Community Policing: Presentations.

I welcome the delegation to the meeting. This the second of a series of hearings on community policing which will take place over five days. The context of the decision of the joint committee to embark on these hearings is the engagement of members in ongoing work on the development of the criminal justice system. The committee has appointed Deputy Costello as rapporteur to examine how best to approach the establishment nationally of a workable, flexible model for community policing, taking into account that we are dealing with Committee Stage of the Garda Síochána Bill, in particular, Chapter 4 of which provides for co-operation between the Garda Síochána, local authorities and communities through the establishment of joint policing committees.

We are trying to get as wide a perspective as possible on this subject. We have received a number of submissions. Yesterday we met delegations from the National Council on Ageing and Older People, the National Crime Council, Victim Support, the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism, Denis Bradley of the Northern Ireland Policing Board and the Irish Senior Citizens Parliament.

I welcome the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, and his officials and the Garda Commissioner, Mr. Noel Conroy, and his colleagues. Before I invite the Minister, Deputy McDowell to address the meeting, I draw to the attention of the speakers that while the members of the committee and Oireachtas Members have privilege the same privilege does not pertain to the witnesses. I call the Minister to address the meeting.

As the committee will be aware, sections 31 and 32 of the Garda Síochána Bill, as passed by the Seanad, provide for the establishment at local authority level of joint policing committees comprised of elected representatives and gardaí. The definition of a "local authority" includes county, city and town councils. It is intended that these joint policing committees or JPCs would provide a forum whereby gardaí and local authorities can co-operate and work together to address local policing and other issues. The intention is to make those committees real workable institutions whereby local representatives and the communities they represent would deal with the gardaí on matters of local concern.

By way of background to this concept, I point out to Members of the Dáil in particular that when the Bill was initiated in the Seanad it was initiated with a slightly different model in mind, which arose from discussions during the drafting of a Bill between the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The latter seemed to favour a model along the lines of the county development board approach to local policing committees. That Department had in mind a system whereby economic and other interests would be dealt with on a county basis. It did not envisage town councils and the lower sector of local government being represented in this model. Rather than have a lengthy debate prior to publication and wrangle within Departments on this subject, I decided to publish the Bill on that basis. However, it was always my view that it was likely that when it reached the Oireachtas there would be a much stronger constituency, if I can use that term, for direct involvement of locally elected public representatives rather than, and I do not want to use this term dismissively "a qausi-automonous non-governmental organisation approach" — known in Britain ten years ago as quangos — to it. I wanted to have something which was directly accountable to local authorities.

The background to that approach arose, among other things, from discussions I had with Deputy Rabbitte shortly after my appointment as Minister. He was anxious that there should be a direct role for elected public representatives at local level rather than their being sidelined to make provision for other interests at local level to have their say. It did not come as a surprise to me and it was a matter of some relief that the overwhelming consensus in Seanad Éireann, and I believe the position is the same in Dáil Éireann, was that the primacy of elected public representatives in this process should be reinstated and respected. The Bill was amended substantially in that direction as it went through Seanad Éireann

I stress that these committees will not be one-way avenues for local public representatives to give out about Garda inadequacies. They are being put in place as a partnership arrangement. They also deal with issues such as estate management, planning, traffic, street lighting, public order issues, drinking in public spaces and licensing issues.

Sometimes there is a tendency — and I have to admit it, as an elected politician — to regard the environment in which public order and law and order issues arise, as quite separate from the policing issue. The tendency is to say that policing and crime prevention are the responsibility of the Garda Síochána. That is a false distinction, however, and it is an unhelpful way of dealing with issues.

For instance, Dublin City Council is the landlord of a considerable number of estates in the city. Many issues concerning the lay-out of those estates and their facilities deal with matters that are essential to the maintenance of public order in areas where social housing is more dominant than in others. In fairness to Dublin City Council, it has taken a constructive approach, particularly under the current Lord Mayor. Although Dublin City Council has not attempted to do so, it would not be good enough for a city council to ask the Garda Síochána: "Will you maintain law and order because that's not our department?" That is not a fair way of doing business. Decisions are made every day concerning youth facilities, the lay-out of estates, maintenance, public lighting, by-laws on drinking in public places and a thousand such matters, where the local authority should have a central role in determining the quality of life in the community and the background context for law and order issues for the Garda Síochána.

What I have in mind is a two-way street in which, primarily, the Garda Síochána and local authority members will interact to ensure that they co-operate to bring about an adequate level of policing methods and a proper climate for policing in the areas where they are involved. The key matter is that by deciding on local strategies to deal with particular difficulties, the local community would become actively involved and have a stake in the solution. Therefore, it would have a better chance of being successful.

The committees will not have power to direct the Garda Síochána, while the latter will not have power to direct a local authority to carry out a task in a particular way. However, it is of interest that the Bill creates for the first time a duty for local authorities, in exercising their powers, to have regard to law and order issues, including policing, in their functional areas.

I envisage that this will be a partnership approach. If a proposal is agreed to at one meeting, the members will be entitled to question progress on it at another meeting. In this way, all members will be accountable. Likewise, the committees will be required to report to the local authority, the Minister and the Garda Commissioner. Therefore, where progress is not being made, or is being hindered, it could be highlighted by the committee or by any interested party represented on the committee, and the required action could be taken at a higher level. Overall, these joint policing committees are a significant innovation, which will strengthen policing at local level.

I want to deal with the question of how this will translate into different policing resource dispositions. Operational matters are the responsibility of the Garda Commissioner. Prior to the introduction of the new statutory structure, the Commissioner and I are determined that increased emphasis should be put into focusing the attention of the Garda Síochána on front line policing duties.

Recently the Government established a working party and I hope for early progress in civilianisation making a quantum leap forward in the latter part of this year. This is in order to free up the potential of Garda resources so that gardaí will be available for all the calls on those resources, not least in providing high visibility policing. The Commissioner is a champion of that policy emphasis and I fully support him in that regard.

There is a perception that, in the past, some areas of law enforcement, such as road traffic matters and community policing, were residual. It was thought that when other issues required resources, traffic and community policing were effectively at the end of the queue. We must counter that perception by giving community policing a central role in planning how things are done. It is of great importance and no professional policeman or woman would dispute that fact. Therefore, community gardaí will not be taken away from a particular district to fulfil other duties when and if the need requires it. The same applies to road traffic matters.

I will be happy to answer any questions that members of the committee may wish to ask.

Thank you very much, Minister. Deputies Costello, O'Connor and I will be the first questioners. If others have questions to pose they could perhaps keep them brief, as time is restricted. I wish to check on time with the Minister and the Commissioner.

I have to be elsewhere at 10.30 a.m.

Does the Commissioner have a similar requirement?

Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy

Shortly after 11 o'clock.

I have a few questions. Who will get involved in the policing committees? The Minister has placed the emphasis on elected local representatives and he said the local community will be become actively involved, but how involved? What does the Minister see as the make-up of local policing committees? Will they operate outside Dublin? In Dublin, there are areas such as south central, south east, north central, central, north west and others. For example, within Dublin south central, there are areas like Ballyfermot, Inchicore, Rialto and Crumlin. Breaking down the areas, therefore, one could expect to have community policing fora or organisations in up to 50 locations in the Dublin area. Is that workable? How does the Minister see the input of the local community operating? What will be the make-up of the committees?

There is a perception that the road traffic and community gardaí are the residuals and can be moved from their duties for more important operational tasks, which is the Commissioner's prerogative. We have been receiving submissions that this perception is the reality. How much work and effort will be involved when the Minister splits the operational role from the overall strategic role?

The committee, as amended, will comprise members of the local authority nominated by it, members of the Garda Síochána nominated by the Commissioner in accordance with the provisions of the section and Oireachtas Members. This is important because one of the problems caused by the dual mandate abolition is that Members have been marginalised on this issue. The committee membership will also include persons nominated by other public authorities and such other persons as may be provided for in the guidelines. When the Bill was being drafted, health boards were still in place but the Health Service Executive will be included.

The National Crime Council, under the chairmanship of Mr. Padraic White, has approached the Department and asked that an explicit status be given to voluntary and community groups. While I will consider this, I do not want to pre-empt the debate on the legislation or create a quango.

On the local police forum issue, under section 32, one of the functions of a police committee is to establish, with the Garda Commissioner's consent, as it considers necessary within specific neighbourhoods of the area, local policing fora to discuss and make recommendations to the committee concerning the matters referred to in section 32(2)(a) as they affect their neighbourhoods and to co-ordinate the activities of local policing fora established under paragraph (d). That is vague because I want to be flexible.

I cannot produce a blueprint for how people will be selected to serve in local policing fora, for example, in the inner city of Dublin. I could spend from now until the crack of dawn working out paper models for how that should be done. It may well be that what suits south inner city Dublin in the Chairman's constituency might be wholly unsuitable for north inner city Cork for local reasons. My aim is to provide a flexible model having regard to the realities of communities. Different models of representation will be adopted. For instance, in some areas local residents' associations will be an appropriate vehicle through which to select these fora but that might be counterproductive in others and tend to politicise residents' associations which are primarily aimed at worrying about flower pots and other issues not related to policing.

