I appreciate the Minister has no role in this but it behoves me to let her know there is a mood and a desire within the organisation to ensure the best, most opportune rostering system is used.

I agree with my colleague that we need gardaí on the beat, out on the street and visible. A lot of them are tied up with paperwork and filing reports and so forth. What is the situation with respect to the other branch of the Garda that has not been mentioned, namely, the Garda Reserve? I understand there are moves afoot to recruit members to it. What are the plans there and when will there be progress in that area?

My intention is to get as much funding and resources as possible for An Garda Síochána in this year's budget. The €2 billion in last year's budget was the largest budget we have ever had, building on significant increases in previous years. An element of that will go towards pay and other areas of current spending. It is important that we invest not just in the physical infrastructure of cars and equipment but in other areas like body-worn cameras. Deputy Richmond has been pushing for and supports the introduction of legislation in that regard. We gave a commitment as part of the domestic, sexual and gender-based violence strategy, announced last week, that €12 million would be allocated for the roll-out of body-worn cameras. That is to help gardaí in their work fighting crime but also to make sure they are protected and kept safe. There will be a particular focus on capital spend, which is a once-off spend. There will be a specific budget for that this year and into next year but we will also be looking at ways to spend that on an annual basis and building on that. The roll-out of the new Garda uniforms will be very welcome. This is the third time in the history of the Garda there has been a change in uniform and it will show the new vibrant policing system.

The issue of the roster has been brought to my attention. I fully understand and appreciate how well the system has worked for many members. This is something the Garda Commissioner is working through with the various groups. I have every confidence that this will be resolved with those he is in final engagement with at the moment.

The Commissioner is also working on a new plan to increase and support the Garda Reserve. That will require a budget so that is something we will look at in the upcoming budget as well. I hope he will be able to publish the plan soon.

Northern Ireland

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

8. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Justice the ongoing contact she or her Department has with the Northern Ireland Justice Department on matters of North-South interest; when she last met the Minister of Justice in that jurisdiction; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35994/22]

I would ask the Minister about the interaction between her Department and the authorities in Northern Ireland. As she knows, I have worked for a long time quietly in the background trying to promote dialogue and discussion and trying to persuade people that the way forward for us all on this island is through that dialogue and political activism. I would like an update from the Minister on the dialogue between North and South, particularly in that context.

I fully support the Deputy's sentiments. There needs to be continuous engagement between governments in general on these matters but also between individual Departments and Ministries. I am pleased there is ongoing contact between myself and my colleague, Naomi Long, who is the Minister of Justice in Northern Ireland, as well as excellent ongoing cross-Border co-operation between our respective Departments on a range of issues. There is also engagement between An Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, and other agencies within our competencies and their counterparts.

As the Deputy will be aware, the intergovernmental agreement on co-operation on criminal justice, IGA, is the main formal stream of ongoing joint work with the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland. Under the IGA, justice ministers from the two jurisdictions meet regularly to discuss criminal justice matters of mutual interest or concern and to develop plans to achieve more effective co-operation and co-ordination on criminal justice matters. The last IGA ministerial meeting was held virtually in February, at which Ms Long and I agreed a new plan of work to run until the end of 2023. The next ministerial meeting under the IGA is being planned for the autumn. Unfortunately, due to the timing of the most recent number of meetings and with Covid figures, they have all been online so we have not had a chance to meet in person through that format. The Garda Commissioner and his equivalent in the North, as well as a number of representative organisations, are also on those calls. We plan to host the next meeting in the autumn and, hopefully, that will be in person. I would be delighted to welcome the Ms Long, if she is still in that position, at that stage.

Under the IGA, a senior officials working group oversees co-operation in a number of criminal justice areas, including forensic science, public protection, victim support and youth justice matters. This group last met in March and includes senior policymakers from all the relevant areas from both jurisdictions. Outside of the formal framework of the IGA, there is regular North-South co-operation. Ms Long and I recently engaged on victims' issues and we issued a joint statement on the topic of consent to mark International Women’s Day. We have regularly discussed how we can work collectively to progress our laws and policies, particularly in the areas of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. Stalking legislation has been introduced in the North, which is something we are now introducing and hope to have enacted later this year.

I note that my Secretary General, Oonagh McPhillips, met her counterpart recently. There is ongoing contact at senior official level too.

