Community Policing: Presentations.

I welcome everyone to this, the third of a series of five days of hearings on community policing. The hearings arose in the context of the committee's ongoing work on the development of the criminal justice system in Ireland. Deputy Costello has been appointed rapporteur to examine the issues surrounding how best to develop a workable, flexible model of community policing which would involve full participation by all sectors of the community. The Garda Síochána Bill 2004 provides in Chapter 4 for co-operation between the Garda Síochána, local authorities and local communities through the establishment of joint policing committees.

We have received a number of written submissions from the general public and interested bodies and have invited to the hearings representatives of the main players of community policing through the criminal justice system and the community and business sectors. We were pleased to receive a positive response from all those invited. All the submissions, verbal and written, are noted and will be taken into account when the report is being compiled.

We are joined today by representatives of the following organisations: the Lord Mayor's Commission, Community Alert, Integrated Rural Development, the General Council of County Councils, the County and City Managers' Association, the Association of Municipal Authorities in Ireland, the Local Authorities Members' Association and the Confederation of European Councillors.

I welcome the representatives of the Lord Mayor's Commission. I welcome back Councillor Eibhlin Byrne whom we met at an earlier hearing in her capacity as chairperson of the National Council on Ageing and Older People. I invite the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Councillor Michael Conaghan, to introduce his colleagues.

Lord Mayor Michael Conaghan

I thank the committee for its invitation to attend these hearings. I am accompanied by Dr. Barry Vaughan, Councillor Christy Burke, Councillor Eibhlin Byrne, Councillor Mary Murphy, Councillor Bronwen Maher, Councillor Wendy Hederman and Assistant City Manager, Mr. Philip Maguire, who represent one third membership of the commission.

Before the Lord Mayor commences his presentation, I would like to remind him that members of the Oireachtas have parliamentary privilege but invitees do not. Following the presentation there will be dialogue between the Lord Mayor and Deputies Costello and Hoctor. Also, any member of the commission may respond to questions asked. I call on the Lord Mayor to make his presentation.

Mr. Conaghan

I welcome the initiative in which the Chairman is involved and the work in which the other members of the joint committee are engaged. We all find this issue very challenging. My submission is an extract from the findings of the commission on crime and focuses on some of our thoughts on community policing. It is brief and to the point.

The Lord Mayor's commission on crime and policing was established following concerns voiced by the citizens of Dublin during the local elections campaign of 2004 over safety and security in their communities. Local councillors were determined to respond to people's concerns and sought to find solutions to issues relating to public disorder, anti-social behaviour, drugs and alcohol abuse.

Dublin City Council was conscious that the Garda Síochána Bill was passing through the Dáil when the commission was being established. We were particularly aware of Chapter 4 of the Bill, in which new community policing structures were flagged. A special role for local authorities was indicated. The council resolved to try to influence the ethos and shape of those structures before the Bill became law rather than afterwards. The latter approach would involve spending a year complaining about the legislation and trying to change it. The idea was that when the Bill became law, the council could hit the ground running and assume its responsibilities, as the Minister indicated.

The commission embarked on a wide-ranging process of consultation in order that the public and relevant organisations could make their opinions known and influence the findings of the commission. Community associations and business groups, in addition to members of ethnic minorities, youth groups, local authority managers, gardaí, members of the Judiciary and secondary school students, all participated in focus groups to discuss the subject. The findings were published in February 2005.

A theme that figured constantly in the submissions and among the focus groups concerned a demand for policing that measured up to the concerns of communities regarding crime and anti-social behaviour. In seeking to meet this demand the commission's proposals for change involved assessing the current state of community policing and making recommendations for change.

It should be noted that the commission interprets community policing in a broad manner such that responsibility for reducing crime and disorder should not rest exclusively with the Garda Síochána but should be shared among relevant public bodies and communities. For example, on foot of the commission's report, Dublin City Council is reviewing the by-laws on late night exemptions for pubs. It is also examining the potential under the Intoxicating Liquor Act, reviewing its estate management provisions and beginning to examine how our parks, as public spaces, are monitored and supervised. Structures are being changed to cope with contemporary problems.

The focus of my presentation is on community policing and how it might be improved. Community policing is at a crossroads. Previous efforts in the form of Neighbourhood Watch and Community Alert have failed to engage the public and are largely redundant. In Dublin gardaí have progressed beyond these schemes by establishing policing fora that involve regular consultations between community representatives and gardaí. However, significant problems remain. These include a lack of clarity about what community policing entails; a lack of priority and funding for community policing within the Garda Síochána; the lack of a robust mechanism to provide for community consultation on policing matters; problems associated with accountability to communities in respect of policing; the transience of existing structures and the lack of a legal basis therefor; and the danger of community policing initiatives becoming mere talking shops.

The commission believes the current arrangement serves neither the Garda Síochána nor communities. Gardaí are placed in a difficult position in that they must be answerable in terms of all queries concerning safety and security, while communities can become frustrated with what they perceive as an inadequate response to their concerns. Our proposals work towards solving this problem by spreading the responsibility for policing and making policing more responsive to the community.

Let me outline briefly the recommendations of the commission. The following changes are recommended within the Garda Síochána: the appointment of an assistant commissioner to be responsible for driving the ethos and practice of community policing within the Garda Síochána; making the practice of community policing an essential feature of garda training, both at the Garda College in Templemore and during in-service training; the selection of gardaí to work as community police officers for a minimum of two years in the same area while affording them clearly defined promotional opportunities while they remain involved in community policing; ensuring optimal deployment of gardaí matches peak times for criminal offences and disorder; and supplementing gardaí with more policing personnel to be known as community safety personnel, dedicated to tackling low level crime and disorder at community level in conjunction with the Garda.

Most of these points are self-explanatory but we wish to expand on the last point since it seems very similar to the provision in the Garda Síochána Act for the establishment of a Garda volunteer force. The commission has several concerns about this proposal. Would the number of volunteers be sufficient to answer public demands? The number of volunteers in Britain, where a similar proposal was implemented, declined by 40% between 1993 and 2001, mainly due to their having other commitments. Would the volunteer force be deployed in areas with the highest levels of crime and disorder? The commission believes community safety personnel should receive direction from the co-operative partnership between gardaí and local authorities, as envisaged in the Garda Síochána Act.

This leads us to consider the second set of recommendations. On changes in partnership structures, the partnership arrangement is known in the Act as a joint policing committee. Its purpose is to keep levels of crime and disorder under review and provide advice for the Garda Síochána and local authority on how crime and disorder might be prevented. The Garda is not formally bound to accept any recommendations made by this body.

The commission believes that not only should local authorities act as partners in policing but that representatives from communities and the voluntary sector should do so also. This would enhance the legitimacy of any partnership, provide it with local insight and bolster its image in the community. For example, members of ethnic minority groups may have insights into problems not matched by elected representatives or gardaí.

The commission wants the following changes to the partnership arrangement envisaged in the Garda Síochána Bill 2004: the re-designation of the joint policing committee as a community safety and policing team, CSPT; making this body answerable to Dublin City Council; the CSPT to oversee a quarterly review of crime and policing matters in the five area committees of Dublin City Council; the establishment of community safety fora to develop and implement a crime reduction strategy in areas with special policing needs and a guarantee that the establishment of these fora is not subject to the consent of the Garda Commissioner, but of the CSPT.

If these recommendations are accepted, they would reflect an equal partnership between the Garda, local authorities and community representatives. The new bodies would be more executive than purely consultative in orientation and would fulfil the promise of community policing to identify the problems faced by communities and undertake action to deal with the causes through appropriate partnerships.

I thank the Lord Mayor, who with the commission's members, are to be commended on its work. It was an excellent report which focused on the important question. We have 14 minutes remaining and Deputies Costello and Hoctor wish to contribute.

I am delighted to be associated with the Chairman's remarks welcoming the members of the Lord Mayor's commission. Not long ago some were my colleagues, but I see many new faces around the table. Clearly, membership of the council has changed dramatically in the past year. I compliment the Lord Mayor, who has always taken a particular interest in crime and policing, on setting up the Lord Mayor's commission and on producing such a fine document, which outlines his views on community policing.

The Lord Mayor is proposing a partnership approach with co-operation between the local authority, the Garda and the community, on an equal basis. Judging from the legislation, the Minister seems to be reluctant to include the community as an equal participant in the partnership. There is no reference, good or bad, to any members of the community, business or voluntary sectors in section 31 of the Garda Síochána Bill 2004. Will the Lord Mayor elaborate on his views of the partnership and the identity of its constituent sectors? Does he believe section 31 of chapter 4 of the Bill requires amendment?

I would prefer if the Lord Mayor noted the questions and, subsequently, whoever wishes to answer them can then do so.

Regarding the new structures, how does the commission envisage the operation of the policing committees? Does it view them as special policy committees within the local authority? Can the commission describe the structure of the policing fora? How does it view the role of the area committees within the new structure in terms of service delivery? If it takes Dublin City Council as an example, can it give us as clear an idea as possible as to how it views the new structures in terms of joint policing committees and the operation of the local authority's existing structures? The legislation envisages the co-operation of two Departments, namely the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. However, a major proportion of the work will concern anti-social behaviour, such as the abuse of drugs and alcohol. The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs is responsible for this issue and Deputy Noel Ahern is the relevant Minister of State. Does the commission think we should have a third Department involved in the partnership structures that will be placed on a statutory basis when the legislation is enacted?

I ask Deputy Hoctor for her questions. I will then return for answers.

I also welcome the Lord Mayor of Dublin and the members of the Lord Mayor's commission. I thank them for their efforts which are a valuable contribution to this joint committee's work. The Lord Mayor stated that the efforts of Neighbourhood Watch and Community Alert schemes were not successful. Did the Lord Mayor explore the reasons why this was the case? Surely community involvement, with more people on alert, is advantageous. I am interested to know the reason for their failure. The commission recommended that the Garda be supplemented with more policing personnel, known as community safety personnel. Like Deputy Costello, I would like the Lord Mayor's views on this group's role, its composition, the extent of the work in which such individuals might engage and who they would represent.