If the Chairman says it is not prescriptive, I accept that but the reason for vagueness is I am conscious that in, say, the inner city of Dublin, fora are operating and I do not want to say they are the only model or interfere with their structures by saying I know better than them. The reason for the precondition of the Commissioner's consent is fora will have to be serviced. There is no point in having an unserviced forum. I do not want a scenario where attendance at fora becomes so onerous that when the Commissioner has his officers out from behind their desks, they spend their evenings debating local policing conditions all the time. He must have control.

The Chairman referred to the perception of road traffic policing. It is a little exaggerated but an assistant commissioner has been given responsibility for the road traffic corps which will be established on a progressive basis over the next 12 to 18 months. Approximately 600 gardaí are assigned to road traffic units and the plan is to use between 1,000 and 1,200 when Garda numbers have increased. Deploying them under an assistant commissioner will place a full-time focus on this activity and they will not be deployed in a residual mode. The perception is a little exaggerated. If 600 gardaí are divided among the various counties and the number on duty at a given time is considered, at a given time only a handful are on road traffic duty per county.

If the Minister ring-fences road traffic policing, community gardaí are residual.

I do not wish to engage in a knee-jerk reaction and say, "I will do the same for community policing" because at the end of the day I would build an inflexible force. However, I recognise the danger that if I ring-fence road traffic in annual policing plans agreed by me with the Commissioner and following directions given by the Government, unless there is a countervailing value in the plans to ensure community policing is not residual, it will be vulnerable.

I welcome the Minister, his officials and the Commissioner. I am delighted with the commitment to community policing and refer to the logistics of road traffic policing. How will community policing develop in importance within the policing structure? Will a separate subhead be provided for it in the Estimates in order that funding is ring-fenced to avoid the current situation where community policing is very much the Cinderella of the system? It should be mainstreamed and become a major part of Garda operations. This should be reflected in the Estimates.

Mr. Denis Bradley told the joint committee yesterday that if he was providing for the concept of community policing, he would not start where the Minister has in the legislation. Like a Kerryman, he would start somewhere else. Part of the problem is that there is no Garda authority because there is no separation between the Minister and the Garda Síochána. In addition, oversight of the police force is not built into the proposals whereas the Northern Ireland model consists of an independent authority and joint policing committee to which the police force reports. The Minister's proposals are considerably different in regard to monitoring and oversight.

The role of the community plays third fiddle. In other words, the Minister sees it as a two way street between the Garda Síochána and public representatives. If this is community policing, will it not be necessary to provide a more central partnership role for the community and the community and voluntary business sector so that they are not just add-ons but are central to the process?

Padraic White made the point to me that he thought it was overly democratic, that the pendulum had swung too far from the original county development board model to a direct representational model.

Let us all dispense with the county development board.

His point was that in moving the pendulum across from one to the other, I have gone too far and left out business representation and communities as of right. I am thus making the point to the Deputy that a delicate balance must be struck between the authority of local public representatives and their mandate to make decisions compared with other persons in the community. Obviously I am not inimical to business interests having their voice heard, or for that matter local community interests, so long as they are democratically mandated. The Deputy will understand that local groups without a mandate can spring up very quickly and this can be a problem.

On the question of the Estimates, I do not know whether it would be more an illusion than anything else for me to ring-fence a pile of money in the Garda Vote for community policing. I do not know whether I would just be introducing something which appeared good on paper but had very little——

I suggest a broader heading of crime prevention.

The new statutory arrangement sets out in Chapter 3 of Part 2 of the Bill the role of the Minister and the Garda Commissioner. The Minister sets priorities in section 19 of the Bill and supplies those priorities as a matter of Government policy to the Commissioner. On foot of that, the Commissioner must prepare a strategy statement and an annual policing plan which must be his response to the Minister's statement of priorities. This is provided for in sections 19, 20 and 21. This is a new provision. It will be a public and transparent process and not a secret matter whereby I slip a note to the Commissioner one afternoon stating my priorities and he slips something back to me saying this is his strategy statement. It will all be in the public domain.

It is in this context that the policy decisions will be made as to the balance of resource allocation to be struck, for example, between community policing, detection, anti-drug activity, immigration control, traffic control, anti-fraud measures and the Criminal Assets Bureau. It is not possible now just on a paper basis to decide to give 20% or 10% to community policing. This kind of command economy view will not work. It will be an organic process and a transparent public process and the Oireachtas will have full sight of this process as it happens and be in a position to criticise it.

I do not intend to spend much time on the third point which the Deputy raises, which is the question of an independent police authority, not because I do not think it is important, but because he and I fundamentally disagree on it. What is good for Northern Ireland is not necessarily good for a sovereign State. The Northern Ireland Police Authority has party political membership and is constituted as such. Some people in this State seem to think it is some kind of apolitical body which is great and good but it is not. It is a political process designed to deal with a divided community and to get everybody into the policing process. We do not have that exact problem. We have other issues such as the fact that the Garda Síochána is the national security force. As Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I cannot surrender security to some group of people who are not directly accountable to the electorate.

The Minister has gone slightly outside the scope of the committee.

Will the Minister answer my second point which was that the joint policing committees, the equivalent of the joint partnership committees in Northern Ireland, do not have any police representation? In other words, is there any monitoring or oversight mechanism for the operations of the police?

I apologise. I meant to point out to the Deputy that during the passage of this Bill through Seanad Éireann, Part 5 was inserted to provide for a Garda Síochána inspectorate, the purpose of which is to monitor Garda performance by independent benchmarks. This is a response to a number of issues, not least the view expressed by Mr. Justice Frederick Morris in his first report that if there was to be accountability, there had to be knowledge and a capacity to inquire commensurate with that accountability. The purpose of the inspectorate, which is different from the ombudsman service, is precisely what the Deputy says, to ensure that if standards of community policing lapsed, either throughout Ireland or in a part of Ireland, and significantly departed from internationally accepted benchmarks, it would come to the public attention and there would be a group of people in a position to report on that. The results of that report would be put into the public domain and be the subject of public controversy in the event of something going seriously wrong.

We will have a very interesting Committee Stage of this Bill.

I wish to be associated with the welcome extended to the Minister and his officials and the Garda Síochána. I am always happy to acknowledge the role of the Garda Commissioner and his staff. I am a strong supporter of community policing and I congratulate the Minister on the manner in which he is taking on this challenge.

The Chairman referred to several areas in his constituency so if I stray into mentioning Tallaght the odd time, he will forgive me. I represent a major centre of population. I was born in the inner city, I lived in Crumlin and I now live in Tallaght.

The Deputy appreciates the votes of his family.

There will be more on this from Deputy Mulcahy.

And the Minister of State, Deputy Lenihan, also. I bring to my politics my life experience in that regard. The subject under discussion this morning is something of which I have been aware for a while. TheTallaght Echo last week is very relevant to this discussion. It was dominated by stories about anti-social behaviour and families being terrorised. When considering these submissions it struck me that this new initiative has a clear role to play in this regard. One of the submissions received by the committee was from a resident of Tallaght. She made the point that it is very important that this initiative should not take away from the important duties of the Garda. She was anxious to make the point, as are many people, that it should not just become a forum to listen to minor gripes in community talk shops. This committee will be looking to the Minister to ensure this is dealt with in the legislation.

How will the Minister develop a partnership approach to this legislation? In my view, public representatives have a definite role to play in this regard. At the same time, there will be sensitivity about community representation and how the community perceive it. Policing in Dublin South-West is delivered from Crumlin, Terenure, Rathfarnham and Tallaght. There is always a sense that when we get a community garda who does a good job and is seen on the ground, knocking on doors and working with youths, he rapidly gets promoted, which is fair enough. I know the three gentlemen came from that background.

I do not want to stop gardaí from being promoted but we need real commitment to community policing on the ground. In Tallaght we have a strong sense of the importance of community gardaí. As I have mentioned many times, the community bus forum, which comprises people from Dublin Bus, the community, public representatives and the Garda, led by PatEdgeworth, does a tremendous job in preserving a service on a community basis. Huge potential exists in this regard.

While I am excited by the Minister's proposals, some clarification is required on the points Deputy Costello and I have made. I look forward to strongly supporting the Minister.

The Minister talked about high visibility policing and the idea of community policing and quality policing. For many Deputies the biggest complaint we get is that high visibility policing is not seen in disadvantaged communities, particularly by the elderly. Most of the calls I get are from elderly people with problems when they telephone the Garda. I am concerned about the possibility of tokenism within the communities on the policing committees. The Minister mentioned the term democratic accountability within the committees. I hope we will not simply see the usual positive people within communities, who are on local schools' boards of management or are involved in the local football club. We need to be able to reach out to the sections of the population that do not have confidence. We need a mechanism to get such people involved.

I welcome the Minister, the Garda Commissioner, Noel Conroy, and our other visitors.

We will conclude questioning of the Minister after which the Garda Commissioner will make his opening statement and we can then question him.

I welcome the initiative taken by the Minister regarding the primacy of the elected representatives. I acknowledge that many of our local authorities, including Nenagh Town Council, of which I was a member, have already established a good working relationship with the Garda. Meetings have already taken place to consider public lighting and the other issues that help in reducing crime. Having a more established forum is a positive step. While the Minister might say that the Commissioner will need to respond, I ask a question of the delegation. I welcome the recruitment of an additional 2,000 gardaí and I also welcome the enhanced accommodation in Templemore. Where will those gardaí go when they have completed their training?