There is a slightly wider road to this, because this State is a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement. I do not know if the Minister is aware that there are people in Northern Ireland who have been awaiting trial for up to eight years. They have been held on remand and incredibly strict bail conditions for that period. This is contrary to basic human rights. A fundamental tenet of the law has to be that everybody is not only entitled to justice but to justice in good time. There are also much longer remands in Northern Ireland than in most states. Has the Minister raised concerns or is she willing to raise concerns about these incredibly long periods of remand and bail? If the Minister wants, I can provide further details of the cases. A document has been prepared that outlines the serious human rights concerns involved. Would the Minister be willing to raise this with her counterpart? Justice has to go two ways. The justice system must act in a fair and just manner.

I agree with the Deputy that we all have a role to play in upholding and maintaining the Good Friday Agreement and on how the relationship on this island has developed. From my engagement with the Minister, Ms Naomi Long, and the Department's engagement, a significant way in which we can uphold the Good Friday Agreement is by maintaining peace and making sure that those who seek to disrupt that peace are brought to justice. That is why the work of the IGA, which I mentioned previously, is so vital in this regard. Some of the areas we have worked on in recent years include drug, rural, financial, trafficking and human crime, which includes the trafficking of children and women, often for sexual reasons. Other areas include excise fraud and organised immigration crime. Many of the behaviours of paramilitary groups in the North have crossed over to these types of crime. It is important for us to be able to uphold and maintain that peace and for that work to continue at a ministerial level, as well as between police services and different Departments. I am not aware of the cases the Deputy mentioned, but I would be happy to talk to him afterwards about those.

One group the Minister alluded to has had a ceasefire since January 2018. I understand that is accepted by the Police Service of Northern Ireland. However, its members have, in some cases, been on bail for a long period. People who were associated with that organisation are often stopped and searched. This is of great concern. The level of stopping and searching in republican and nationalist communities is totally disproportionate. As the Minister knows, prisoners serve half of a sentence in prison and the other half outside prison. At Easter, a prisoner who was out on licence informed MARAP, the multi-agency risk assessment panel which is the overseeing body, that he intended to attend an Easter parade. It was not a strange request for a republican. This parade had official permission from the Parades Commission and the authorities. He was asked a number of questions to reply to through his solicitor. He attended the parade and his licence was revoked as a consequence. If I provide details of this case, will the Minister take it up with her Northern counterpart? Justice is a two-way system and the State has to act with justice as well as our demand that all people act within the law.

Without knowing the details of the case, I will be happy to talk to the Deputy outside the Chamber. As he rightly pointed out and as we all know, agreements and arrangements are in place which were reached following a ceasefire, particularly relating to prisoners in the North and the South. We adhere to those arrangements. It is important that we do so and that we ensure we maintain that peace. It is important to acknowledge that there are some who wish to disrupt that and continue to engage in criminal activity and behaviour. We need to ensure that resources are in place and that engagement continues between the police services in the North and South to try to disrupt that as much as possible. I will be happy to engage with the Deputy afterwards.

Question No. 9 replied to with Written Answers.

Departmental Schemes

Joe Carey

Ceist:

10. Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Justice the number of applications to the new community safety innovation fund; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35702/22]

Budget 2022 made a provision for the establishment of the new community safety innovation fund. It was exciting that applications were invited from 11 April to 8 June. I want to establish the number of applications to the new fund.

The development of the community safety innovation fund is a key commitment under justice plan 2022, which I believe will have a significant impact on the development of community safety projects throughout the country. As the Deputy will be aware, my Department opened applications for the new community safety innovation fund on 11 April. The new fund will use money seized from the proceeds of crime to support investment in innovative community safety projects. This a fitting reflection of the successful work of An Garda Síochána and the Criminal Assets Bureau in identifying and seizing proceeds from criminal activity. This is something which my colleagues in government, Deputy Richmond, and many others have campaigned for and sought. Many members of An Garda Síochána have acknowledged how important it is that proceeds of crime are diverted and put back into communities that are vulnerable and victims of these crimes.

The fund has an initial allocation of €2 million under budget 2022. I expect the fund to grow in future to continue to reflect the success of An Garda Síochána, the Criminal Assets Bureau and other agencies involved in denying criminal elements the benefits of their enterprises. It is important that they know that crime does not pay. Any future allocations to the fund will be subject to the usual budgetary process. An information webinar was held on 30 May to provide as much information as possible to potential applicants to the scheme. We had more than 130 attendees.