I note the Lord Mayor is reviewing the by-laws regarding late night exemptions for pubs. What progress has been made? In the future, is he supportive of the consumption of alcohol in public places? I come from a rural constituency and it is clear that the needs of a city differ greatly. While some similarities exist, it is clear that the cities, and Dublin in particular, require different forms of policing bodies.

It is interesting that so many members from outside the city are present today. I am grateful for their presence.

Mr. Conaghan

I will address the first question from Deputies Costello and Hoctor. Thereafter, Councillor Murphy, Dr. Vaughan and some other councillors will have some views. Deputy Costello referred to the community and it is important to realise why its involvement is so important. It is an enormous resource. We held more than 30 focus group discussions and two findings emerged. There was much anger, frustration and annoyance at community level. It was felt that the quality of life was being chipped away and in streets, gardens, parks and public spaces, the sense of security and safety was being undermined on a daily basis. Alongside that anger and frustration there was a willingness to be involved in the problem's resolution. These reactions were two sides to the one coin, which was interesting. People have enormous energy and want their community, street, park and city, of which they are very proud, to function and to underpin rather than to diminish the quality of life. This enormous resource must be included. It is debatable how the structure should engage with that energy, but to leave it on the sidelines would be a huge mistake.

As to Deputy Hoctor's question, I was involved in a Neighbourhood Watch scheme for many years in my own district of Ballyfermot. If structures are not based in law, there is an ambivalence about them. The same senior gardaí may or may not turn up to meetings, but there is no legal onus on individuals to turn up and be accountable.

Such a structure may work very well if one is dealing with an energetic and committed superintendent or inspector, as many officers are. However, given the Garda's workload, frequently its representatives can be absent from meetings which weakens the structure. Structures need to be based in law and to be more than talking shops. Neighbourhood watch schemes were more than that, but without a direct mechanism of accountability to the community where the Garda is legally obliged to be accountable, they were at risk of becoming so. These new structures are exciting and interesting because they address several key deficiencies in the modern policing service by providing for a legal requirement whereby people will be obliged to appear and give answers, even if they would prefer not to do so. The truth must be told or policing is not working.

Councillor Murphy wishes to speak about the community.

Ms Mary Murphy

It was clear from the focus groups that people such as residents, members of ethnic minorities and young persons saw themselves as having a positive contribution to make to community representation. There must be structures in place to harness this contribution. One challenge to this is that people shy away from community representation because it is messy. However, lessons have been learned through other structures that have enabled community representation, for example, local partnership models. There are avenues that can be taken by engaging with certain elements of the community. This could take the form of geographical representation but it could also be communities of interest such as ethnic minorities at city level. Unless those voices are heard, we, as public representatives, cannot adequately reflect all of the communities of interest. The same applies to policing structures.

To answer the question asked by Deputies Costello and Hoctor, these structures are specific to Dublin city but the principles informing our suggestions are relevant to local authorities nationwide. They are based on the concept of meaningful subsidiarity. We envisage a joint policing committee structure at city or county level, which we call the community safety and personnel team. I stress that this would have community members participating alongside councillors and members of the Garda Síochána.

The more detailed work of the committees should be done at area committee level in Dublin city. There are five such committees. We envisage each of these having a policing agenda at quarterly intervals throughout the year. They may meet monthly but only at every third meeting would there be policing matters appended to the agenda with the attendance of the relevant community representatives and gardaí at the level of chief superintendent. The meetings could be timetabled across the city to avoid conflicting demands on police resources.

The local community safety forum is a third structure. Such fora will not be in place in every neighbourhood; in some instances they may be limited in time and will only react to serious policing needs and situations which cannot be resolved through the ordinary structures. The locations involved will be small. They will not even comprise a suburb but a discrete part of a suburb such as Coolock, Finglas or Cabra. What we have found in practice is that the local crime fora which work best are those which take on specific tasks such as the production of crime reduction strategies. Tasks are allocated not only to the Garda but also to local authorities, other agencies and communities in terms of parenting and so forth.

We are recommending three distinct structures at city, area and sub-area level. They are separate structures and relate to one another in meaningful ways. From our experience of working in some of the structures at local level or of the functioning of our strategic policy committees, we believe these structures can work within our city council structures.

I do not have time to return to members of the joint committee.

Mr. Conaghan

There are two questions remaining, the licensing of intoxicating liquor outlets and abuse connected with excessive alcohol consumption. Councillor Burke wishes to address these questions. Councillor Byrne will refer to Deputy Costello's question about interdepartmental responsibilities.

Mr. Christy Burke

I welcome this opportunity to speak to the joint committee and thank its members for receiving the report. It goes without saying the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1977 must be updated and improved. I welcome the Minister's comments to the effect that he intends to give local authorities more power in the allocation of licences when he updates the Act.

The number of garages, stores, corner shops and off-licences providing young people with easy access to alcohol is unacceptable. I know the Chairman is familiar with this issue from dealing with it in his constituency. I do not exaggerate when I say the matter has grown out of proportion. It is time something was done about it.

The Intoxicating Liquor Act 1977, as it applies to the sale of alcohol, is not enforced in some stores, garages and off-licences. This is evident in communities at night. For example, I recently took the opportunity to visit an accident and emergency department and the number of admissions of young and old people for alcohol related problems was unacceptable. It is putting too great a strain on accident and emergency services.

I appeal to the joint committee to fast-track its request to the Minister to give licence allocation powers to local authorities. There must also be legislation allowing bar codes on alcohol to be traced back to the store of sale. We must name and shame if prosecution proves necessary.

Ms Eibhlin Byrne

We met various people during the meetings of our focus groups, some of whom were local and some of whom were judges involved in dealing with such cases. The ones suffering directly from crime are the persons living in the localities concerned but it became apparent that crime was only one part of the story. There are social disadvantages and problems involved. It is a cliché to say one would be able to tell from which areas of Dublin prisoners in Mountjoy Prison came from.

A far more holistic approach is required. The judges with whom we spoke were of the same view and were beginning to approach the Department of Education and Science on the matter. However, unless the Departments of Education and Science, Justice, Equality and Law Reform and others examine the causes of crime rather than ways to deal with it, we cannot solve the problem in Dublin. The local groups recognise that issues such as parenting, poor housing, etc. all lead to crime. There is no point in addressing the end product alone.

Does Councillor Wendy Hederman wish to make a contribution?

Ms Wendy Hederman

I will address Deputy Hoctor's question about the roles and functions of community safety personnel. We examined this issue in detail but it may be easier to understand what we mean if these personnel were called wardens, as they are known in other countries. Pages 27 and 28 of the Lord Mayor's report outline the aspects of the roles we examined, for instance the powers held by similar post holders in other countries and what was needed in the Irish community policing context. They are a different animal from the Garda volunteer force as the use of community safety personnel or wardens is more appropriate in dealing with street crime or disorder. Gardaí do not often use their full powers of arrest or detention when dealing with street crime. The reasons behind our conclusion are outlined on pages 27 and 28.

Mr. Philip Maguire is assistant city manager. Does he wish to make a brief comment?

Mr. Philip Maguire

I have two or three points to make. First, I endorse what has been said about family support and parenting. Second, there have been similar policing partnership structures in the North, a review of which is nearing completion and due to be published by the policing board in the coming weeks. This will be of interest to the joint committee. Third, the National Audit Office in Britain has carried out a review and published recommendations that I believe can be found onwww.nao.org.uk. It carried out a cost benefit analysis that resulted in a strong endorsement of partnerships such as these as being worthwhile.

The key issues in policing are the partnership between community organisations and the police and a local focus in meeting local needs. If we leave the communities out and they are merely subject to policing, it will not work. They must participate actively in policing.

Mr. Conaghan

Perhaps none of us looks closely enough at the changing context for policing. It has changed significantly in the past ten or 15 years because of demographic and social changes consequent on affluence and changes in lifestyle. There has been a weakening of the civic culture and sense of deference, and a decline of authority, all of which raises serious issues that impinge on policing matters.

We need to examine this and to create new structures to deal with those changes rather than tinkering with structures set down 30, 40 or more years ago. We should be innovative in developing structures that address those issues rather than confining ourselves to cosmetic changes.

The other key principle is that we must broaden responsibility for safety and security, of which policing is a special aspect. We must establish who are the other players in that area and articulate their responsibilities, set up the structures that will enable them to carry out those responsibilities and have accountability mechanisms that ensure their contributions are of equal importance. The accountability process should be transparent and measurable.

There is a need for policing plans which aim to reduce or prevent crime and that include monitoring and accountability. A major deficiency of the police service is the absence of policing plans which should form part of a modern service. It is difficult to measure success against vague notions.

We are pleased to have visited the committee and thank it for its work. We watch its work carefully and hope we have made some contribution to it.

I am grateful to the Lord Mayor's commission for attending today. The work it has done to date has been of great help to society and will help us. I am also grateful for the presence of Dr. Barry Vaughan who helped the commission so ably. If anything further occurs to the commission that may be of use or benefit to us we would be obliged if it would send it to us, preferably by e-mail.

I apologise for the short time allowed for this presentation but we wish to hear from many groups to get to the core of the matter and prepare our report. There are many representatives from many groups here today who may feel they did not have time to say all they wanted to say but I am grateful for their presence. We take on board all that they say and appreciate it.

I call now on the representatives of Community Alert and Integrated Rural Development to come forward. I welcome Mr. Liam Kelly, the national co-ordinator of Community Alert, and Mr. Seán Hegarty from the same organisation. I also welcome Mr. Jack Roche, chairman and Ms Maura Walsh, manager of Integrated Rural Development in Duhallow, County Cork.

I invite Mr. Kelly and Ms Walsh to make short presentations after which Deputies Murphy and O'Donovan will enter into dialogue with them.

I represent Muintir na Tíre and the Community Alert programme. I am accompanied by Seán Hegarty, who is a member of the board of directors of Muintir na Tíre, a community development organisation formed in 1937. It has a long track record in community development throughout the country.

In 1985 Muintir na Tíre established Community Alert in partnership with the Garda Síochána. It evolved initially in response to attacks on vulnerable people, particularly elderly people living alone in rural areas. In 1985 there were approximately 432 attacks on elderly people. In 1998, the last year for which we have a statistic, this number had fallen to 121. This is significant given that over that period there was an 11% increase in the number of people aged over 65 years living in rural areas.