While we have heard much about Tallaght and the cities, rural policing is also very important. In the past crime in rural areas was almost non-existent, because the local garda was on duty. He was generally well known on first name terms and people felt free and were confident to relate any unusual occurrences that might lead to crime. While that aspect was very important we have lost much of it. Garda stations are being refurbished by the OPW, including a beautiful little one in Dolla in my area. However, we need them to be manned. Places on the outskirts of Limerick city in County Tipperary, such as Ballina and Newport, have growing populations but have only one or two gardaí. I hope we will see many of the 2,000 additional gardaí allocated to such growing areas of population and to rural areas where in the past people used to be familiar with their local garda.

While I know we have ruled out the county development board model, a chief superintendent was involved in those boards. As a former chairman of my local county development board, my experience was that the chief superintendent had issues to deal with which he considered much bigger than community policing. He was inclined to look at what was happening in Dublin rather than what was happening at a local level. If this proposal is to be successful, we will need a dedicated force to look after communities, whose training is oriented towards community policing. The basic problem is that the structures at local level are not properly in place, particularly in vast rural areas and bigger cities. The smaller towns with town councils have the structures in place. We need to consider how the basic structures will be put in place elsewhere. Better local government was introduced with the idea of establishing area committees with participation by State agencies, the local community and public representatives. This has not worked and we should learn from that experience that a different system is required.

Deputy O'Connor referred to anti-social behaviour, which dominatesThe Echo in Tallaght. I am dealing with the matter in the Criminal Justice Bill and I intend to introduce anti-social behaviour orders, which will be new to Ireland but have been tried in Britain. If local youths are sitting on the garden wall of an elderly lady’s house and are drinking beer and shouting and roaring into the middle of the night, the matter will no longer need to be addressed exclusively through the criminal process. In the modern era with mobile phones, by the time the gardaí arrive, everybody has scattered, which makes it difficult. It will be possible to summon the people believed to be involved to court on a civil basis and have the local District Court judge make an order directing them to refrain from carrying out a particular activity that was the subject of a complaint. Breaching the order would then become an arrestable offence if any of them were subsequently found engaged in that activity. This gives a more flexible approach to policing an area. If youths loiter around a place and vandalise it, tailor made orders can be made to keep them away such that if they were found in the place again they would be brought to court and punished.

Deputy Finian McGrath asked about high visibility policing particularly in marginalised communities. After I leave the meeting the Commissioner can deal with the matter at greater length. It is now his major priority to orientate the Garda Síochána to high visibility policing. Both of us share the notion that the public confidence is directly proportional to visibility of gardaí. While it could be argued from a professional point of view that an invisible Garda presence is very important in other respects, public confidence is hugely supported by highly visible Garda activity. In that context we are trying to get gardaí out from behind desks and, as far as possible, get the desk type jobs done by non-gardaí. I am very confident the package we are putting in place will lead to significant advances in that regard in this calendar year. That is what I am hoping for.

Other matters need to be considered when discussing the visibility of gardaí. Individual gardaí are required to input all material into the PULSE system. In some areas they have to travel significant distances from Garda stations which do not have a PULSE terminal to those which have such equipment to do this work. All such matters are being addressed. We are examining the possibility of establishing call centres where specialised staff can input data on foot of radio or telephone messages in order that gardaí would not have to do the work themselves. I discussed yesterday the possibility of enabling members of the force to have greater access to the PULSE system while on the move.

Deputy Hoctor spoke about the deployment of new gardaí. The joint committee is aware that the size of the force has increased to 12,200 and that an additional 2,000 gardaí are to be recruited. The first phase of the enhanced recruitment process has taken place and the process will continue over the next two years. Its purpose is to increase the size of the force to at least 14,000. The Deputy made a good point. Those of us who have canvassed in counties Kildare and Meath recently are aware that there has been a significant movement of population. Some hard decisions which would not be good for rural Ireland would have to be taken soon if the Garda Commissioner was not about to receive the extra gardaí.

I agree with Deputy Hoctor that changes in the deployment of gardaí should not be made at the expense of the sense of security of people living in rural areas. The Deputy's preoccupation should be dealt with by the new resources, the civilianisation effect, the increase in efficiency as a result of initiatives such as PULSE and the Garda Commissioner's policy of deploying high visibility gardaí. It is worth repeating that 5.3 gardaí are needed to deploy a single garda behind a desk or security box in any place in Ireland 24 hours a day. That figure is reached when one takes into account holidays and shifts, etc. Neither the Commissioner nor I would be happy with a static police force, the members of which spend most of their time indoors. Our joint aim is to achieve a different set of objectives.

I assure Deputy Murphy that I am not trying to denigrate the county development boards in any way. We need a flexible approach in different areas. I do not believe, for example, that the model used for a local policing committee in Fingal should necessarily be used for such a committee in County Mayo. I do not believe the same issues necessarily apply in two places. It may well be that business interests in Fingal or south Dublin are concerned about new shopping developments, for example, and therefore have a different order of interest in the policing function than their counterparts in County Mayo. I have chosen those areas as examples. I am wary of the "one size fits all" approach to local policing committees. We have to retain flexibility in the system.

I had doubts about the county development board model which was provided for in the Bill when introduced in the Seanad. My doubts were confirmed by the almost universal reaction of Senators of every persuasion and ideology. They wanted the primacy of public representation to be central to reform and I have gone with this. If I have gone slightly too far, I will tweak it slightly in the opposite direction if the Dáil thinks it is appropriate to do so. I am reasonably happy that we are adopting the correct approach at this stage. I intend to continue to adopt such an approach.

I thank the Minister. The joint committee is grateful for his presence as he has helped it in its deliberations. We appreciate this. The Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, will take the Minister's place for the rest of the meeting. I invite the Garda Commissioner to start his presentation.

Commissioner Conroy

I will make a brief statement. Since its establishment, the Garda Síochána has prided itself on its close links with and commitment to the community. The force's ethos was outlined by the first Garda Commissioner who said "the Garda Síochána will succeed, not by force of arms but by their moral authority as servants of the people". The decision to establish the Garda as an unarmed force can be used as evidence of that ethos which continues to set it apart from its policing counterparts.

Society has changed significantly since the Garda Síochána was first established. The force has had to keep pace with such changes as they have manifested themselves in order to continue to provide the policing service demanded of it by the community. The social changes to which I refer are most evident in the community policing sector. The Garda's policy in this regard is based on the notion that the force must work in partnership with people in the community. Such an approach involves taking a shared responsibility for dealing with issues such as local criminality and anti-social behaviour. The Garda is aware that it cannot solve such problems by working alone. Many of its initiatives during the years have been based on such an approach.

Neighbourhood policing was first established in Finglas and Tallaght in the 1980s. The term "community policing" can mean many things to different people. It can encompass many of the various methods and initiatives used to develop greater levels of engagement between the police force and the community. In urban parts of the country it generally refers to the deployment of dedicated Garda personnel to specific geographical areas.

Under community policing schemes, communities are given their own gardaí, with whom they can discuss everyday occurrences within local areas and build strong and supportive personal relationships. Community gardaí assist the residents of local areas to prevent crime by supporting their efforts to promote neighbourhood watch and other crime prevention initiatives. They work with other social agencies in local areas to help to curb crime and vandalism. However, they need to be conscious at all times that they are gardaí. They enforce the law by prosecuting, where appropriate. Four inspectors, 44 sergeants and 398 gardaí are employed full-time in community policing schemes.

The first Garda youth diversion programme was established in the Ronanstown and Killinarden areas of Dublin in 1991. There are now 64 such projects, supported by a budget of €5.5 million in 2005. The aim of the programme is to divert young people from criminality and steer them from the criminal system when bringing them to court. The Garda Síochána considers that the projects have been successful. Many of those who have received cautions under the programme have not reoffended. We are pleased about this.

I would like to speak about community policing. The Garda Síochána has examined the most appropriate structures for formalising its engagement with the community. That search has resulted in the creation of a number of community policing forums in the Dublin region, two of which were proposed in the response of the local drugs task forces to the drugs problem in the north-east inner city and Kevin Street in 1999 and Cabra in 2002.

I could continue but time does not permit. If members ask questions, we will probably cover everything.

I thank Commissioner Conroy for attending. If he has other relevant material he wishes to submit, the joint committee would be delighted to receive it in a hard copy or by e-mail.

There is no need for me to be parochial as the Garda Commissioner knows as much about New Ross as I do due to his service there as a superintendent.

Yesterday the joint committee heard an interesting and incisive contribution from Councillor Eibhlin Byrne on behalf of the National Council on Ageing and Older People. She referred to the importance of continuity in Garda personnel dealing with local communities. It takes time to build a relationship with a community and staff turnover and, as Deputy O'Connor said, promotions break connections. If personnel could remain in place for longer periods, the objectives of the scheme would be better achieved. Does the Garda Commissioner have a view on how this might be realised in practice?

Commissioner Conroy

When community gardaí are assigned, we aim to ensure they are engaged for three years. Community policing must be made attractive to encourage the right people to become involved. If it is not made attractive, there may be problems in the calibre of the individuals assigned to the duties involved. We choose fine, active individuals to work with communities. If a garda delivers for a community, the community will also deliver for him or her. Communities are the eyes and ears of a garda and if he or she works well, problems will be few and far between.