The new community safety innovation fund closed for applications for the first year on 8 June 2022. I confirm that my Department has received 120 applications from a diverse range of organisations seeking to access funding for innovative projects to improve community safety. The process of initial eligibility assessment and scoring of the applications is ongoing and will continue through the summer. I expect that grants will be made to the successful applicants in the autumn. I will let colleagues know when that happens.

I thank the Minister for her reply. This is a welcome measure, which diverts the proceeds of crime, which have been seized from criminals, and puts them back into communities. When does the Minister expect that successful applicants will be informed? She referred to the autumn. Will she go into the scoring? There will be a diverse range of community activists, residents' associations and chambers of commerce involved in these applications. Is there a scoring mechanism? What criteria will be used to tackle crime, divert people from crime and prevent reoffending? How will one project score more than another?

One of the most important elements that I have tried to convey, which is why we had the consultation process to make it clear to people, is that the projects we want people to put forward should not be able to be funded through existing streams, such as the victims of crime funding from my Department, the HSE, Tusla, the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, or any other organisation. There are various different streams, such as funding for staff of sporting organisations on an ongoing basis. We have asked about new, innovative, once-off projects that do not require yearly funding. We have also asked about projects that can be replicated across the country. I was with a community organisation in my own area, which identified that when younger children left the facility the organisation provides and moved on, it had trouble because the children came back at weekends, climbed on the roof and, while they did not cause trouble, they were a danger to themselves and potentially others.

The intention was that they would put forward a project that would involve those children in developing the space themselves so they would be part of it and it would bring them into the fold instead of them being outside of it. It is those types of projects where it is innovative, different and new. It is once-off funding. It creates safety in a way that might not be thought about in the normal sense. This is how we are scoring in making sure all of those types of marks are met. Again, it will be in the autumn. I do not have a specific date, but obviously I will let the Deputy know as soon as I can.

I thank the Minister for her reply. Obviously, the key people in this are the local communities. The Minister has given a wonderful example of a solution to an issue that has emerged and the involvement of the local community in the solution. Heretofore, that community would not have been able to get the necessary funding to provide that solution. I compliment our local chief superintendent in Clare, Seán Colleran, and his team, on the work they do in combating crime, apprehending criminals, and seizing their assets to bring about this type of solution. I also compliment the Criminal Assets Bureau on its work. We need stronger and safer communities. This is a policy Fine Gael in government is pursuing. I welcome the establishment of this fund and I look forward to projects being funded throughout the country, including in County Clare, to tackle crime and to make sure people do not reoffend. It makes a make a difference and is a ground-up approach.

I appreciate the opportunity to come in on this. I thank the Minister for her kind words. More importantly, I thank her for driving this through with the Government. This is fundamentally a very important scheme, not just for the work it will do but also as a demonstration that crime does not pay.

Does the Minister agree that perhaps this could be viewed as a pilot scheme? While the substantial amount of funding involved is very welcome, it is still considerably less than the amount of cash being seized by An Garda Síochána in any year of the past decade, not to mention the amount of cash seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau, as referred to by Deputy Carey.

The Minister will be aware that one of the key champions of this scheme in communities, particularly around the Neilstown area of Clondalkin, is Councillor Kenneth Egan. As Councillor Egan has put the case to me, will all of the scheme's 120 valid applications get an element of funding or would it be equivalent to the sports capital grant where there is a ranking system whereby funding would be given not just to the most worthy projects with higher scores but also to those projects that can have the tangible effect that is expected?

I will respond to that last question. Grants range from €20,000 to €150,000. We must look at the types of projects that have been applied for. We are still going through that. How many projects receive a grant and how the funding is divided up would then depend on the types of projects that have been sought. The fewer of the €150,000 type projects there are, the more we can spread it across. This is just the first year and it is my intention it will expand. I brought the Criminal Assets Bureau 2021 report to the Cabinet just recently. The bureau has been very successful in its confiscation measures and in returning funds to individuals who have been defrauded. The bureau has done excellent work and we must make sure we reflect that with this overall fund.