Community Alert offers a multi-faceted holistic approach to crime prevention, social exclusion and anti-social behaviour. There are in excess of 1,300 Community Alert groups throughout the country and 246,000 households are members of these groups. Each group is organised on a local community basis with a liaison garda. This gives the partnership the dynamism that provides an effective community policing and crime prevention network. Time sensitive information is critical and is passed on to the Garda.

A joint survey in 1985 of a sample of Community Alert groups indicated a 17% decrease in attacks on the elderly, a 25% decrease in burglaries and a 21% decrease in other crimes in Community Alert areas. These statistics, provided by the Institute of Criminology in UCD, constitute an independent evaluation.

Muintir na Tíre believes in treating people as the originators of actions, not as objects to be manipulated or serviced. The emphasis on partnership through the community approach harnesses the creativity and solidarity of communities, hence its success.

Local communities are the prime movers in this approach. Their participation is indispensable in obtaining their engagement and support in implementing viable policies. Muintir na Tíre believes the strategy should have an explicit sub-county element based on the local electoral area, which is a meaningful unit at political, community and organisational level. This builds the framework for interface with communities and facilitates cross-country initiatives.

Muintir na Tíre supports the local community governance model, accommodates conventional representative democracy and is a way in which elected representatives, citizens and sectoral groups can join together in governing communities. This model, coupled with Community Alert, is critical to the success of community policing. It has been the key dynamic in the success of the partnership with the Garda Síochána. Placing this collaboration within the local government framework gives it democratic legitimacy. On behalf of the communities we thank the Garda Síochána which has supported us for 21 years in organising and ensuring the success of Community Alert.

Ms Maura Walsh

Integrated Rural Development-Duhallow is a community-based rural development agency established in 1989. It is administered by a voluntary board drawn from the community, business and social partners and State agencies. We administer several EU and national initiatives, including LEADER, the local development social inclusion programme, and with the FÁS social economy programme operate some essential services in the area.

Duhallow is located in north-west Cork and the east Kerry region and has a population of approximately 30,000 people. LEADER+ aims to enhance the natural and cultural heritage and reinforce the economic environment to contribute to job creation. We are also charged with improving the organisational abilities of the community, which is one of the most relevant aspects in the context of this meeting.

The focus of the local development social inclusion programme is to tackle disadvantage and social exclusion. It targets the long-term unemployed, disadvantaged women, lone parents, disabled people, low income smallholders, disadvantaged youth and older people as well as refugees and asylum seekers. IRD Duhallow is one of 32 community partnerships nationally implementing the LDSIP. We sit on the national council of the network of groups.

On page 2, I referred briefly to the social economy projects. We did so in order to outline our work with the elderly in rural areas in providing a meals service, which was not available heretofore, and also the rural transport initiative, which made it more accessible for the elderly to get to the services that were available.

I have outlined in page 3 how the LEADER programme works throughout the country. There are 35 local action groups and three collective bodies, including Muintir na Tíre, involved in the programme. The aim is that the programme should stimulate local people to exploit opportunities in their own area. As I outlined earlier, members are drawn from a broad cross-section of society. The Department responsible for both LEADER and LDSIP is the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. This strong network of LEADER groups was established in 1992, with 36 groups involved. IRD Duhallow currently holds the secretary's position in that network. Before coming here today, we consulted with both the network of LEADER groups and the network of ADM groups nationally so that we could bring broader opinions to bear on the committee's deliberations.

We also examined good practice models from across the different groups. Two, in particular, struck us as being useful to the deliberations. One is an initiative being piloted in the RAPID area of Tralee town and the other is in Clondalkin in Dublin. Both of these areas have had a very positive experience of community policing. It is an initiative we would like to examine.

It has long been accepted that much of rural Ireland is experiencing a serious decline in population since the foundation of the State. The Government's CLÁR initiative was implemented to counter-balance this trend. It covers approximately half the rural area of the country, which indicates that it has lost at least 50% of its population. The more recent decline in agriculture has had a profound effect on the remaining population. There is an increasingly elderly cohort feeling isolated in their homes. The decline in agriculture prices has seen a flight from the land, with remaining holdings increasing significantly in size and, consequently, in distance from each other. EU-led forestry subsidies have seen large tracts of land afforested, which also adds to the feeling of isolation and which can also provide a quick exit and cover for criminal gangs.

The withdrawal of services, such as post offices and local Garda stations, was mentioned in almost all the submissions we received from around the country. The total disappearance of gardaí from many rural villages is much decried as it is felt that an ever increasing number of people have no contact with or recourse to gardaí in rural areas. The low visibility on the ground in rural villages has put a distance between rural dwellers and the gardaí. Rural people often feel vulnerable and let down as a result. It is not just the elderly, but mothers of very young children who work in the home and are alone for much of the day, who conveyed this message to us.

Creating future problems was the phrase used to many of our groups before coming here today. The push against rural housing in favour of cluster houses in towns and villages has featured strongly in discussions. Apartment blocks are springing up in every town and village. Many people feel these are like a time bomb because of the high density of houses, the low level of accompanying green areas and the total absence of community resource or child care facilities. It is felt that this time bomb will explode in the next five years or so.

The distance between rural families and the gardaí is growing all the time. Given that lack of familiarity, young people, in particular, will find it difficult to engage constructively should the need arise in the future. Some groups pointed to the non-configuration of Garda boundaries with those of local authorities as a disadvantage. However, overall we believe that Garda divisions, which follow natural areas of development, can be advantageous and that parish lines often do not configure to county boundaries. Therefore, it is not a problem in our view.

Finally, in the drive to have a more specialised Garda force, the role of the community garda is at risk of being undervalued and it might not attract the same calibre of candidate in the future. A strong role for community gardaí is an essential ingredient in preventing anti-social behaviour and indeed crime itself. We have outlined some recommendations in this regard.

The LEADER and local development groups have much to offer in strengthening the relationship between rural people and the gardaí. In addition to the boards, our structures include working groups to focus on youth, women's groups, the elderly, Travellers, early school leavers and asylum seekers, which could provide an excellent forum for gardaí to become involved. This involvement has proven invaluable in those areas where it has already happened. It is our contention that it should be mainstreamed. It is worth noting that Garda presence is already a feature of county development boards and SIM committees.

Adequate staffing by community gardaí in local Garda stations is essential. The trend towards more specialists in the force should not mean a reduction in the number of community gardaí. Very often these specialist interventions do little to foster confidence in the force. For example, a road speed initiative, which consists of a garda hiding in a gateway at the end of the 50 km speed limit, does little to win the confidence of the rural population, particularly when the 50 km limits have more to do with planning than with road safety. We contend that community policing should get priority and is as much a rural issue as an urban one. While many of the excellent community policing models have been developed in urban settings, they are totally relevant and transferable to rural areas. Estate management initiatives which involve the community, local authority, the local LEADER and ADM group and the gardaí have been proven hugely successful in building community relations and breaking the cycle of anti-social behaviour, lawlessness and crime.

Rural Ireland has in the past been effectively exporting many of its youth problems. The public order offences witnessed nowadays outside discos and chippers all over the country were less visible to us before as they were probably occurring in Birmingham or Kilburn. The opportunities of the Celtic tiger have meant that more teenagers remain in their home towns and villages, or perhaps move to the nearest city. Garda special youth projects have enjoyed excellent results where implemented. These should be extended to at least one project in each LEADER area. It should not be necessary to wait for situations to get completely out of hand before introducing these projects as valuable resources are then wasted making up lost ground.

It is important that we offer communities every opportunity to build strong relations with the gardaí locally so that the elderly, who have not been involved in crime or lawlessness in their lifetimes, are not left feeling vulnerable and forgotten by the gardaí in rural areas. Community Alert initiatives have done much positive work in introducing alarms and personal alarms to the elderly, but a Neighbourhood Watch system like the one operating in Clondalkin, which we have studied, needs to be expanded country-wide. The concept of safety teams piloted in the RAPID area of Tralee is another good practice initiative which should be mainstreamed nationally.

I thank Ms Walsh for her excellent report. It has provided me with an insight into how rural Ireland works.

I welcome the representatives from both groups and thank them for their presentations which indicate a clear need for a different approach in rural areas from that of urban areas. However, as Ms Walsh said, rural and urban areas have much in common. An aspect which was identified by the Lord Mayor's commission and this group is the lack of priority and funding for community policing up to now. All the submissions indicate that where mainstream policing is involved with community policing, mainstreaming will always get priority. Unless we solve that problem, the recommendation to have an assistant commissioner in charge of community policing, with a separate budget, is essential from both perspectives.

The structure for the joint policing committee, as laid out in the Bill, is based solely on the local authority. There is a vague section which might be able to be amended on Committee Stage to allow for participation of other groups. How will this work in the rural context, considering a vast number of areas will be covered and many of them will not have a Garda station? Is a substantially different structure required in rural areas to that in urban areas? There seems to be a clear perception of how the volunteer force would operate in the urban context. How will it operate in the rural context and do delegates think it a worthwhile initiative?

Both groups of delegates must bank these questions.

I welcome both delegations to the committee. Work done by such groups as Community Alert, Neighbourhood Watch and Muintir na Tíre, together with the embracing of the IRD Duhallow initiative, is of huge benefit to society.

Have initiatives such as the CLÁR programme and DART rural transport made an impact in places such as Duhallow? I know the area reasonably well, although not as well as my former council colleague, Mr. Jack Roche, but I have traversed it at times. Would crime rates in such areas be much lessper capita than those in urban areas? IRD Duhallow and Neighbourhood Watch have done much work with regard to social integration and connection by way of the rural transport initiative and the facility which provides meals for the elderly. Do such activities ensure that break-ins and harassment of the elderly, which should not happen at all, are much less likely to happen than in other areas?

In what way does the lack of rural housing in places such as Duhallow adversely affect rural policing? This is an old hobbyhorse of mine with regard to west Cork.

I will only allow some brief questions because I will not be able to return to members.

I also welcome both groups. In her submission, Ms Walsh stated that a strong role for community gardaí is essential to prevent anti-social behaviour and crime. How is that being given effect in practice? Would the domicility of the gardaí have any role?

I thank delegates for their helpful and informative presentation. Will Ms Walsh elaborate on the Garda special use projects to which she alluded in her report?