In spite of what we might wish, it is important to create structures which offer movement for gardaí assigned to community policing work. While personnel changes mean the learning process must be restart and communities must find out about the new gardaí assigned to their areas, new personnel can bring fresh ideas to bear. There are pros and cons and it is very difficult to strike the right balance on every occasion. From time to time we have to change personnel, having assigned the wrong person to an area. I am the first to admit that some officers are very good with people, while others are not.

Is it the thrust of policy to attempt, in so far as possible, to assign community gardaí to an area for a reasonably prolonged period to facilitate the establishment of relationships?

Commissioner Conroy

Yes. It is my aim to assign community gardaí for a period of two to three years.

The Garda Commissioner spoke of the importance of partnership with local communities. The more support and goodwill gardaí generate within a community, the better for crime detection. The victims of minor crimes such as domestic burglaries sometimes feel gardaí, due to their experience and priorities, fail to take account of the effect of an offence on them. People have told me of instances in which the Garda Síochána did not show great interest in pursuing the crimes of which they were victims. While I accept there may be difficulties in detecting perpetrators, what can be done to avoid the creation of a lacuna between the Garda and the public?

Commissioner Conroy

As the Senator knows, victim support arrangements are in place. In the last 48 hours the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform announced changes to these arrangements. Where there is victim support available in a Garda district, gardaí can bring it to the attention of victims, especially the elderly who are vulnerable to fear. We cannot provide for gardaí to make a great number of visits to victims as their main task is to find culprits and bring them to justice but they will bring the victim support system to their attention. Victim support units are also informed about victims.

What has been the Garda experience of people's willingness to channel their concerns through victim support structures? While they are inclined to engage with the system where personal injuries have resulted, they do not tend to approach victim support units in respect of other crimes such as minor robberies. What can be done to encourage them to do so?

Commissioner Conroy

I have always believed in localising matters. Victim support personnel should be more proactive in engaging with the community by using local radio and the print media. Perhaps we should provide more encouragement. I will definitely raise the matter with the board when it is established.

Deputy Murphy took the Chair.

The next questioners shall be Deputies Costello and O'Connor.

I welcome the Garda Commissioner, the assistant commissioner and the chief superintendent to the meeting. I am aware of the Garda Commissioner's commitment to community policing, something it is important to maintain among the higher echelons in the Garda Síochána to ensure it remains an operational priority.

Section 32(d) of the Garda Síochána Bill 2004 provides that local policing fora can only be established with the consent of the Garda Commissioner. Section 34 provides that the Garda Commissioner shall make arrangements to obtain the views of the public and shall consult the Minister before doing so. I would have thought that an ongoing part of the Garda’s work would be obtaining the views of the public. As there are no major security or logistical problems involved, it is unnecessary to deal with the process in the bureaucratic manner set out in the Bill.

The public seems to have been consigned to an inferior role. It may only be consulted in community policing fora if the Garda Commissioner so decides. Is he satisfied that a more integrated role for the community has been provided for? While I accept it is not his function to criticise the Minister, does his experience suggest there is a need to require his consent for the establishment of fora? Should not establishment occur on a consultative basis rather than on the basis of the Garda Commissioner's consent, given the focus on partnership arrangements?

Commissioner Conroy

I have no difficulty with participation by the community as such participation is essential if we are to move ahead with policing plans. However, I have finite resources and if, for instance, fora were being set up in various places and I was unable to service their needs, I would have a major problem and communities would have a major problem with me in so far as I would be unable to deliver the type of service each different small section of the community might wish. I must take cognisance of my resources, while at the same time ensuring that whatever we decide to do is done professionally and we are able to deliver the service we set out to deliver.

The views of the public and section 34 of the Garda Síochána Bill are also related to resources.

Commissioner Conroy

The views of the public can be obtained in several ways. We have been going down the road of public attitude surveys. When the guidelines are made available to the Garda, which is a matter for the legislators, we will work whatever is put before us. If the Garda Síochána has the resources to work along the lines of the Act and guidelines, the Deputy can be assured we will not be found wanting.

The whole purpose of a consultative mechanism such as community policing fora is to obtain the views of the public. It would not, therefore, be necessary to have a separate section in the legislation specifying that the Garda Commissioner will have further structures for obtaining the views of the public aside from those already in place. In other words, having a proper partnership will require all structures to be integrated. I will not pursue the issue as it is a matter for the Minister.

Senator Walsh raised the issue of promotion. If community policing is to be a central part of Garda operational structures, it will involve at least a couple of thousand gardaí as opposed to the current figure of 398. It is proposed to establish structures at local authority level as well as a consultative structure, policing fora, at a lower level and to take a major new structured approach towards crime prevention and dealing with major crime in the community where the vast majority of crimes are committed. In this context, will two to three years be a sufficient period to enable the major chunk of the force who will be involved in community policing to build up the necessary knowledge, experience and contacts?

Commissioner Conroy

I am not sure of the numbers, nor could I state with certainty that 2,000 or 3,000 gardaí will be devoted full-time to community policing. Part of the training of every garda in uniform is to service the needs of the community in the broadest sense. Naturally, however, demands made on the force every day must be serviced. To devote between 2,000 and 3,000 gardaí to full-time community policing would create major difficulties for me in the current circumstances. To allocate even 2,000 gardaí for this purpose would mean closing a large number of Garda stations, which I do not believe people favour. It would be difficult for me to take these steps and, at the same time, have the full confidence of the public whom we are here to serve. Ultimately, I must take cognisance of what people on the street are saying about the Garda and the type of service we are giving. If we lose public confidence, I have a major problem. I must therefore, keep matters finely balanced at all times.

As the Minister stated earlier, I am putting as many gardaí on the street as possible. Again, we are examining initiatives related to PULSE, including the issue of data entry, to relieve our people in various parts of the country in which stations are not networked. At present, gardaí travel up to 15 miles to input information. I hope this will change in the near future as a result of with is being done. In other words, I hope many more gardaí will spend much more time with the public, dealing with issues such as anti-social behaviour, particularly public order issues.

I wish to pursue this issue a little because once the Bill is enacted, every local authority and community will seek the services the Garda will be statutorily required to provide. Resources, staffing, funding and so forth will clearly be major issues. Education and cultural changes will be required if community policing is to be effective. This will mean restructuring and refocusing the police towards a community role by placing more gardaí on the beat and increasing contact with the community. People skills, public meetings and various structured activities will be necessary and demands on the Garda will be considerable at community level. Policing will not take place in a vacuum. Is it planned to introduce new training courses in Templemore or refocus it on community policing?

I tried to raise with the Minister whether there should be a dedicated police force. The Commissioner has just stated this is not achievable within the resources available to the Garda Síochána. Valid questions have been raised about the length of time community gardaí spend in the community, the relationships they develop with individuals and organisations and the invaluable asset this develops into over a period of years. The Commissioner stated that a special type of person is good at community policing and must be trained and deployed in the most effective manner possible. To paraphrase Deputy Costello, if a much larger chunk of the police force becomes involved in community policing and given that community policing has a preventative role and should, therefore, loosen up resources at a later date, is there not a good argument for having a dedicated force from the outset, particularly from a training point of view?

Commissioner Conroy

On the training front, every member of the Garda Síochána must be trained having regard to the legislation enacted by the Oireachtas. In other words, regardless of whether a garda is involved in a specialised area or community policing, he or she must know the law in order to enforce it. Naturally, we expect those members engaged full-time in community policing to enforce the law, whether in terms of a crime investigation or dealing with drugs or social problems. Individuals must be given a broad training.

The individuals assigned to community policing would be assessed by the local district officer. He or she would decide if an individual was sufficiently competent and capable to go into this area of policing. Various in-service courses are held in divisions on an ongoing basis. These provide the necessary skills for interacting with people and dealing with the issues that present. These courses exist as a matter of form.

Unfortunately a vote has been called but we still have a few minutes remaining.

I have an interest in all the subjects under discussion. I am interested in what Mr. Conroy said regarding the pioneering of the partnership in Tallaght, community and neighbourhood watch and so on. I am particularly interested in the youth diversion project. I previously referred to the challenges as I see them in regard to anti-social behaviour. I am pleased the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Noel Ahern, is present because he has done tremendous work in that regard. It is an issue for the Commissioner and the force.

Is it intended to develop the youth diversionary systems? I ask the Commissioner to forgive my particular interest in Tallaght. I have been campaigning to have the Stay project in Tymon North properly funded and developed. That would be important in the context of what we are trying to achieve in this regard. Will the Commissioner state what will be done in regard to more diversionary projects, especially in Tallaght and Tymon North in particular?

Commissioner Conroy

I will pass that question to chief superintendent Michael Feehan. He is an expert in that area.

Mr. Michael Feehan

Garda youth diversion projects were first established in Killinarden and Ronanstown in 1991. We have expanded from two projects in 1991 to 64 projects on a national basis which puts a significant demand on the structure and how we operate and manage the projects. In the past 12 to 18 months we have tried to copperfasten the existing projects. New guidelines have been put in place for the better management of the 64 projects. We have also looked at the responsibilities of the different stakeholders involved in the projects.