When we consider the community safety partnerships that are being developed, there are three pilots under way at the moment, in Dublin's inner city, in Waterford and in Longford. The long-term intention is these community safety partnerships will be able to use this fund themselves where communities would identify the need for different types of projects separate from the different funding streams I have mentioned. They would be able to apply to this community safety innovation fund and use that as part of the overall plan they set out for their individual community needs.

I acknowledge the work of Councillor Kenneth Egan and our own colleague Deputy Fergus O'Dowd who, along with the Deputies and many others, have campaigned for this. I look forward to this scheme expanding and growing. Most importantly, the people in our communities will benefit from this.

Asylum Applications

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

11. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Justice the measures that are in place to deal with the recent rise in the number of persons seeking asylum; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35965/22]

I understand that there is an increasing number of people seeking asylum. I wish to establish what additional measures are being put in place to deal with these people to have their applications and needs met in a timely manner.

My objective is to have recommendations made as soon as possible on international protection applications. This ensures people who are found to be in need of protection can receive it quickly and can begin to rebuild their lives here with a sense of safety and security.

I assure the Deputy that my Department continues to innovate to improve our processes and to reduce processing times, in line with the recommendations made by the Catherine Day expert advisory group, and the commitments in the Government's White Paper published by my colleague, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman. However, the substantially high number of applications currently being received will, no doubt, present a significant challenge in achieving this. To the end of June this year, the international protection office of my Department has received 6,498 applications. This is a 191% increase on the same period in 2019, the last year in which application numbers were not impacted by Covid-19.

The restrictions on international travel for much of the past two years will naturally have created a higher demand for protection now that travel opportunities have resumed. Similar increases in application numbers are being experienced across a number of our fellow EU member states. The war in Ukraine is also having an impact. Some member states are currently hosting hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of people displaced from Ukraine, leaving them with reduced capacity to support asylum seekers from other countries. Ireland is no different in that regard.

My Department is taking all possible steps to ensure we can process applications as quickly as possible. An end-to-end review of relevant international protection processes by a number of multidisciplinary teams from my Department has been completed and published. New measures and procedures will continue to be put in place to improve efficiencies across all aspects of the protection process. Since the introduction of the new efficiency measures, in the first five months of this year we have been able to increase the number of first instance recommendations and permission to remain decisions being made by the international protection office, IPO, by almost 50% when compared with the same period pre-Covid in 2019.

We will continue to look further at how we can increase the processing capacity of the IPO to match the very significant number of international protection applications being received, including through the recruitment of an external panel of barristers, solicitors and legal graduates, which is under way. Given the significant increase in applications, it is creating a significant challenge, even with those improvements and that increased timeframe.

A 191% increase is a phenomenal increase and a huge burden. It is also a huge burden on the people themselves who are coming in, where they are being processed and almost pushed out to other centres of emergency accommodation throughout the country. We have seen situations where people are arriving to emergency accommodation with no blue card and no PPS number and, as a result, they would not have access to basic services such as medical services and a range of other services. One can well imagine that this is a very distressing situation, for example, for one pregnant lady who arrived in Cork, and to everybody else who is looking to avail of services. I am aware that, since then, PPS numbers have been issued to people. Is there a catch-up phase there? Are other people being sent out to emergency accommodation without the basic PPS numbers, blue cards and so on?

The Deputy will appreciate that is a different Department, but I believe I can speak on behalf of all us when we acknowledge the huge amount of work that is being done by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, led by the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, not just in responding to the significant numbers of people coming in from Ukraine, which is more than 40,000 people at this stage, but also with the significant increase in the international protection applications. It is vital an individual who comes to this country who seeks asylum is entitled to that process and that we would do so in as speedy a manner as possible. This is where my Department comes in, making sure we have the reforms and the structures in place to be able to respond and support them in as quick a manner as possible.

Separate to that, we have been involved in the development of the temporary protection mechanism, which are the letters the citizens from Ukraine receive. We work very closely with the Department of Social Protection and the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, to ensure they receive their PPS numbers on time also. This started initially with a one-stop shop in Dublin but it has since expanded and we have a number of one-stop shops now available to individuals. Where they do not receive their PPS number immediately, they can then go to an office at a later date. It is my understanding the vast majority of people who are now coming in are going directly to Citywest where they are now receiving their temporary protection mechanism. They are being supported, if needed, at a later date to make sure they have their PPS number. Obviously, this entitles them to the many other supports also.

I will focus on the non-Ukrainian people coming from many other areas.