Mr. Seán Hegarty

I would like to address the issue of rural and urban structures. We have pioneered rural structures and the issue is included in our submission. There is much talk about building good community spirit, but who represents communities? We spent time developing a model of elected voluntary representatives drawn from the different electoral areas within a parish in addition to representatives from local clubs and interest groups. This model is one which represents the community and can be challenged to come forward with a solution to a particular problem, such as local area, planning or policing issues.

The Community Alert committee came about as a result of this, and I was president in 1985 when three people were murdered in the east Cork area. We were catapulted into a situation of asking what we could do. We approached the issue from that basis and co-opted groups such as the Irish Farmers' Association and the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association and all voluntary groups. It was our problem and not just a matter for the gardaí, so we had to get together and become the eyes and ears of the gardaí. This is how the Community Alert programme evolved. It was 1996 before we got a penny from the Government to underpin that, and thankfully it came. Since then, we have been able to employ Liam Kelly, who is the Community Alert co-ordinator and we have five development officers covering the whole country, 1,300 Community Alert groups and 200 community councils. The structure we have in place is workable, but totally under-resourced.

We were asked about community gardaí, who are vital. There was a time when the community garda would apprehend somebody for not having a lamp on their bike. Unfortunately he or she is now called to deal with alcohol-related problems in urban centres, leaving vulnerable people exposed in rural areas. Last night a woman from Coleraine was on the television talking about what she has suffered and we had a similar incident in our area when a man was battered with a bar and we must respond. Our voices must be represented on those joint policing committees and this is what we need in this Bill.

I agree with what Mr. Hegarty has said. The organisation is in place in that we have 1,300 units around the country. There are 100 Community Alert groups in County Mayo and 86 in Counties Carlow and Kildare. These are established according to Garda divisions and the five development officers are based according to Garda regions and work closely with crime prevention and community relations officers, attending meetings day in day out. They also help the elderly and advise home carers. One of the functions of the Community Alert committees heretofore was the pendant alarm system, a pivotal programme funded by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. It applies for the grants on behalf of these people, gets the alarms fitted to their houses, trains home helps and carers so that they know how to work them and has them socially monitored. The elderly have a fear of crime and this programme gives them a greater sense of safety in their own home. In rural areas the perception and fear of crime is far greater than the reality. We must work on this and we need funding to deliver it to people and convince them.

I am sure the Minister is listening.

I hope so.

Mr. Jack Roche

I thank the Chairman and the committee for inviting us here to air our views regarding the problems we experience in our rural areas. Deputy Murphy asked about the policy of policing being directed towards local authorities. I have the advantage of having been on a local authority for 20 years and being closely involved with a local development group for the past six years, so I see it at first hand. There are advantages to working with a small sector of the population. IRD Duhallow covers a population of 30,000 people. Our boards, management and staff are far more conversant with the problems of the local area than those at county council level which might cover one-tenth of the country. There are huge advantages in operating in groups because they cover the country and are much closer to people than local authorities might be. It is also their business, because many of them operate in areas of social exclusion and inclusion.

As outlined with regard to Dublin, community gardaí work in liaison with community groups. However, it is difficult for people to understand and appreciate what happens in much of rural Ireland. In my area, people do not know the garda and the garda does not know them. In terms of size, our area covers practically the same as one Garda district. We had one community garda. As far as I know he retired but I do not know who replaced him. We are the leaders in community development in our area and we do not know who is the community garda. We are talking about one garda for 30,000 people in an area where, 40 years ago, there were probably eight to ten Garda barracks. In my small village there were three gardaí and a sergeant at a time when the biggest crimes involved the lack of lights on bicycles, dog licences and pitch and toss.

We are supposed to have made progress but we ended up with a green man on the Garda door. People have lost confidence in the system. There are those in my area who tell me that if a crime is committed they do not think it worthwhile to report it. Two gardaí travel the area in one Garda car. They could be 30 or 40 miles away. People who live in isolated areas due to forestry and so on are afraid. It is sad to see a man of 70 years of age applying for a firearms certificate. He will not use the firearm to hunt rabbits or foxes, he wants it for his protection. That sends out a clear message.

To answer Councillor Conaghan's question, the DART initiative has been helpful in so far as it deals with the isolation issue. People come out for a meal once a week, others get a meal in their homes every day and there is contact with them which was not the case heretofore. The rural housing issueis obvious. People are being forced to live in towns and villages while elderly parents live in isolation in the countryside. Every day I meet families where the grandfather and grandmother are at home and are able to mind the children for young couples who could then go to work. Young families who have moved to towns and villages seek child care facilities which, had they been given the opportunity to live in the countryside, would be freely available in their own homes.

I thank Mr. Roche.

Ms Walsh

On the issue of structures, the integration of local government and local development is an ideal vehicle. There can no longer be segregated but integrated responses. Community policy is as much part of local development as economic or social development. That is the reason I suggest Leader-ADM groups should be involved at sub-county level rather than being isolated to an area committee where there would only be representatives from a much larger area.

On the issue of the volunteer force, I got mixed messages from the different groups who responded. Some were worried that in the rural context one could end up with a vigilante type group. Concern was expressed in one submission — I did not put it in writing — that the rural areas did not want yellow-pack Garda policy. It wanted mainstream community policing. I agree with Councillor Murphy that given its separate budget and an assistant commissioner, it would have the gravitas it deserves.

On the issue of crime ratesper capita and the impact of projects, it is interesting to note that in small rural towns, such as Kanturk, the rate per capita is not much different from that of the large urban centres. The numbers would be smaller but the rate per capita is not much different. There may be four or five fellows dabbling in drugs in a housing estate but when multiplied for a larger estate there is not much difference. The one indicator we have found is early school leaving. Children who under-achieve in primary school and who drop out of secondary school before sitting the junior certificate without going into a trade or an apprenticeship are vulnerable and need to be picked up at an early stage.

This links up with the Garda special youth project, a system already in place in the Garda but only in certain areas. Unfortunately, it tends to be pegged to areas where there are specific problems at a particular time and loses much of its impact because of that. The youth project is a plan drawn up with the local community involving the Garda, the purpose of which is to get the children at risk who have tendencies towards anti-social behaviour involved with the Garda with a view to getting them back into the education stream. The ADM groups do much good work on after-school and out-of-school projects.

The lack of rural housing and the push to urbanisation will cause problems due to the lack of community planning, a matter which my colleague raised at a recent council meeting in Cork. We need to plan communities and villages. At present it depends on whatever developer buys whatever lands on which to build. That is not a good policy in the long run.

Community policing and the domicility of the Garda was raised by many and decried. Perhaps the local garda should live in the local area. However, we are aware from the other side that the families of the local gardaí do not want to live in the local area. In our case, the two members of the Garda who are members of our committee and our board live in our area but police outside the area. Once there is Garda involvement, whether stationed in the area or adjacent, it does not matter. The important point is that there is Garda presence and Garda input.

I thank Ms Walsh for coming before the joint committee. She represents the rural aspects of all our communities. I could happily listen to Jack Roche telling stories for the whole day but unfortunately we do not the time in which to do that. I thank Mr. Liam Kelly, Mr. Sean Hegarty, Mr. Jack Roche and Ms Maura Walsh, who have been very helpful and we appreciate it.

We will now have the County and City Managers' Association. Apologies have been received from Mr. Joe Gavin, Cork City Manager. I welcome Mr. John Fitzgerald, Dublin City Manager, Ms Martina Moloney, Louth County Manager, and Mr. Des Mahon, Mayo County Manager and the chairman of the County and City Managers' Association. I am grateful that you have taken the time to help and assist the committee in its consideration of certain aspects of the Garda Síochána Bill, related to joint policing committees and community policing in general.

Before we commence, I remind the meeting that while members of the joint committee enjoy parliamentary privilege, those appearing before it do not. Following the presentations there will be dialogue with, initially, Deputy Power and Deputy Costello. I invite the chairman to make his presentation.

Mr. Des Mahon

I thank you for the opportunity to attend and address the joint committee's deliberations on community policing. I am chairman of the County and City Managers' Association and Mayo county manager. Ms Martina Moloney is Louth county manager while Mr. John Fitzgerald is Dublin city manager. Our presentation will cover matters relating to cities, large and small towns as well as rural areas. I ask Mr. Fitzgerald to make the presentation on city affairs.

We are glad to have the opportunity to make this presentation. The Lord Mayor's commission has made a submission to the joint committee. It is a comprehensive report which has the full support of the association. I will not duplicate it but rather touch on a few points which may not have been raised.

We welcome the Garda Bill, the joint policing committees and the attached fora as a method of formalising arrangements. Even though this is not always the perception, there is an excellent working relationship at all levels between the city council and the Garda Síochána, from the Garda Commissioner to gardaí on the street.

We have raised a number of issues with the Garda Síochána. The Garda divisions are not coterminous with local government boundaries. If a chief superintendent could work closely with one of our area managers, for example, it would make operational matters much easier for all concerned. However, policing is as much about health and education and child care as it is about anything else. For example, the lack of coterminous boundaries between the association and the health service presents a serious problem, especially since the abolition of the Eastern Health Board. There were two opportunities missed to bring the boundaries into line. This would have been helpful in the areas of community care and drug treatment centres. It would make the provision of public services a lot easier if that opportunity was availed of.

Education is very important from our point of view. While we operate very closely and have a very good relationship with the VEC, we have difficulties accessing education services at national level. Primary education services are probably the most local of all. However, we have difficulties accessing the Department of Education and Science because it is a national service. I suggest a joint education committee might follow on from the joint policing committee.

We accept the over-arching local authority role in policing, education and child care. This is generally regarded as the solution to community problems, not only in public housing estates. However, there is a perception that we are only concerned with these issues when they arise in such areas. We are concerned about them throughout the community. We emphasise the continued need for community facilities such as sports halls, many of which have been provided and staffed in recent years. However, it is a case of making up lost ground and much remains to be done.

The key to dealing with community problems is local service delivery through local offices. This has been the thrust of all we have been doing in recent years. Multi-purpose outlooks which ideally should provide for a Garda presence should be seen as part of the local community, especially in bigger urban areas such as Ballymun, Ballyfermot and Finglas.