Demands for new projects have come from a number of places, not least from around the Tallaght area. The budget this year is €5.5 million. Any new applications will be examined and prioritised in line with available resources.

Perhaps Deputy O'Connor could raise the issue in private with the chief superintendent.

I will do that.

I thank the Commissioner and his colleagues. The Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, has kindly agreed that the meeting can be suspended for ten minutes so that members may vote.

Sitting suspended at 10.55 a.m. and resumed at 11.20 a.m.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, and his officials from both the Departments of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.

I thank the committee for affording me the opportunity to talk about community policing and the provisions in the Garda Síochána Bill 2004. As Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government with responsibility for housing and as Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs with responsibility for drugs strategy, the Bill's provisions have particular relevance to my areas of responsibility. I particularly welcome the proposals to enhance the co-operation between the Garda and local authorities through the establishment of joint policing committees and local policing fora.

The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, in accordance with section 31, will be consulted on the guidelines to be issued concerning the establishment and maintenance of these joint policing committees. That is important and we are pleased to be involved in the setting up of those guidelines. We are pleased that the policing committees will include councillors, other elected representatives and gardaí. Their purpose is to improve the quality of life, enhance safety and prevent crime, disorder and anti-social behaviour.

As the committee knows, there can be very complex interactions between the built environment, planning and the incidence of crime. It is very important that housing estates be laid out and designed properly. Architects designs are not reponsible for all problems but they can help to solve problems. In recent years there has been great attention to detail in trying to ensure that local authorities design estates in a way that eliminates, as much as possible, hang-around locations and other locations that create problems.

On the question of drugs, a steering committee, chaired by Kathleen Stack, is engaged in a mid-term review of the national drugs strategy. We have had a very detailed consultation phase and the public was invited to make submissions. There were a number of regional fora around the country, most of which I attended. All the major groups, community groups and agencies attended oral hearings.

A number of common themes have arisen. The role of community policing and engagement with the community in curtailing the influence of organised crime was raised throughout the consultations. Community groups, in particular, emphasised throughout the process that we need to facilitate communication between communities and the Garda to ensure problems are addressed more actively, particularly in respect of tackling drug dealing. Progress in extending community policing fora beyond the current pilot areas is regarded, at community level, as being rather slow. However, the formalisation of the fora in legislation has been very much welcomed. Particular concern was expressed in local drugs task force areas, where people have heard a great deal about community policing in certain areas.

We were very pleased to hear the comments of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the Dublin Lord Mayor's commission on crime. He stated that while the Bill will have general application in all local authority areas, the authorities will, at the same time, have the capacity to adapt to the needs and circumstances of those areas.

On the mid-term review of the national drugs strategy, the community policing fora currently operate in three local drugs task force areas in Dublin — the north inner city, Cabra, and the south inner city. While slightly different approaches have been taken in the different areas, the model preferred by contributors to the mid-term review, particularly community groups, is the one that operates in the north inner city. This model involves the appointment of a civilian community co-ordinator who liaises between the Garda and the local community. There is a management committee, involving senior officials from the Garda and Dublin City Council and community representatives.

All of the community policing fora are highly regarded but the people seem to favour the model in the north inner city, perhaps because it was the first to be established. The forum in the south inner city is Garda-led while the others have civilian co-ordinators.

I very much welcome the provision pertaining to joint policing committees. I regard them as a vehicle for embedding policing in the community and helping to ensure responsive policing. The involvement of local authorities and, in particular, public representatives on the committees should further assist these aims.

Both the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs welcome what is being done and the fact that the fora are being formalised in legislation. My officials and I will be happy to answer any queries members may have.

I would like to be associated with the welcome extended to the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, and his staff. I am never afraid to admit to my admiration for the work of the Minister of State because he does a great job regarding housing and the committees. He is in frequent contact with us in Tallaght in respect of the local drugs task force and other issues.

I have strong views on anti-social behaviour. It has always been a problem but has become very prevalent in many communities recently. It is evident everywhere. In recent weeks, I have spent much time in Kildare. I noticed that the problem is not just confined to Tallaght and the inner city. I was canvassing for a good cause in Leixlip last night and I noted the community's reaction to anti-social behaviour. It is a problem and I know the Minister has taken a particular interest in the matter.

There has been some progress in addressing anti-social behaviour recently and local authorities are being given powers to respond to it. However, this has created other problems. In this regard people ask me about tenant purchasers and people in private estates who suffer from the anti-social behaviour of those living in rented houses. I am not picking on those in rented housing but communities throughout the country wonder why a difficult tenant can be evicted from a local authority estate only for him or her to go to a health board to seek a rent subsidy to rent property in a private estate where he or she will cause the same problems. I am not stating that everyone does this. It is a small problem — but it is a problem nonetheless. People admire the Minister of State's work with the Department in dealing with anti-social tenants in council estates who cause all sorts of problems, including drug-related ones. They ask why these measures cannot be extended and why the wider issues of tenant purchase and anti-social behaviour in private estates cannot be dealt with. Does the Minister of State have views in this regard and can he offer some encouragement to people in estates that the powers afforded to local authorities in this matter will be extended?

I mentioned that theTallaght Echo, which has many stories and is well worth reading, has been dominated for the past two weeks by reports about anti-social behaviour. It is a cause of great upset to people in the community and it is a disgrace that young families must deal with these situations. Often it is young women with children who are given problems by louts. Whatever about the wider problems of crime and vandalism, there is a serious issue in terms of anti-social behaviour and the Minister of State has a role to play in this regard.

I welcome the Minister of State and his staff. He is responsible for housing and drugs on a national basis, which work straddles two Departments, namely, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. The legislation before us only relates to two Departments, namely, the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Environment, Heritage and Local Government. However, it is within his remit as Minister of State with responsibility for drugs that much of the activity on community policing has taken place which has emanated from the two community policing forums on the north side of the city, which in turn came directly from the local drugs task force.

Does the Minister of State feel it would be appropriate for there to be some recognition of the role of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs which should be party to the statutory basis for community policing given that communities form a major part of these proposals? The Minister of State averted to the mid-term review of the programme, in regard to which a great deal of work has been done. I believe it will be soon, but will he indicate to the committee when the final report will come before us?

Will the structures relating to community policing form part of the report? For example, a number of community policing fora operate on a pilot basis on foot of the local drugs task forces. In this context, will the local drugs task forces be encouraged to establish other community policing fora or will they be subsumed into this legislation? What will be the role of the regional drugs task force in this matter? What is the standing of the existing community police fora which are part-funded by the local drugs task forces, particularly in terms of the co-ordinators who would be from the areas?

The Minister of State's brief is very pertinent to the issues of housing, community and drugs which we are discussing. In that context, does he feel that the role of the community seems to have be relegated to a second tier position in terms of the statutory provisions? It seems that the Garda and the local authorities are the facilitators who will run the programme and that the involvement of other parties, such as the business, community or voluntary sectors, are secondary.

I, too, welcome the Minister of State and his staff before the committee. I am aware that recent renewal application forms which are now available through my local authorities, namely, North Tipperary County Council and Nenagh Town Council, and which I am sure is a template used throughout the country, include questions of tenants or potential tenants as to whether they have ever been arrested or questioned for anti-social behaviour. These questions are new to application forms for people being assessed with regard to their housing needs. Did the initiative in regard to the criteria applied to people applying for local authority housing come from the Minister of State?

Ballygraigue estate in Nenagh, which was built by and is still the property of the National Building Agency, has experienced anti-social behaviour in its green space and the local authority will not take on board any of the difficulties. For example, a shebeen-type shed was built by children in the locality on the green but because the green is the property of the National Building Agency, the local authority would not attempt to dismantle it. Some of the residents are quite elderly and do not want to interfere even though the area was being used for anti-social purposes. Can a greater level of communication not be established between the local authorities and the Department to form a joint approach in tackling these issues? The issues might appear to be very small, but they are big for people living in areas such as this. I would welcome the Minister of State's comments on this matter.

The Minister of State referred to the question of the built environment and the effect it can have on an area. The Government is to be complimented on the introduction of the new housing initiative under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, which has introduced a good housing mix in most of the new developments which are being built. I am convinced this will have a tremendous social effect. However, we are still left in a position in which older housing estates do not have the type of social mix which is desirable. Are there initiatives which the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government could implement to try to make these houses more affordable or help to improve the social mix in the older estates? If this could be achieved, it would greatly help with local initiative.

Deputy Hoctor referred to the National Housing Agency and other voluntary housing agencies like Respond and others. There should be an obligation on these agencies to create the desirable mix. They should not build all the social housing but rather provide a large amount of affordable housing and private serviced sites within the areas in which they build so that can we achieve the social mix which the Government is trying to promote under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000.

Deputy O'Connor and the Vice Chairman have referred to much the same point. There is a perception that some local authority estates experience a great deal of anti-social behaviour and it is true in some cases. That can be a result of their design. A local authority official told me that a survey was carried out in the 1960s asking people what they wanted in their houses and everyone requested a back entrance for bicycles, coal and so on, but the result of a survey in one decade becomes the scourge of areas in the next. Local authority staff now tell about problems with extinguishing legal rights of way in laneways. What seems like a good idea in one decade becomes a problem in another.