There is a system for dealing with Ukrainian people seeking assistance but there are people coming from so many other different areas. Has the Minister identified why there is there is such an increase? Is the UK's decision on Rwanda having an influence on this and has she found the root cause because that would be significant in dealing with and handling the issue?

Accommodation was already a significant challenge for people. What measures are going to be in place to ensure there is satisfactory accommodation for people coming in so that they will be accommodated in a dignified and humane manner while their applications are being processed?

I thank the Deputy for his question. There are probably a number of factors which have resulted in the significant increase. Yes, it is true to say that one of those factors is possibly the policies which have been implemented within the UK and it is possible that the change and the sentiment following Brexit has also had an implication. Post Covid-19 we have seen more people on the move, having not being able to move in the past number of years. There have also been other militating factors. The war in Ukraine has obviously displaced people further but there are also other significant natural events happening across the world with increased famine and climate change again creating a movement of people, in particular coming from Africa. There are a number of different factors and I do not think we could pinpoint just one. We have a number of different countries represented in the higher numbers of people who are coming. A number of people are also coming, potentially, for economic reasons and are seeking asylum so we have to take a number of different factors into account.

The most important part from my side is that we can process applications as quickly as possible. I will briefly mention a number of measures we have put in place. We are restructuring teams and case management units. We have an increasing output which is being offset by an unprecedented rise in application numbers but we are looking at a more efficient workflow. We are identifying and streamlining onerous processes and ensuring staff are directed to areas where they can add most value. A great amount of restructuring has happened and will continue but we are also moving things online. A great amount of investment is happening in our overall ICT infrastructure in immigration to ensure we can respond to people as quickly as possible.

Question No. 12 replied to with Written Answers.

Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence

Alan Farrell

Ceist:

13. Deputy Alan Farrell asked the Minister for Justice if she will detail the implementation plan for the third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35750/22]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

14. Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Justice the way the environment for a person suffering domestic violence will improve under the third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. [35976/22]

This question relates to the implementation plan for the Third National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence 2022-2026. I ask that the Minister might outline to the House her plans in this regard and provide as much detail as she can on how this will improve on the previous strategies.

I will answer Questions Nos. 13 and 14 together.

I will start by saying a sincere thanks to those who were involved in the development of the strategy. This is a follow-on and builds on the great amount of work that was done in the previous two strategies by our former colleague and Minister, Frances Fitzgerald, in particular. We have worked very closely not just with all Government Departments but also with our State agencies and, in particular, with the community and voluntary sector and our service providers in developing this strategy. It was co-designed with Safe Ireland and with the National Women's Council of Ireland, which obviously represents so many organisations across the country. It is a very ambitious plan. This five-year programme of reform essentially seeks to achieve a society where there is zero tolerance for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. We have 144 actions. My intention from the outset was to develop a strategy but also to ensure we have a very clear implementation plan setting out the number of actions; who is needed to carry out those actions; where there is crossover between agencies, Departments and service providers; when those actions are due to be delivered; and the funding that is required for them. We have quite a specific and detailed plan. The first implementation plan is set out for the next 18 months and the subsequent plans will be set out over the coming years.

Many people have asked what we mean by zero tolerance. It means a number of things and I have described it in a number of ways. To me, essentially we are collectively saying as a society that just because abuse happens behind closed doors in a personal relationship or in a family setting, we should not tolerate it in the way that we have. We have done so as a society up until now. Regardless of whether it is physical, sexual, financial or emotional abuse, we need to call it out and ensure those who need help know that it is there and that when they come forward, the services are there to support them. Many of the actions in the plan focus specifically on the need to improve our services, improve engagement, improve access to the information that victims need and put them at the very centre.

The second aspect is how we can each respond in our own general behaviour to domestic or sexual violence but also how we respond to inappropriate comments, touching or types of behaviour that can often lead to much more extreme types of behaviour. It is particularly important to do that at a young age to ensure that our young children, in an open and age-appropriate way, are taught what a healthy relationship is; how to engage with each other as boys and girls, men and women; what a healthy sexual relationship is; how to engage on difficult issues like pornography, which has become more violent; and how to navigate many other areas also. It is about everything from putting the structures in place, strengthening our laws, improving our policies and working collectively to ensuring that each and every one of us in society understands that we have a role to play if we are going to change the way we view, respond to and think about domestic and sexual violence.