We deal with anti-social behaviour through carefully chosen and trained staff. For example, housing evictions are very emotive. We deal with such issues daily. We strongly support the idea of community wardens. We missed out on the pilot schemes implemented four or five years ago which, in my view, was a mistake. Dublin and the bigger urban areas should have been included. Following a number of serious incidents in parks, we introduced community wardens at our own expense, at a cost of approximately €700,000 per year. This has proved very successful.

All of our social housing stock has been regenerated and is in better condition than it has been for many years. We are very anxious to extend the right to buy flats. Not everyone will choose to exercise this option but it is in the interests of social stability, not financial gain. We strongly believe that if we do not extend the right to buy, the same problems will be repeated and regeneration will be necessary again in future years. Anti-social issues are more likely to arise in the future in the newer housing estates, private rented sector, section 23 accommodation and so on. It should be borne in mind that there are approximately 40,000 private rented dwellings in the city and 25,000 social housing units. This is an area that has not been well targeted and might require legislation to ensure the Government and local authorities will have adequate control.

We welcome the initiative taken in this Bill. It is very important that there is a partnership approach in resolving the difficulties associated with anti-social behaviour, crime and vandalism which impact very strongly on the job we, as local authorities, must do in tackling vandalism in public areas, the inability to let houses, difficulties associated with casual vacancies, neighbourhood disputes and investor confidence. The adoption of an integrated approach is very important. Community policing is also essential. It is significant that there are adequate community policing resources which are visible on the ground.

Without question the local authority can help in the area of community policing. We can certainly provide leadership by looking at issues such as estate design, public lighting, by-laws relating to drinking in public areas and the provision of recreational and amenity facilities, as referred to by my colleague. We can examine ways of tacking anti-social behaviour initially in our own estates. I see opportunities for us to share resources with the Garda, particularly in local area offices.

I have some experience of dealing with community wardens in the pilot scheme and they offer a great opportunity to support communities. It is important that the initiative is larger than just the local authority and the Garda. Community involvement is very significant in problem identification and problem-solving. The community is a very strong resource in understanding local issues. I emphasise the importance of youth involvement in the resolution of difficulties.

Taking a town-wide perspective, the business community has a role to play, particularly in dealing with issues such as alcohol consumption and the opening hours of fast food outlets which can have an impact on crime in public areas.

Outside the strict remit of policing and local authority infrastructure, there are other players who can assist in increasing the sense of ownership of an area by residents. We have had good experiences in environmental management, through FÁS and community employment schemes, where local people are involved in the management of their own areas. There is an excellent initiative in Drogheda through which the arts service becomes involved with youth at risk and the Garda. This has helped them to find another activity in which to engage apart from anti-social behaviour. The involvement of the Health Service Executive will also be significant. The views of local youth have been expressed to us. While there is a need for additional Garda resources on the street, there is also a need to improve transport services to allow young people travel to the facilities we are putting in place.

Dundalk and Drogheda are both designated under the RAPID programme and the issue of anti-social behaviour in estates and the negative perception of estates has been raised and articulated by the community which sees the importance of having community gardaí in place and regards any lack in this respect as a major deficiency. We have worked through the RAPID programme with the Garda in addressing some infrastructural needs in the local community, for instance, issues such as public lighting, ramps, closures of alleyways, which has helped the police to respond to the needs of the local community.

Drogheda is involved in a cross-Border initiative with Banbridge in Northern Ireland, examining what can be learned in terms of best practice from the community policing arrangements in place in Northern Ireland. The needs of various sectors in Drogheda have been identified, particularly those of the elderly. Some progress has been made through that scheme, which is in its infancy.

In the area of community policing committees there is a need to ensure that the structures we put in place suit the local circumstances. The issue of urban involvement is important given that the problems appear to be generated there to a greater degree. Some initiatives are in place in those areas through the RAPID area implementation team model which involves the local authority, various other interests, the community and the Garda in looking at issues that affect local areas and estates. Some progress has also been made. Structures have already been put in place at local level such as the social inclusion working groups under the county development boards. There is a need to ensure interaction between them.

In regard to the proposed local policing fora, each local authority area has in place a community fora which selects representatives of local communities to be involved in strategic policy committees, county child care committees and so on. That model may be useful in identifying how the fora might be put in place. We welcome the initiative. Local involvement has much to offer to the process and much to gain. It is important to complement what is happening on the ground and build on examples of good practice to date.

Mr. Mahon

May I follow up with a case study on a rural county as distinct from the large towns or the city to which my colleagues referred? As a follow up from the strategic management initiative by the Garda Síochána, a pilot project was undertaken by the chief superintendents for the Mayo area with a district policing plan for 2004 where the Garda prioritised key strategic goals in prevention and detection of crime, public order, road safety and drugs and set out objectives, targets, performance indicators and audited and reviewed the programme at the end of the year. The Garda authorities met with the elected members of the town council in October 2004 and consulted on the process of drawing up the plans and the outcome, reviewed the programme put in place for 2004 and issued before and after reports, which are interesting. Of the four goals in crime investigation where the target reduction was between 20% and 25%, the reduction, in effect, was 40%. The prevention of public disorder, targeted at 20%, ended up being plus 6%, road safety, targeted at a 20% reduction, came out at minus 36%, and in the drugs area, the target reduction was 50% but came out at 32%. The effect of that report when reviewed by the Garda authorities with the elected members at the end of 2004 was that the community policing plan for 2005 was drawn up by the Garda and the elected members in consultation. I have with me copies of the 2004 and 2005 plans which I will leave with the committee.

That is appreciated.

Mr. Mahon

It is important to elected members and council personnel that there be consultation while the plans are being drawn up because there is a need for that network of people to work together to set targets and achieve them together. The Garda authorities intend to increase the number of agencies being consulted — at present it consults the local authorities — to be more extensive, more inclusive and more focused. It will consult bodies such as the elected council, youth, schools, chambers of commerce, Neighbourhood Watch, ethnic groups, residents' associations and probation services. Eventually all those groups will be involved in the consultation process and buy in to that process for the benefit of the community. There is good co-operation and good consultation with the Garda. The audit is also transparent and while every target set is not achieved, some are and some are exceeded. For the benefit of the joint committee I offer it the case study which it can use for its own purposes.

Thank you, Mr. Mahon. It is amazing that even when action has been taken to reduce public order offences, they have increased by 6%. What would have happened had no action been taken? It reflects what is happening throughout the country. That is part of the reason we need community policing.

I thank the county managers for taking time out of their busy schedules to inform our discussion. It is much appreciated. I have two questions arising out of Mr. Fitzgerald's presentation. He mentioned that he took his own decision to invest significantly in community wardens in his area at a cost of €700,000, which had to be taken from other areas. Will he expand on how that worked and how those community wardens liaised with the Garda given that a similar type structure is proposed in the Bill? We would like hear how his first-hand experience worked in regard to community wardens.

We will take that question because it is very specific.

We were disappointed when the pilot studies were introduced three or four years ago. We felt that if the pilots were to be tested properly one of them should have been in the largest urban area. It arose partly in response to that and partly in response to a number of serious incidents where we were concerned that parts of the studies would become under-utilised and that people might feel threatened. However, it has been hugely successful even though it is expensive. It is money we find from our own resources. At the beginning there was a level of sensitivity with the Garda but we were careful to make it clear that they were not an alternative to the Garda and were not to be involved in physical confrontation of any kind and that they were to call the Garda, if required. We evaluated the initiative every year at budget time. The overwhelming view is that it has been successful and should continue. I see it as a good example of what could be done if there was a widespread warden service that could operate around the city as a whole. It is a good model for that.

What was the liaising relationship between those community wardens and the Garda? Was it formal or informal? My second question relates to Mr. Fitzgerald's comments on the new private rented sector. All of us, as public representatives in urban areas, are familiar with that. In my area, Limerick, there has been a huge expansion of tax driven private rented accommodation and we already see the huge potential for difficulties. I have in mind specifically student rented accommodation though I do not wish to tar all students. We are seeing the genesis of huge problems in regard to student anti-social behaviour. Mr. Fitzgerald suggested there may be a need for legislation in that area. He is coming from the perspective of the local authority. Can he expand on that and be more specific as to whether the powers should be with the local authority or the Garda? What powers are needed to deal with this potential problem?

I will allow Mr. Fitzgerald to answer that question also because it is close to my heart.

The answer to the first question is that the relationship between the wardens and the Garda is informal, and perhaps all the better for that. The lack of formality is probably an advantage. The reporting relationship is to ourselves, through our own structures and it works well in practice. If they need the Garda they call on the Garda and get a good response.

In regard to the private rented sector, I gave the figure as 40,000 compared with 25,000 local authority houses. What I am saying is that we do not have a full appreciation of how the built environment has changed in any of the cities during the past five or six years. Of necessity, a much denser form of building is encouraged to avoid the urban sprawl of the past. If a problem arises in a local authority housing estate, however, it is our responsibility. We have all the powers, responsibility and accountability to deal with that. In my opinion, we are pretty good and have got much better at doing that. I am confident that the regeneration work — the hard and soft work, as such — will survive. I am much more confident about that now than I would have been previously. I am much less confident about the new form of building that has emerged, where we do not have that kind of control.

If a management company in a private housing estate falls to pieces, neither I nor anyone else has any legislative authority or statutory back-up to go in and deal with the situation. Responsibility for addressing that aspect is in a vacuum or limbo at present and that is a matter of concern. The city council has reconfigured its housing department to recognise that aspect. We now have a section that deals with the private rented sector. However, the capacity we have to deal with that sector is much less than that which we have to deal our housing estates for obvious reasons.

I call Deputy Costello. I ask Members to confine themselves to asking questions because we are running short of time.

I thank the representatives of the County and City Managers' Association for an interesting presentation. I compliment the members of the association on their work to date in co-operating with the Garda on various aspects under the control and remit of the local authorities.

Mr. Fitzgerald referred to the configuration of local authorities and stated that action will have to be taken to bring them into line, given that, in terms of the Garda geographical remit, the local authorities such as the former health boards have been out of kilter with each other. How would he envisage that being done? For example, in Dublin City Council area matters would be straightforward in that most of the area committees are coterminous with the electoral boundaries for general elections. How might the system operate in County Leitrim, the electoral boundary of which is about to be divided in half by the Boundary Commission? Will the Garda boundaries be brought in line with the local authority areas or the will the local authority areas be brought in line with the Garda remit?