Up to ten or 15 years ago, the design of local authority estates left a lot to be desired and in some cases was not very good. Even now, despite that the Department has strict guidelines for local authorities and voluntary bodies, some of the plans that are submitted are unsatisfactory because there are obvious spots where groups could congregate and will be destined for trouble later on. Through these guidelines the Department tries to avoid back lanes and areas that are out of sight. If there is to be a green area, it is best to have it out front where everyone is looking. Eyes are the best form of security. Open areas at the backs of houses will cause problems with drinking and drug taking later on.

Finance was a factor in building houses in the past and, as a result, we now spend €200 million a year on regeneration and remedial works trying to correct the resultant problems. The notion of doing something on the cheap, as might have been done in the 1960s, does not last in the long term.

If tenants do not behave, they can be evicted, but no one likes to evict a family. In the 1997 Act, exclusion orders were introduced and they have been of assistance. In many cases the family are reasonably decent but have a young son who is a pup. Rather than evict the whole family, the exclusion order allows the local authority or, in some cases, the family to take the initiative to seek an exclusion order from a court, whereby the son is excluded not just from the house but from the street or the suburb. That has been of some value for many local authorities.

It arose at meetings that a family could not be touched if they are tenant purchasers. There was a clause, however, in the Residential Tenancies Bill that gives local authorities the power to exclude individuals, although it is not as strong as it would be with a tenant. I do not know if has been used yet by any local authority, but it gives a local authority the power to summon the owners of a tenant purchase house and tell them formally that they are on notice and that an exclusion order can be sought not against the owner, because that brings in constitutional issues, but against any other adult occupant, be it a son or son-in-law, who might be in the house. Until now, if a local authority called in a family who were tenant purchasers, the family could tell the authority to go to hell because it had no right to involve itself. The local authority has that legal right now. It may not have got to the stage of a case being taken to court but it exists and it will be of some value.

On a private estate, where a person is a private house owner, there are no rights from a housing or anti-social perspective unless the anti-social behaviour falls within the Garda remit. On the private residential side, people who are on rent allowance or in rented accommodation are covered by the Residential Tenancies Act. The Act also gives the right to third parties to take action. If a person is next door to a rented house and it is the cause of anti-social behaviour, action can be taken and the Private Residential Tenancies Board can be asked to get involved. The house owner can be ordered to stop the anti-social behaviour and if that means getting rid of the tenants, so be it. That power exists now in the disputes resolution side of the Private Residential Tenancies Board and people with complaints about private rented accommodation should go to the board.

The Chairman raised the issue of social mix. Government policy is for integrated estates that mix rented, voluntary and private housing. So far, some of the housing associations deal with rented accommodation. Houses, however, cannot be bought out from a voluntary housing body. That is the strong view of the voluntary housing associations. They want to build up their involvement in the rental stock. Some people in voluntary housing associations say that they would like to buy out their houses. When people buy a house, they are making a statement and everyone looks after something they own much better than something they rent, be they rich or poor. As of now, however, the Irish Council on Social Housing, the body that controls voluntary bodies, is of a mind that it is into rental stock, not selling.

There is a small grant scheme in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government of €1 million to €2 million each year under which we fund community groups and local authorities for tenant training programmes. We train six to ten staff members of local authorities each year to deal with tenant liaison or anti-social behaviour. We do not fund them on an ongoing basis. We do it as a pilot programme for a year or two. A number of local authorities get a grant for one official for a year to deal with anti-social behaviour in a particular estate. That is designed to help with initiatives to tackle anti-social behaviour.

In some local authority estates, houses were lying idle for years because they were vandalised. We allowed funding last year for local authorities to refurbish some of these houses in difficult estates. We gave local authorities money to refurbish some of these houses lying idle for years in rather difficult estates and said they could sell them at a knock-down price thereafter if they had the proper tenant purchaser and even if they did not recover the full refurbishment costs. Sometimes an empty house or a badly designed estate becomes a focal point for these problems.

May I clarify one point? The obligation on the private sector to provide 20% social and affordable housing is a great idea. Should there be an equal obligation on the social housing groups to provide a mix within their estates with a combination of affordable and private housing?

The local authority would or should do that. Voluntary housing bodies concentrate on rental properties and see that as a black and white issue. The most they will do is mix standard family housing with housing for people with disabilities or senior citizens. Sometimes the mix exists in a broad area, not necessarily in the one estate. I understand the logic of the Vice Chairman's question but I do not have a good answer with which to shoot it down.

We are keen to ensure the community and voluntary sector is involved in tackling drug related problems. Deputy Costello referred to the community sector being relegated to second class which may be because some groups want a community co-ordinator. It is important that the local gardaí, the local authority, public representatives and community workers discuss and try to deal with these issues.

No one has all the solutions to these problems. I do not have a strong view on who controls this. Many voluntary committees do great work one year and not the following year depending on who is in charge. Having a statutory agency as the linchpin can be the right way to achieve this, provided the community is not treated as second class. It should be key stakeholder with an equal involvement.

The mid-term review, which we hope to complete in April, received many submissions on community policing fora. We are dealing with the Departments and agencies. The Garda and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform are on the national drugs strategy team. I chair the interdepartmental working group on the drugs issue, which involves the Garda and the Department, and the prison authorities come occasionally. We are pursuing the extension of these fora to local drugs task force areas and later to the regional drugs task force areas. The view locally and in the submissions we received, is that these are necessary. Everybody should have an input.

Deputy Hoctor made a point about the new application form for housing. Is she unhappy that we ask for information?

Was the addition of these probing questions on the new application forms to assess housing needs an initiative of the Department or the local authorities? I only saw it last week and did not have a chance to check that up.

The Department is involved in preparing that form although it might carry the logo of a particular local authority. There has been an attempt to standardise the form which was designed by a committee of the Department and the local authorities. Residents and community groups always want to know whether a tenant has been checked out. That is certainly the case in Dublin.

An informal system operated for several years whereby some tenant groups were given the name of the likely tenant because in many local authority areas people know family networks. Given that informal processing existed, it is probably no harm to ask people these questions. It does not mean that someone will be penalised because he or she once committed an offence.

It is a matter of trust and knowledge. If someone committed an offence five, ten or 20 years ago, he or she will not be penalised forever. This, however, provides basic information which the local authority can check with the Garda before letting a property. It is an attempt to standardise what has been done informally.

Chapter 4, section 31 of the Garda Síochána Bill provides for guidelines to establish the joint policing committees in consultation with the Ministers for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Justice, Equality and Law Reform. They have sole responsibility and their joint committees establish the community policing fora but the absence of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs is an anomaly because it is the only one intimately involved with developing models through the drugs task forces. Would the Minister of State oppose an amendment to that section?

I have not——

These guidelines will determine much of the character and structure of the joint policing fora and so on. Surely the Minister of State's expertise and responsibility for housing and drug related problems would be relevant to these guidelines.

When it is put that way, it is very hard to say the Deputy is wrong. Based on my experience as a Deputy and in the Department, these two Departments are key to this. Until lately we were involved only with the local drugs task forces which operated in Dublin, with one each in Bray and Cork. Since the creation of the regional ones, that involvement has extended. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform may have regarded this as affecting only certain areas and therefore we did not have the same statutory right to be involved as the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

The Deputy may well have a point but it is not the case that we do not deal with the Garda because we do through the national drugs strategy team and the interdepartmental working group. However, his point forms the basis for a good amendment.

The relationship would be best placed on a statutory footing.

I compliment the Minister of State on his replies. I wish to return to the issue of vetting by local authorities that Deputy Hoctor and I raised. Under certain circumstances, such a process is fair. The Dublin South-West constituency has a mix of local authority and private housing. Residents in private housing estates often point to the right of local authority housing residents to vet the backgrounds of housing candidates. However, the same does not apply to residents in private housing estates. This is apt as many local authorities can either buy private housing for local authority needs or give rent subsidies for private houses. Does the Minister of State agree that private housing estate associations should have the same rights in their relationships with local authorities concerning families being housed in estates?

I live in a private estate and I have no right over deciding who may buy the house next door to me.

That is not the point I make. Associations say to representatives if a suspected difficult or criminal family comes into a local authority estate——

Where they are renting it?

Yes, that it is recorded. In this case, a residents' committee can say to the local authority that it does not want a drugs family in its estate. Residents' associations in private estates often ask us why they do not have the same right if families come into their estates, whether under the rent subsidy scheme or local authority housing in the estate.

The residential tenancies legislation gives local authorities the power to put a tenant purchaser into an estate. However, if there is one tenant left in the estate, such as the example of the Killinarden estate with 1,000 houses, the legislation also covers the other 999 tenant purchasers. If the last house buys out and becomes a tenant purchased house, the legislation is useless. I can only act on what is provided for in housing legislation. I cannot use the legislation to help a private housing estate. Neither am I going to begin a discussion about constitutional rights. The power vested in us is on condition that the local authority has at least one tenant in the estate. If that one tenant goes, we have no powers. This is a different ball game. One possible way around it is if local authorities buy one house in every estate, no matter if it is a local authority estate or not. If the local authority bought one house in a private housing estate, it would then have a duty of care for its one tenant which might have a knock-on effect. I cannot act in the case of a private estate.