Most importantly, as the first implementation plan will develop, the establishment of a statutory agency with sole responsibility for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence to help to implement the strategy will ensure that we develop our number of refuge and accommodation centres. We have given a commitment to double their number from 141 to 282 in the lifetime of the strategy. We intend to develop the agency even further beyond that to ensure it has a role in raising awareness and developing campaigns to reach out to all of us, but to victims in particular. It will also gather data. We have given a commitment to have a Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland report every five years. The last one was done 20 years ago. I think we will all agree that our country has changed and that we need to ensure we are up to date in the types of experiences people have. This is about getting the voice of the victim and ensuring it is at the very heart of what we do. I acknowledge our colleague, Deputy Stanton, who did a great amount of work in this space in his role as Minister of State with responsibility for equality in the Department of Justice.

I say again that this is building on a significant amount of work that has been done. I believe it is ambitious. I hope that if it is enacted and implemented and everybody does what they should do, we will see a significant change in our society in general.

I thank the Minister for her very comprehensive response. I congratulate and commend her on the approach she has taken together with the attention she has given to this particular matter since her first day in the job. It is very encouraging to see the Minister very much applying herself to moving this particular issue forward.

I also acknowledge the contribution of the former Ministers, Frances Fitzgerald and Deputy Flanagan. It is fitting that the former Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, is here for this discussion because his work in this area has been a very significant contribution to the point we are at right now, which is very important.

The Minister is 100% correct in respect of culture, zero tolerance and changing attitudes. Thankfully, it is changing, but it is too slow. For many people who are in desperate situations, it cannot change quickly enough. We need to make every effort in that regard.

I also point to the refuge issue. It is very important that they would be increased in number as much as the Minister can do and as quickly as possible.

I thank the Minister for her words earlier. I want to commend her on the work she has done with respect to the increased number of refuge places. I ask her again to redouble the work on the availability of violent pornography. I agree with the Minister that it has a pernicious effect. I have been reading some reports on it recently and it is very scary and frightening. I ask that the Minister redouble her work on that issue and on making the crime of coercive control more widely known about. Many people do not know what it is and do not know that they or their family are suffering from it. It is, again, pernicious that it is happening. We brought it in as a crime. I have a later question on this issue which will not be reached. I would be interested in making people aware of what it is so that people can be rescued out of it. Very often, people do not realise that they are in it, nor do their relations. I am glad to see that An Garda Síochána is taking it seriously and has been trained in it, and that quite a number of prosecutions have occurred in that area.

I thank both of the Deputies for their contributions. On the delivery of refuge accommodation, a great amount of work is to be done. I am working very closely with Tusla and with service providers. I am building on the work that has been done to date to put in place a very clear structure so that we have a common design and service delivery right across the board. Where we have a county with no service provision at the moment, we will be able to put that structure in place by bringing together the relevant bodies and organisations.

That work is ongoing and funding has been allocated specifically for that. Once we get that structure in place, the delivery will happen much faster. Reaching that target of 282 is just a start and we will then go further to ensure we reach the top end of what is called for in the Istanbul Convention.

Deputy Stanton asked about violent pornography. Many governments in other jurisdictions have tried to address the issue and failed given that it is so easily accessible and available. However, we have committed to work specifically with experts in this area, online providers and the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications to try to find ways to at least alert young people. This is where the education comes into play to show that this is not healthy, not natural and not what healthy sexual relationships should look like, particularly where there is violent pornography. Unfortunately, this is starting to creep in and we are starting to see these behaviours. We know from reports and working with many of the organisations that violent relationships are happening at a much younger age and that is part of the influence. This is an area on which I want to make progress.

A significant element of the strategy focuses on education, not just in getting information and awareness to victims but from members of An Garda Síochána, the legal profession and the Judiciary. Education on coercive control will be a key element of that.

Further to the education piece, as the Minister said in her opening comments, it is important that age-appropriate education would be provided to children in this regard. I am somewhat concerned that the Department of Education seems to be moving very slowly in this regard. I know the Minister has put considerable work into this and she passionately believes in it. I feel that her efforts might be undermined by the Department of Education not being as enthusiastic in trying to progress matters as quickly as she is. I call on that Department to redouble its efforts to speed up the process of ensuring an age-appropriate curriculum is in place for young people, which is fundamental for this issue.