The area committees are effective, functioning units in the cities. Is that the way they are perceived in the more rural local authorities? We are aware of a proposal that an assistant commissioner will be in charge of community policing. In that context, is it envisaged that an assistant manager will be in charge of the local authorities? How does Mr. Fitzgerald envisage that such a partnership will be driven? Who will be in charge? There is the community, the Garda and the local authorities. Is there an independent co-ordinator in place? Would such committees be facilitated by the local authorities in the provision of their buildings and services for meetings? From the point of view of the local authorities, from where does Mr. Fitzgerald envisage the dynamism for this project will come?

I am sure each member could contribute in that regard.

My question relates to that aspect.

Do members have other specific questions to be directed to the representatives? Deputy Ó Fearghail is offering.

On the issue of housing, it is generally accepted that the failed housing policies of the past have contributed enormously to some of the difficulties we have today. The built environment in most counties has vastly improved but to what extent is the association satisfied that we are achieving the necessary social integration in terms of housing to get the desired end result?

When we discussed this issue in the Seanad, Senators were very much of the view that the policing committee should be based in the vicinity of the local town. It could be based in the town council, the local area committee, if appropriate, or in the county or city council. What is Mr. Fitzgerald's view on that?

Another view that emerged was that there should be strong elected representation on such committees to ensure accountability. Another suggestion related to community wardens. Would Mr. Fitzgerald consider that the community warden system would be an even a better alternative than the volunteer force model? Perhaps this committee could examine how the community warden system works. The latter has been tested, whereas the volunteer force model has not. It would be helpful for us to understand how it operates on the ground.

I am sure we would be able to organise that with the manager.

I wish to raise a point similar to that raised by Senator Tuffy. It was originally envisaged in the Bill that the policing boards would be based on the model of the development boards. We amended that provision of the Bill in the Seanad to take account of the primacy of the elected representatives. Ms Moloney suggested that the committees would be established on a community forum basis. What is the association's policy in that regard?

I wish to clarify a point on the sub-county or sub-urban divisions. It has been generally recognised for a long period that a basic essential in dealing with matters across areas is to ensure that county council areas, health board areas and education areas operate as one, so to speak. As the lead local government agency, is it possible for the county and city councils to identify sub-county and sub-urban areas at this stage and for them not to be based on electoral areas because sometimes electoral areas are not easily identifiable by members of the electorate as being areas to which they belong or of which they feel part. Everything will be done wrong until we get the sub-county and sub-urban areas right and ensure that everybody involved works together. That is a fundamental requisite. If community policing is to work, we must incorporate the education system and the health service. The various parts of the system must work together. If they operate to one boundary and the people involved work as a team within a recognisable boundary area, the system could work.

Mr. Mahon

As a manager of a rural local authority, I am aware that one of the great benefits that emerged from Better Local Government was the strong benefit and use of the area committees which are coterminous generally with the electoral area. The committees in my area also incorporate a town council. There is a linkage between the two once or twice a year. Elected members from the town council and from the county council area meet and discuss matters of mutual interest. There is an opportunity, at area committee meetings, to discuss local area matters, meet local deputations and have local consultations within that electoral area. It is a defined area and has local representatives. If there is an overlap in regard to areas, meetings involve a large number of people which can cause its own difficulties. Some of the people will represent small areas and others will represent large parts of an electoral area.

Area committees are managed by directors of services who have direct responsibility for the town council and the local electoral area it covers. It is clearly defined who is responsible for the services in that area. In that way, the rural local authorities probably are more clearly defined in how they manage their affairs. However, the situation is different in the cities.

To follow on in regard to the area committees, in my experience such committees are strong in rural local authority areas. In larger urban areas that are not as big as Dublin city, however, the area structure is not as well developed. This applies to the two major towns, Dundalk and Drogheda, with which I deal. There is, for example, no area structure in Galway city. That particular model might not be usable in those two areas without significant changes within the local authority area.

On the issue of who might organise these committees, I would see a strong role for local authorities to facilitate the coming together of the various organisations and groups and the sharing of resources. That is one of the benefits local authorities can bring to the table and the system.

In response to Deputy Ó Fearghail's point, social integration in terms of the housing projects we are developing at present has improved significantly. We have moved away from the construction of very large estates and are engaged in more integrated developments in terms of having a mix of social affordable and voluntary housing in estates. That does not take from the larger estates built 20 or 30 years ago with which we still have issues and which we must keenly manage into the future.

On the issue of the town and hinterland and elected representation, in my experience crime and anti-social behaviour arise to a larger extent in urban rather than in rural areas. The involvement of elected representatives in this initiative is to be welcomed because they bring a strength to it in terms of their local involvement and knowledge.

On the question of community wardens, I have had some experience of this programme in Galway city where such wardens provide a great deal of assistance to the management of the areas by the local authority. They liaise closely with the Garda through an arrangement whereby they met regularly to exchange experiences, etc. However, these wardens are not gardaí and it must be made clear that their powers are not the same as those bestowed on members of the force.

The county development boards are led by local government. They are placed within the local government structure in so far as local government takes the lead and the chairmanship rests with local government. The point I was making in my presentation was that with respect to the local policing fora which might support the policing committees, community fora, which are organised by local authorities and which might be a model that could be utilised to develop the local fora for the local policing arrangements, are already in place.

This means the managers would organise money for the local fora in order to fund and resource them?

We already provide community fora in each local authority area.

This is excellent and a good example to everybody. I invite Mr. Fitzgerald to respond and to then make the concluding remarks on behalf of the group.

I will deal with some of the points made. The boundaries are probably a more major issue in some of the larger urban areas — such as Dublin — rather than in rural areas. The boundary issue in Dublin is a bit of a mess. The mess is larger now than it was ten years ago. In my view opportunities were lost, particularly in the area of health and community care. Community care is almost indistinguishable from local government services. There is no attempt made to make the boundaries coterminous. It is my contention that the local government boundaries and county boundaries have been recognised in Irish law for a long time. The other boundaries should be brought into line with ours because this would make life much easier for everyone.

To answer the question raised about partnerships, these should be led by local government. We should provide the facilities but it must be a genuine partnership and not one group leading the other. Social integration is coming through and I am now much more confident about the mix. However, it raises new challenges about the integration of local communities because we do not want to replace big ghettos with mini or smaller ghettos in individual housing estates.

I prefer the concept of community wardens because it is better than that of a volunteer police force and it makes more sense, particularly as such wardens are closer to local communities and are more accountable. I am not suggesting a reversion to the DMP, which was part of the local government system at the beginning of the last century, but I believe there is scope to create a warden service that is seen to be part of the local community and answerable to it.

Mr. Mahon

I thank the Chairman and the members of the committee for granting us the opportunity to make our presentation. We will be happy to supply any further information required by the committee.

I thank the members of the delegation for contributing to the committee's deliberations on this important and timely subject. It is heartening to know that the people at the top in the local authority system are responsive, helpful and co-operative and wish to ensure that all citizens will have the best policing system possible.

We are now joined by the Association of Municipal Authorities in Ireland. I welcome the president and members of the association, accompanied by Mr. Tom Ryan, the director. I invite Councillor Seán Connick, the president of the association, to introduce his colleagues.

Mr. Seán Connick

I am accompanied by Mr. Tom Ryan, the director, and by Councillors Denis Landy, Paul Bradley, Patricia McCarthy and Mark Dalton.

Please note that members of the committee have parliamentary privilege but that privilege does not extend to others. Senator Jim Walsh and Deputy Costello will ask questions following the submission.

Mr. Connick

We are delighted to have the opportunity to address the committee. The AMAI wishes to acknowledge the support it has received from the Oireachtas Members in its successful campaign to amend section 30 of the Garda Síochána Bill 2004 in order that town and borough councils will be able to participate in the joint policing committees as proposed in the Bill. The association recognises the importance of proposals in the Garda Síochána Bill 2004 to involve communities in the policing of their areas.

We may all start from different positions on the question of the establishing the structures proposed in the Bill but we must achieve the best possible structure to ensure that community policing and the involvement of communities in the policing of their areas is put in place. It is, therefore, essential that the joint policing committees-local policing fora will be inclusive, adequately trained and will have the resources and back-up to work effectively.

The process of interaction between the Garda and the community will bring several benefits. For example, Garda representatives will be more aware of a community's fears and needs while the community will appreciate the resource constraints under which the Garda Síochána operates. The underlying objectives of community policing must be that all citizens must be treated with respect, equality, justice and compassion and that people living and working in the respective areas have a right to be safe and a corresponding responsibility to create a safe environment. The importance and benefit of dialogue is highlighted, particularly with local communities, in order to build mutual understanding and respect. The policing forum should be representative of all interests, have local involvement, be open in what it does and have the commitment of all participants. It should support the actions of the local drugs strategy and promote community development, particularly in respect of the prevention of crime, drug and alcohol problems.

The AMAI represents city borough-town councils and for many years has been advocating that local authorities should have a say in the policing of their areas. Many of our member authorities, large and small, have proposed motions at past annual conferences seeking a structure for a formal liaison between the Garda, local authorities and local communities. At present, many authorities have developed or are involved in informal groups to exchange views with the Garda on matters of law and order in their areas.

Ireland is becoming a more urbanised society. Our cities, towns and villages have increased dramatically in size and population during the past ten years. Our population is also becoming more diverse, with increasing numbers of non-nationals coming to work in our cities and towns. It is estimated that our economy will need up to 50,000 workers from abroad annually to meet the demands of the labour market. The needs of this community must to be addressed on many fronts.

The majority of criminal activity today, be it theft, anti-social behaviour, violent crime or drug-related crime, takes place within the boundaries of our urban centres. It is critical from the outset that JPCs be based on an area of population that is appropriate for the effective and focused functioning of these bodies. Too large an area will lack focus, while too small an area will lead to concentration on individual crimes. For this reason, the AMAI proposes that joint policing committees be based at town level. This is not to exclude the rural hinterland. We propose that all joint policing committees would include the rural electoral areas contiguous to towns. This model would ensure that the entire area of a county would be covered and that all elected representatives would be eligible to serve on joint policing committees.

The Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, during the Committee Stage debate on the Bill on 8 December 2004, suggested a model similar to that which the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland, AMAI, is proposing. He stated:

An option that would be possible under this legislation would be to divide a county into two areas and marry a town council with its surrounding county electoral area. That would be an appropriate model. To take the example of County Louth, there might be a case for having one area based in Drogheda and one in Dundalk, although County Louth has a mid-Louth electoral area and it too might stake its claim but that type of flexibility is allowed under what the Minister is now proposing.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Michael McDowell, on the debate on Report and Final Stages of the Bill in the Seanad, also supported the concept of joint policing committees based on town local authorities when he stated:

My plan is that every town and county council will have the right to have a committee. If a town council surrenders that right, its members will be entitled to attend meetings of another committee. If Milltown Malbay town council decides that it does not want a committee because of the size of the town, it will be able to opt out and nominate members to a larger committee.

I do not want the committees to be exclusive. If a community is large enough to have a local authority institution, it is probably big enough to have its own criminal, housing and traffic problems.

While the AMAI was vehemently opposed to the Barrington report when it was launched, it presented a model of local government based on district councils centred around a town authority. It was proposed by an advisory expert committee under Mr. Tom Barrington, former director of the Institute of Public Administration. A variation of this model could be adapted to specifically suit joint policing committees.

Any model proposed, including the AMAI model, will give rise to anomalies because of the local authority structure or the demographics of a county. We believe that any such situation can be overcome, particularly in light of the ability to create local policing fora or sub-committees provided for in the Bill.

The rationalisation of Garda divisions to align them with counties would greatly simplify the creation and working of joint policing committees. Local policing fora will be a vital element in the success or otherwise of this historic move to change the way communities and the police force interact. The main objectives for local policing fora are: to create dialogue between the Garda Síochána, joint policing committees and local communities; to seek the opinions of local communities with respect to their views on crime and policing; to hold formal meetings on the local policing forum; to seek solutions, through dialogue and actions, to concerns raised within an agreed timeframe; to provide formal feedback through ongoing meetings of local policing fora; to ensure mutual accessibility between the Garda Síochána and local communities; to enable early identification of problems and to make recommendations to resolve those problems to joint policing committees; to involve other relevant agencies, including Garda programmes and sections, in the process and in the provision of solutions; to involve other relevant agencies including Garda programmes and sections in the process and in the provision of solutions; to raise awareness in local communities of policing issues and of actions taken to resolve them; to enable members of local communities to participate productively in the policing of those communities; and to foster Garda accountability to joint policing committees, local communities and the public in general.

The AMAI would agree with the proposal that joint policing committees be chaired by elected representatives and that all participating local authority members be eligible to serve as chairmen. Before joint policing committees and local policing fora come into existence, all participants must have a thorough knowledge of what will be their role and functions on these bodies. It would be severely damaging if these bodies were to come into existence without the participants being thoroughly grounded in their role, relationships, responsibilities and requirements regarding confidentiality and expectations. To this end, a comprehensive training programme must be put in place for all participants.

A strong monitoring and reporting structure must be put in place to ensure that decisions taken are acted on and result in positive actions on the ground.

Cuirim fáilte leis an grúpa AMAI freisin. Joint policing committees and local policing fora are inclusive——

I ask the delegation to bank questions.

——in practice, how do you see that operating?

I apologise, I may have interrupted the flow of that question. Will the Senator repeat it?

I compliment Seán Connick on his submission. I expect nothing less from the AMAI. Joint policing committees and local policing fora were referred to as being inclusive. How will they operate in practice?

This topic is close to all of our hearts because the fora are the areas where local communities will have the greatest involvement.

Mr. Connick

We see joint policing committees as consisting of elected representatives. Local policing fora would involve the wider community. There would be specific committees set up and they would all report back in a structured way to the joint policing committees. A joint committee would be the overall body.

Councillor Connick referred to their being "constituted of gardaí and elected representatives", and then there would be——

Mr. Connick

And then one would have wider fora, so if there was an area with a specific difficulty, a committee could be set up to examine it. In the event of a problem within a town, that would be dealt with by a different committee. In rural districts, representatives from those areas could feed into the joint policing committees as well.

Would members of joint policing committees be part of the fora? Submissions from the Lord Mayor's commission and others placed great emphasis on joint policing committees and having everyone involved with them. It is difficult to visualise how that would work. The councillor seems to have a clearer view that joint policing committees are separate and that these other interactions would be between designated members of joint policing committees and local community groups.

Mr. Connick

Joint policing committees would be unworkable if they had too wide a remit. They should only have elected members and Garda representatives. The wider community would feed into joint policing committees. This would allow for numerous committees.

That is clear. The ideas of Mr. Tom Barrington, who was often mentioned in AMAI conferences and not always in a complimentary fashion, have been taken on board. It is based on the electoral area and, in provincial Ireland, this is a good model. How will it operate? Will some town councils pursue different systems? Will we have a patchwork quilt of such systems? Should the model that is suggested be more clearly defined?

Mr. Connick

My colleague, Councillor Denis Landy, will answer this question.

Mr. Denis Landy

The Senator knows more about the Barrington report than any of us. We used the Barrington report to frame a workable model. One does not throw the baby out with the bath water. Barrington's idea about local government reform provided a model. I refer the committee to the appendix, which contains some good examples. In the case of my county, Tipperary, there are the towns of Tipperary, Cashel, Carrick-on-Suir and Clonmel. The hinterlands of those towns would come under the remit of the joint policing committees set up in those towns. There would be anomalies throughout the country, where the nearest town would be across a county border. We have no mechanism in this country to solve this problem. Senator Jim Walsh, who is familiar with the position in New Ross, will be aware that this is the case.

We have to continue with what has been proven. We believe that Mr. Barrington's structure would work and, as Councillor Connick, the President of AMAI, has said, elected representatives should form part of joint policing committees in the nearest towns. There are many other structures that could be used but we believe this to be the most fair. Most anti-social behaviour takes place in urban rather than rural areas. The committee would be set up where the problems were occurring.

I welcome the representatives of the Association of the Municipal Authorities of Ireland, AMAI. If I may be biased, I also welcome my fellow Nenagh colleague, Mr. Tom Ryan, and Councillor Denis Landy, who is also from Tipperary.

I commend the AMAI on its campaign. Decision-makers have been quick to identify the role of county councillors in the Minister's proposals but there would have been a shortfall if the urban councils had been omitted. The AMAI was to the fore on this issue. I commend it on its campaign and its excellent presentation today. The AMAI has gone further than most groups in recognising the need for training the people who will eventually become members of the representative groups. Has it given any consideration to funding? Does it have proposals on how training and the committee groups, which will eventually work on behalf of the people, will be funded?

I welcome the delegates and thank them for their submission. I wish to tease out the issue of town councils, which they have championed and on which I agree with them, and how they will operate in the context of joint policing committees. For example, what would be the position with a joint policing committee in light of the legislation stating that such committees should operate on a county, town or city basis? Would the county and town councillors involved be represented on the joint policing commission? How would the policing forum be established? Would this be an inherent part of the same structure, would it be established in one of the towns or would it operate as the particular area would require? Will there be plans that cover towns, will there be separate plans for counties or will there be holistic plans to cover both? How will they relate to each other?

Perhaps the delegates will answer Deputy Costello's question with that posed by Deputy Hoctor in respect of resources.

Mr. Paul Bradley

Funding is a big issue no matter what we try to do. As a local authority group, we believe there is a substantial appetite for community policing within communities and on town councils. The big question is how the funding will be rolled out. Every town council is strapped for cash. Most towns are not taking in sufficient amounts from rates. The Garda budget is also not sufficient and every town in Ireland is crying out for more gardaí.

Community policing will be labour-intensive and in order to put it into place the Department of Justice Equality and Law Reform will need to invest more money. Councillors who will serve on joint policing committees will need training on certain aspects of the law. Gardaí dedicated to certain areas for a period of time will work with the local people and councillors. They will need training on how to do this because experience suggests that gardaí may be stand-offish. Both sides must learn and funding must be provided.

There are administration expenses. Information exchange will be important. How do we tell the public what we are trying to do when we are trying to make progress? There will be conflict between the public, councillors and the Garda Síochána. Funding must be provided for a facilitation or mediation process. The submission on Rialto indicates that there had been an attempt at community policing and that a forum was established but that this has since been disbanded. This shows that the initiative will fail utterly if serious funding is not provided.

That group will be making its case tomorrow.

Mr. Bradley

I am not making the case for it; I come from Donegal. There will be a net gain from the Government's point of view if we reduce the number of people in accident and emergency rooms, prisons and attending courts because it will be obliged to spend less money. From a Donegal perspective, and it may be unfair of me to say this, if there had been community involvement in Donegal, there would have been no need for the Morris tribunal which has cost millions.

Can we return to Deputy Costello's question?

As we said in our report, the largest amount of crime is committed in urban centres. They are the largest population centres and proportionally will have the largest amount of crime. Returning the point raised by Senator Jim Walsh, we see members of town councils and area councillors being represented equally on the community policing body. There will be proportionality also for Members of the Oireachtas. We are aware of the difficulties caused by constituency boundaries because sometimes there is an overlap. We leave it to Oireachtas Members to solve the problem this causes for them. This is something we are all tied into and must link into. Crime is a critical issue for all of us and is a serious blight on society. It behoves us as elected representatives to find a solution.

We believe the best solution is to take the town model and involve area councillors and the police to achieve something with everyone working together. If we, as public representatives, do not want to do it, we cannot expect the public to buy into it. We would be fooling ourselves and we must lead by example. The number of area councillors, town councillors and Oireachtas Members must be in proportion because a large unwieldy committee will not work. There will also be gardaí on the committee and we envisage having a superintendent, an inspector and, if there is a station in the area, a duty sergeant would deputise. One would need that level of commitment. We would also envisage that secretarial assistance would be provided by the Department of Justice Equality and Law Reform, which would also contribute to its funding.