I thank the Minister of State and his officials for attending. I welcome Mr. David O'Donovan, Mr. Sean Moriarty and Mr. Brian Dack from the probation and welfare service

Mr. David O’Donovan

I thank the committee for the invitation to make a presentation. I will provide an overview of how the probation and welfare service functions, with particular reference to the network of local offices we are developing in communities. Mr. Dack will describe how staff of the service are involved in a range of co-ordinating bodies that aim to improve services within communities. Mr. Moriarty will comment on the contribution of community service orders and outline the range of projects and service providers we work with and financially support to make supervision programmes in the community more focused and effective.

In tandem with other agencies in the criminal justice system, we aim to reduce crime and make communities safer places for all. Our unique contribution is to offer professional assessment of the risk of re-offending and programmes that can be put together to ensure offenders address their criminal habits, while also improving their social functioning and interpersonal relationships. By offenders, I mean those who have been before the courts and found guilty of or pleaded guilty to criminal offences.

The probation and welfare service has a staff of approximately 450, including 300 probation qualified posts as well as administrative support and community service workplace supervisors. Our funding comes from two subheads of the Prisons Vote approved by the Oireachtas. This year, total funds approved for the service amounted to €45 million. Of this, approximately €20 million, 44%, is for wages and salaries. The balance, the non-pay operational budget, will be spent on capital and current funding for community-based projects.

With this funding we deal with approximately 6,000 offenders and their families on any given day, of whom 900, 15%, are female. We provide a service for courts exercising criminal jurisdiction. On average we have approximately 3,200 offenders on different forms of court ordered supervision, plus 120 on temporary release from custody. There are more than 2,500 offenders on whom reports are being prepared for the courts.

Community is an important concept for the probation and welfare service. Some 80% of our staff are based in communities with the other 20% assigned to institutions. Most prisoners will return to their communities after serving their sentences. Communities are often the victims of crime themselves. How offenders relate to their community is a key factor in their pattern of crime. The service seeks to work with offenders in their own milieu and link in with other agencies, voluntary bodies and local groups as they also have a role in contributing to the effective management of offenders.

To enable us to deliver on this, we have sought to develop offices in local communities and all major towns across the State in conjunction with and supported by the Office of Public Works. Rather than bringing offenders and their families into a city centre, it is more efficient to have them come to a local office not too far from their home. There are significant savings in travel and more importantly in the use of staff time. Our experience has been that probation and the prevention of further offending is better accepted when we have a visible presence in the community, especially if it is a one-stop-shop where all those who need to contact us can readily do so. Having local offices also increases hugely networking with other agencies and community groups and the co-ordination of inputs when for example several agencies are dealing with one family. Our officers get to know staff of other service providers on a face-to-face basis and we are more familiar with what is going on in the community. Those are the benefits of local offices. We have six suburban offices in the Dublin area and 25 outside Dublin. That does not include staff working in prisons and in children's detention centres. We are keen to develop more local officers' resources committees.

My colleague Brian Dack will now comment on our involvement in multi-agency bodies.

Mr. Brian Dack

As Mr. O'Donovan has indicated, the probation and welfare service has a remit of public safety which we fulfil by holding offenders accountable to orders of the court. We are committed to the management of offenders in the community and we do this through planned supervision programmes. We also combine effective co-ordinated action with other agencies in the community through which we engage offenders in addressing their offending behaviour both individually and in group programmes. We provide services to the Central Criminal Court, the Circuit Court and District Court. We provide pre-sanction reports that deal with offenders' responses to the offences before the court, their attitudes to and their patterns of crime, their awareness of victimisation and the factors that led to the crime, involving their personal and social history.

We also provide assessments of risk and need on convicted offenders. By preparing these we assist the courts in the sentencing process. In our assessment we look at what international research informs us are the core elements behind offending. We look at offenders' criminal history, their education and employment history, their ability to financially manage their family support networks and family of origin, accommodation issues — whether homelessness is involved — their use of leisure and who their companions are because we know that an offender with pro-criminal companions is more likely to be involved in crime.

We look at alcohol and drug misuse, any mental health issues offenders may have, and their general attitudes. We know again from international research that community-based interventions are more effective than custody-based interventions. In fulfilling the orders of the court, our officers address these issues with the individual offenders, either in one-to-one supervision or through group work programmes. We have a range of such programmes throughout the country which look at offending behaviour issues, for example, anger management, social skills training, alcohol and offending, and addiction programmes.

In our one-to-one work we also network with statutory, voluntary and community agencies. As Mr. O'Donovan has indicated and as Mr. Moriarty will discuss in greater detail, we are involved in the funding of relevant local projects. In our development of a network of local offices, we work closely with statutory, voluntary and community agencies. Motivation with offenders is a key factor and is increased where the services are accessible. That is also built on the capacity of the community to address offending behaviour. At a service development level we participate in a range of committees, such as the wholly funded and part-funded projects of which Mr. Moriarty will speak, but also RAPID social inclusion groups. We were involved with the integrated services initiative in the Dublin 1 area in its early days which was a forerunner to RAPID. We are also involved in local area partnerships and in sub-groups with regard to the social inclusion area. We work quite closely with the Garda on the Garda diversion projects and we participate on the boards of management of more than 25 of those projects countrywide.

We also have representation on a range of homeless fora with statutory, local authority and voluntary organisations. We are involved in domestic violence fora at a national, regional and sub-group level. We are involved with the drugs task forces at regional and local level and were involved in Dublin 1 in the inter-agency project a number of years ago which was the model on which the drugs task force was developed. We are also involved at county development board level with the social inclusion sub-committees and we have a role on child protection sub-committees and child care advisory committees. As a result of the approach we take individually in sustaining the remit from the courts of public protection and bringing offenders to account for their behaviour, we are involved at an operational level in networking in communities while at a broader level we are involved in policy and service development.

Mr. Seán Moriarty

Reference has been made to the committee-based projects. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, through the probation and welfare service, funds more than 70 such projects, of which 40 are fully funded and the remainder part-funded. Some 73% of our non-pay budget or more than 40% of our total budget is used largely on these services. While they are primarily located in areas of major population, they extend from Kerry to Donegal and from Waterford to Louth, embracing 17 counties. Ten of the projects are wholly or partially funded by the national development plan.

The location of a project is determined by evidence-based need following preparatory analysis to establish identifiable target groups, long-term sustainability, support of local community and absence of a similar facility. Following consultation with a wide range of community-based voluntary and statutory agencies and individuals, a committee comprising local organisations and interested parties is formed and the application and funding process begins. Programme content is usually developed by identifying the needs of the target group and responding accordingly in keeping with evidence-based "what works" principles. Programmes are designed to enable them to adapt to changing needs that arise in the wider community. The focus is to provide a facility to encourage participation from a sometimes very reluctant group to engage their interest. The programmes consist of an extensive range of educational, vocational, social and recreational life skills that address a variety of needs.

In challenging their offending behaviour, participants in programmes are assisted to recognise the sequence of events that lead to offending, accept responsibility for their behaviour, consider the consequences of their offending, acquire and experience a more positive means of addressing behavioural and social difficulties and provide a foundation to build an alternative, more satisfying lifestyle. For many, engaging in a structure and disciplined routine for the first time in their lives provides an opportunity to change in a supportive environment.

Most of the programmes with which we engage are certified by FETAC which opens up all sorts of different opportunities for progression into further training, employment or education. Many of the programmes have helped people towards the applied leaving certificate and we are aware of one person who came through that process who will attend university next year.

The aforementioned primarily address the educational, vocational and training elements of our projects. In addition, we have programmes in counselling, re-offending reintegration, substance abuse and treatment in after care, victim-focused work with perpetrators, accommodation, prison visiting, assessment and, most recently, mentoring.

The Community Service Act 1983 came into operation in 1985. Community service provides a community-based alternative to imprisonment by enabling offenders to carry out work in the community. It provides for persons over the age of 16 sentences which can be from 40 to 240 hours maximum. The service is used by the courts after the offender has been assessed by the probation and welfare service as being a suitable person willing to carry out the work, and if the work is available. There are about 1,000 community service orders in existence at any given time. This converts into approximately 150,000 hours of unpaid work in the community annually.

The benefits to communities are enormous. Community service work is very varied and extensive. It includes environmental, painting, decorating, making window boxes, bird tables for charities, gardening, graveyards, renovating and repairing old people's homes and many other tasks. It engages with youth organisations, charities and local residents' groups. The unpaid work is normally carried out under the supervision of community service supervisors of whom there are 75 employed nationwide specifically for that work.

Research conducted into the scheme in 1999 by Dr. Dermot Walsh and Paul Sexton indicated that 81% of community service orders were completed satisfactorily. Some 17% were revoked for non-compliance. It is a much more economic sentence than imprisonment, and benefits also accrue to the offender. It allows the person to retain his or her freedom, generates a positive attitude towards community service, something verified by the 81% completion rate, and enables the offender to put something positive back into the community — an element of restorative justice.

We have two restorative justice projects, one in Tallaght and one in Nenagh. The whole community service philosophy also engages in restorative justice. The last thing I would mention is that we are in the process of putting in place a service agreement with each of the organisations with which we work.