We have worked very closely with the Ministers for Education, and Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science to examine education right from primary school level through to our colleges of further education. Clear timelines for the development of a new curriculum have been set out looking at it in an age-appropriate way with a timeline for the junior cycle and senior cycle and also for primary schools. That will involve engagement. There has been a level of engagement to date on certain aspects of a new SPHE and RSE curriculum. It is important to have that engagement. There is an understanding that this will be done in an age-appropriate way.

The Departments of Education, and Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science are taking a number of other actions specifically looking at consent. The Minister, Deputy Harris, has been to the fore in rolling this out and working with universities and colleges in engaging with students as they come into college on the issue of consent. Separately, they are looking at bullying and harassment in schools and making sure that our teachers are fully equipped to be able to respond to that type of environment and dynamic. It is important that they have the structures in place to support children going through a difficult situation.

Questions Nos. 15 to 23, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

Proposed Legislation

Alan Farrell

Ceist:

24. Deputy Alan Farrell asked the Minister for Justice if she will provide an update on her work to legislate against hate crimes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35751/22]

I ask the Minister to update the House on her work to legislate against hate crimes.

As the Deputy will be aware, Ireland has become a more diverse and welcoming country in recent decades. I strongly condemn, as I know he does, the actions of the small minority of people who subject others to abuse or attack resulting from their own prejudice. On 16 April 2021, I published the general scheme of the criminal justice (incitement to hatred and hate crime) Bill 2021 following extensive public consultation. The general scheme was then referred to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice for pre-legislative scrutiny. This took place in November 2021 and the report was published in April 2022. I am committed to advancing work on the Bill this year. It is my intention that it will be enacted by the end of the year.

The Bill will create new, aggravated forms of certain existing criminal offences, where those offences are motivated by prejudice against a protected characteristic. The aggravated offences will generally carry an enhanced penalty, compared with the ordinary offence, and the record of any conviction for such an offence would clearly state that the offence was a hate crime, something that does not exist and is not recorded at the moment.

Following receipt of the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice in April, my officials have been examining the recommendations made. Some of these recommendations have required further legal advice and consultation with key stakeholders. Last week during Pride week, I was very glad to meet representatives of LGBTI+ non-governmental organisations to discuss a range of concerns, including their wish to see this Bill enacted as soon as possible. Drafting of the Bill is under way with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel and I expect it will be published in the early autumn.

We have all been appalled by some of the recent crimes that have been committed, in particular the murder of two young men and the more recent attacks even during last week's Pride. People have been indiscriminately targeted simply because of who they are and that should not be tolerated. In the engagement prior to the publication of the heads of Bill, it became pretty clear that even though we are a modern and welcoming society, some people living in this country are still afraid to go about their daily lives simply because of who they are and for fear that they will be targeted. This legislation is important and necessary, which is why I want it enacted before the end of the year.

I commend the Minister on her work on this. This is very reforming legislation. It is something that is needed, unfortunately, perhaps even more in 2022 than ever. It was needed in the past and it is great that finally about to become reality. Most of us will never know what it is like to be a victim of hate crime, but the appalling incidents we have seen in recent times remind us all that this is necessary. This cannot ever be tolerated in a civilised society. Within our community, unfortunately the victims of hate crime are our family, friends, work colleagues and neighbours. It is really appalling. The Bill is vital in terms of its practicalities but also in terms of its symbolism in showing that the State will ensure that these people are given the protection they need in statute. I look forward to the progression of the legislation.

As the Deputy said, it is really important that we send a strong signal to those who wish to commit these crimes that they will not be tolerated. It is not just focused on crimes but also on incitement to hate. This is where a person, be it verbally, online, in print or in any other type of media actively seeks to incite hatred against another individual or group of people simply because of who they are, because of their race, religion, colour of skin, sexual orientation or any other protected characteristic.

We have a law that has been in place since 1989. Unfortunately, it does not really work. It has not resulted in many convictions and the Garda has pointed out it is cumbersome and difficult to implement. We are essentially retracting that legislation, building on it and improving it particularly when it comes to speech and incitement to hate. We are now adding this additional avenue of hate crime. While the Judiciary have previously taken that into account, it was never recorded and was never on the Statute Book. It is very important that we are doing that now.

Is féidir teacht ar Cheisteanna Scríofa ar www.oireachtas.ie .
Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.
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