The probation and welfare service is very welcome, and I thank the witnesses for all the detail. Might it be possible for them to give us a written report? It would certainly be great to get all the figures they were able to give regarding their operations, staffing levels and so on. I will leave the restorative projects in Tallaght and Nenagh to my colleagues.

In my area, in Sean McDermott Street, I presume the service will open a one-stop office in the convent. Have the witnesses information on that? We will not oppose it. There was some opposition to the local probation and welfare service office in certain other areas of which we read from time to time, but that will not be the case in Dublin Central. The service will be very welcome. On that point, from what the witnesses said, it seems that the thrust of their operation is now clearly to provide a local service. The intention is to be based as far as possible where the action is to provide the service there, rather than people having to travel into the city centre, whether they be staff, offenders or people on the books in one form or other.

Regarding the matter under discussion, there is obviously a certain overlap. However, the witnesses are not involved in the community policing process but in community service orders and the probation service. They are in the business of providing capital and recurrent funding to various facilities, all of which are part of the general area. However, when this structure is put in place and established nationwide, we will have joint policing committees in all local authorities as well as the consultative forum.

Is there a likelihood that much of the work the witnesses are currently doing will be encompassed by the new structure? For example, if 40% of funding is for capital and current projects, facilities, training, education, life skills and so on, it is likely that the communities where such fora are to be established will say that the area is an integral part of community policing fora and that they expect them to deliver on it. They may say, if there is a problem with anti-social behaviour or offending in an area of the State, that they need such a structure. They will, therefore, ask the fora or the joint policing committees to provide that. As such, is there any specific role for the probation and welfare service in the new structures and has it been consulted in that regard? Do the witnesses envisage such a role, and how do they see themselves relating to the new structures? That is my first broad question, but there are others.

Please go ahead. We do not have much time.

I will leave it to the restorative justice project. According to the witnesses, the community service orders are a major success story of the system. Perhaps they will tell us a little about how they operate and their role. Can they influence the judge on such orders? Do they have the funding to provide an adequate structure and service for it to take place — supervision, staffing and so on? Is it an area where they could expand if the resources were there?

I would like to be associated with the welcome extended to our friends. Mr. Moriarty's presence reminds us both that we had a life before we started our current careers. I often say that I bring to politics experience from my work with Mr. Moriarty in the National Youth Federation, which was based in the north inner city. I came across many of those issues, and reference has been made to Tallaght and the restorative justice programme. I am very proud of the work that has been achieved in that regard. I speak as the founding chairman of the Tallaght mediation bureau, which ploughed a furrow for the restorative justice initiative. I am delighted the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, will come to Tallaght tomorrow to launch a report in the localBolbrook enterprise centre. I will be there.

I kept my question brief.

A question, please.

I do not have a question, but I would like to support the view that my colleague, Deputy Costello, has expressed. We are very aware of the great work that is being done by the probation and welfare service, and that is certainly true in my community in Tallaght, where tremendous work is being done. I do not wish to repeat Deputy Costello's question, but I will tag this on to it. I would be interested to know how the witnesses see themselves in the evolving situation that we are discussing this morning regarding community policing and the structures that are to be set up to involve the community. Do they see challenges in that regard, with communities wondering who is coming among them and what work is involved?

I speak as someone with a great deal of contact with people affected in that regard and I absolutely agree with the points made. We must rehabilitate people and there must always be a better solution than prison. I am a strong supporter of that. However, there will be challenges and I wonder, as Deputy Costello does, how the witnesses see that evolving. Other than that, I praise and applaud the work done by the probation and welfare service, not only in Tallaght. I am very proud of what is being achieved there and of my involvement, but I know that the service has done great work elsewhere also. We should be aware of what is being done. It is better to do that than lock people up.

I too welcome the members of the probation and welfare service and thank them for their work, in particular for supporting and providing ongoing funding for the Nenagh community reparation project, which, I think they will agree, has been a great success, with community involvement at high levels. "Mediation" and "reparation" are rare words nationally, which I learned recently when we had the chance to engage with others involved in restorative justice in Budapest, Hungary, at the recent national conference. We see that Ireland has a long way to go. Were it not for the probation and welfare service, we might never have heard those words.

However, in light of the review going on in this House and with participating bodies such as that of the witnesses invited to make submissions, what is the next step forward in bringing restorative justice to the fore of the Irish experience? To elaborate, I will mention the recommendations of Mr. Justice Michael Reilly, who, as the witnesses will be aware, was largely responsible for the Nenagh community reparation project. He broke the mould of the judicial system and said that there was a better way and that he was prepared to try it. We must bring the judicial system on board regarding community-based reparation projects. I cannot see any of those people attending our committees, but we must nevertheless realise that devolving responsibility with the co-operation of the probation and welfare service is most important to communities if such projects are to proceed.

On the report being prepared by the National Crime Council, which was mentioned yesterday, I am interested to know about the contribution or the participation of the probation and welfare service. Has the service made its mark as regards the final outcome, which we understand will come about in June 2005?

Just before I hand back to Mr. Moriarty, the question of resources is obviously an issue within every organisation that comes before the committee. One wonders at times whether we are using resources to the best of our ability. Generally speaking, we hope community service orders will become far more common than incarceration in our justice system. The system exists already within the FÁS structure and now under the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, which has an entire structure of supervisors and community involvement throughout the country. Can there be closer co-operation and may the probation and welfare service use those facilities to a greater extent in trying to implement community service orders?

Mr. Moriarty

It was remiss of me not to mention that we dovetail with the services FÁS and the VEC provide. There is enormous co-operation from FÁS and the VEC around a range of different activities they promote. On Deputy Costello's question, if a judge is considering sending someone to prison, as an alternative he or she may decide to hand down a community service order. It is referred to us to determine whether the person is willing and suitable and if there is work available. If those three options are available, the judge normally makes a community service order. That is how the decision is actually arrived at and this initiative is used extensively.

The probationary service has no pre-advisory role before the judge.

Mr. Moriarty

No, that is correct.

The judge consults the probationary service rather thanvice versa.

Mr. Moriarty

That is correct. He or she must make the decision as to whether to send someone to prison. There is no role for us except to promote community service as an alternative sanction to custody.

If the probationary officer is doing a pre-sanction report, would it be appropriate to make a recommendation?

Mr. Moriarty

No, it would not because in those circumstances that would virtually tell the judge that he or she had prison in mind for the convicted person, and that is not our brief. A pre-sanction report has implications in terms of recommending in effect, that someone may be sent to prison. That is not part of our brief or remit.

Mr. Dack

We have recently introduced the use of an internationally recognised risk assessment tool, the LSIR, which allows us to highlight for the judge the level of risk the offender poses in terms of re-offending and the potential harm as well. That is included in the pre-sanction report which is there for the judge's consideration.

Mr. Moriarty

There is no doubt the two restorative justice projects, in Tallaght and Nenagh, respectively, have been outstanding successes. They are of long-standing duration and we have no difficulty in expanding this model wherever people see a need and approach us to develop it. We will give such initiatives our full support provided the resources are available.

Mr. O’Donovan

I understand quite a number of judges have approached us in recent times and indicated they would like to see replicas of the restorative justice project established in their areas. We will certainly work with them to see what may be achieved. In general we have substantial influence with the judges. Deputy Costello's question, by implication, adverted to that in so far as pre-sanction reports describe to the judge what is or is not possible. In my presentation, I mentioned the volume of reports being undertaken as between 6,500 and 7,000 per year for the courts, which is considerable.

Deputy Costello mentioned Dublin's north inner city and referred to an office in the convent there. We have an office in the north inner city, in Parnell Street. I do not know whether he is aware of it or is familiar with the Bridge project.

I know it well and have been there a number of times.

Mr. O’Donovan

It is just beside that and we have also established a local office there.

I believe all the agencies are being invited to have offices in that project. Perhaps the probationary and welfare service will transfer from the Bridge.

Mr. O’Donovan

I am familiar with the convent and we support one of the projects there. I am also familiar with the so-called school on stilts, which has an adventure sports project in which the probationary and welfare service is involved. As the Deputy is aware we have a good deal of involvement with local communities in the north inner city. He also asked about where we see ourselves in terms of the new developments, as did Deputy O'Connor. From the points we have made already, we are keen to co-ordinate and work with other agencies on the ground, right across the spectrum. We already have very good relations, in general, and much involvement with the Garda. Gardaí sit on management committees of our projects and as my colleague has mentioned, we have been involved in setting up the Garda projects. Some of our staff sit on the committees of the Garda projects, so there is already a high level of co-ordination and interaction there. If we were to be invited by the Garda to participate in any of the new forums being developed, I am sure there would be no difficulty, because it would fit in with the existing pattern.

In general, I accept the point being made about the challenges to come. Nowadays more and more people expect that services will give value for money and there will not be duplication and overlap. We are happy to live with that philosophy and to work on it. My colleague mentioned participation among the multi-agency co-ordinating bodies.

We look forward with pleasure to the challenge of making probation better known and more viable in the community. The committee may recall I dealt with the value of local offices giving the service a footprint and a visible presence. We find, from experience, that where that happens there is more effective co-operation and better relations with the community. In that context we are happy to fit in with consultative forums within communities, generally.

I thank the delegates for coming before the committee. We appreciate their time and look forward to further discussions as the process develops.

The joint committee adjourned at 12.40 p.m.sine die.