It is important that we, as public representatives, get the nuances right from the start. It can be done in a small area, if there is a small area to cover, but this mainly involves large areas. While we are not disciples of the Barrington report, it lends itself to finding a solution to this specific issue, provided we recognise that the town must be at the centre, as that is where most crime is committed. We must recognise also that some area councillors do not live in the towns and it is important that they too are involved.

Deputy Costello has another question. I ask our guests to bank all questions and after that I will come to Councillor Mark Dalton.

We are interested in Ms McCarthy's reply. A major part of our role is to identify appropriate structures, to see how these might be put in place and to establish what levels of flexibility should exist. On the community aspect of the joint committees, town councillors, county councillors, public representatives and gardaí are provided for but the Bill, as presented by the Minister, does not make provision for representation from local communities or business people on the. What is the delegations view on that? Should there be some local representatives of the town and county, or should this happen at a later stage in the policing fora?

That is a good question.

I thank the AMAI for the presentation. I am struck by the need to connect the work of the fora and committees with the work of the local authorities. I imagine there is a connection between the SPCs and the work of housing and social integration. How will that work in practice? I can imagine people going to many meetings. What role will the local authority management play? It needs to be involved. How will the necessary information be fed back to the local authority forum?

The questions all tie in.

I thank the AMAI for the presentation, and the information proved very helpful in the Seanad. People would feel a greater connection if this was focussed on town councils. County development boards are very remote. Some people would not know what a county development board is, whereas they know what a town council or Drogheda corporation is.

My question was almost answered by Councillor McCarthy. I compliment the AMAI on its work, particularly when the Bill was in the Senate. It had a number of helpful briefing sessions. Other groups could learn lessons from the way the AMAI work.

I apologise for not being here earlier, as I was in another meeting. However I followed proceedings on a monitor. How would the potentially unwieldy nature of the committee be avoided? We all know that if there are too many external influences on a committee it becomes nothing more than a talking shop. The councillors will have their own views, and may be able to suggest what further work needs to be done.

I share in the welcome for AMAI. I participated in the Seanad debates, but I will not refer to all the issues discussed. The matter of funding is vital, and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform must take responsibility, as the lead Department. This initiative would fail if it were dependent on local authorities. I was delighted that limited privilege for local authority members was included in the Bill. This will protect them from libel and slander.

We have little time left. I ask Councillor Mark Dalton to contribute, and then I will ask Councillor Connick to speak before we finish.

Mr. Mark Dalton

Deputy Costello asked about committee involvement. As the president outlined we see this being comprised of elected local representatives and gardaí. We envisage using the fora to engage the community. The social partnership model of the four pillars will draw the necessary input from the community. This Bill goes beyond what many envisaged. There is now the possibility for real accountability. This can be done by elected representatives holding people accountable. We need to engage the farming, trade union, business and voluntary sectors, as they have a huge input to make. These problems exist in rural and urban societies. Most would agree that the majority of problems are in, or come from, urban society. That is why the focus is on urban areas.

In our submission we note that we see a comprehensive training package, provided by the Department, the Garda and the local authorities. People will have to be made aware of the areas for which these committees are not responsible as much as what can be raised there. There will have to be a link between SPCs and MPCs, as we cannot have contradictory policies. That will take time. We see a role for town and county management. This should be included in the Bill. Servicing of the committees is critically important.

I thank the members of the committee for their kind remarks. We found it alarming we were not included during the early stages of this Bill. It was alarming for local democracy. I thank the all the party members we met, and now that we are included we want to see this work.

Mr. Connick

We see the elected representatives of town councils as being the core of the joint policing committees. We believe the joint policing committees should comprise elected representatives, at town, county and Oireachtas level, as well as representatives of the Garda Síochána. We require that town council officials service the committees. We need this committee's support on that. With SPCs, MPCs, and RAPID groups as well as other organisations there are many committees. Rather than replicating these groups, we see the joint policing committee as taking input from these groups. Under the direction of the joint policing committee, specific committees will be needed at certain times to deal with specific situations. I do not envisage bringing in other committees, other than in this case.

We ask the committee to consider what has been said today, and urge the creation of joint policing committees under the terms we have suggested. Our county, Wexford, is a good example: we envisage setting up four committees in New Ross, Gorey, Enniscorthy and Wexford town. Nearby towns and electoral districts could feed into those. We are looking for equitable, proportional representation between town and county council.

I thank everyone who came here today. It was a most professional presentation. It is very helpful and much appreciated. It reflects very well on Mr. Tom Ryan, the director, who worked in the background to bring this about. We look forward to meeting you again in the future.

Last, but not least, we will hear from the Local Authority Members' Association, LAMA, and the Confederation of European Councillors. I thank the delegations for coming. I noticed they were in the audience listening intently to all that was going on. I thank them for staying the pace and hope they have not been too inconvenienced by the lateness of the hour. What they have to say is very important and we look forward to hearing their contributions. I welcome the Local Authority Members' Association led by the vice-chairperson, Ms Sinéad Guckian.

Ms Sinéad Guckian

I apologise on behalf of our chairperson, Councillor Billy Ireland, who unfortunately was taken ill yesterday and is unable to attend today. With me are members of the LAMA executive, Councillor Kevin Sheahan, Councillor Pat Hayes and Councillor Cáit Keane. Would the Chairman like me to introduce the members of the confederation?

Is Ms Guckian also a councillor?

Ms Guckian

I am a councillor.

I apologise that "Councillor" is not on Councillor Guckian's nameplate. I welcome all of the delegation. We are doubly thankful that public representatives have made the time to come here. Before a presentation is made, I remind the delegation that they do not have the same privilege that the members of the committee have.

Ms Guckian

As vice-chairperson of LAMA, on behalf of our organisation, I thank the committee for its invitation to come here today and for this opportunity to further express our opinions and the opinions of our members with regard to the Garda Síochána Bill 2004 and to discuss in particular Chapter 4 of the Bill.

For LAMA, the provision on joint policing committees is one of the most important areas of the Bill. For more than 25 years our association has worked to strengthen the role of local representatives and the establishment of joint policing committees will enhance this role, as well as increase the level of partnership between local authorities and Garda authorities. We very much welcome a forum in which our members can discuss core issues on policing and where we can discuss recommendations for tackling crime and anti-social behaviour. This can be achieved through the proposed joint policing sub-committees and the joint policing committee.

Similar committees and advisory roles for councillors in conjunction with more Departments in the future would be very welcome. We hope the Minister can provide in the Bill for local authorities or the Garda Síochána helping to fund the local police fora and the joint policing committees. I ask the committee to take into account the points my colleagues and I will raise today. We in LAMA look forward to playing our role, on behalf of our members, in ensuring that the joint policing committees are truly effective in promoting the concept of community policing throughout the country and in playing our part in facilitating enhanced co-operation between local authorities and the Garda Síochána. I have a number of items I will raise on Chapter 4 and I will then pass to my colleague Councillor Kevin Sheahan.

With reference to the implementation of the guidelines, section 31(1) provides that as soon as practicable after the passing of the Act and after consultation with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the Minister shall issue to local authorities and the Garda Commissioner guidelines concerning the establishment and maintenance of joint policing committees by local authorities and the Garda Commissioner. A time limit should be set as to the issuing of these guidelines and we suggest that the operation of the joint policing committees should commence within a period of 12 months from the passing of the Act. The following are items under each section I wish to bring to the committee's attention.

On the proposed guidelines, the same section provides that the Minister consult the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The Local Authority Members' Association and other representative associations have an important role to play in the preparation of these guidelines and request a full consultation with all representative associations of local public representatives prior to the issuing of these guidelines.

We also refer to committee meetings in private. Under the same chapter, section 31(2)(f) indicates that the guidelines can determine the circumstances in which committee meetings may be held otherwise than in public. The Local Authority Members’ Association feels that in general, to be effective, the meetings of the joint policing committee should be held in private. It would be difficult for Garda authorities to be in a position to adequately brief and provide frank opinions on issues arising within the remit of the joint policing committee if such meetings were held in public. There could be one or two plenary meetings in the year at which an annual report of the policing committee could be presented to the public.

Our members raised concerns on the nomination of senior gardaí to the committees under section 31(3), which provides that in nominating members of the Garda Síochána for appointment to a joint policing committee the Garda Commissioner shall have regard to the need to ensure that such members are of appropriate rank. The Local Authority Members' Association believes that for the joint policing committee to be truly effective, a member of the Garda force not lower than the rank of inspector should be a member of the committee but that as far as practicable the superintendent for the administrative area should be a member of the committee.

Section 32(2) sets out the functions of the joint policing committees. All of our members welcome the list of functions and feel that the joint policing committees can only serve to increase the level of partnership between the local authorities and the Garda Síochána. On local policing fora, section 32(2)(d) provides that such local policing fora may only be set up with the Garda Commissioner’s consent. The power to set up such fora should be at the discretion of a joint policing committee following consultation with the Garda Commissioner but not subject to the Garda Commissioner’s consent. Under this section also, having listened to presentations from other representative bodies, we feel the local community could be included at this stage. This would make the fora more workable.

Another item raised by our members was local crime statistics. A further function of the joint policing committee should be to cause to be prepared and stored statistics concerning offences, criminal proceedings and the state of crime within the functional area of the joint policing committee. Section 39(1) empowers the Garda Commissioner to prepare these statistics on a state-wide basis. It is important for the operation of the joint policing committees that such statistical information should be readily available to joint policing committees in the preparation of their reports and recommendations, and be included on an annual basis in their reports, which are provided for in the Bill. Section 32(2) (a) provides as one of the functions of the joint policing committee to keep under review the level and patterns of crime, disorder and anti-social behaviour in the area, including the patterns and levels of misuse of alcohol and drugs. The collation of statistics will help in meeting this function.

Section 34 is on committees to obtain the views of the public. This gives power to the Garda Commissioner to make arrangements to obtain the views of the public about matters concerning policing and the state of crime. A joint policing committee should also be given power to make certain arrangements to obtain these views from the public on the state of crime in their area.

On the exchange of information between local authorities and Garda authorities the Bill could include a provision empowering both local authorities and the Garda authorities to exchange information in their possession where such information would assist in improving the safety and quality of life and preventing crime disorder and anti-social behaviour within an area. Many local authorities have a close working relationship with the Garda authorities. Such arrangements should be put on a statutory footing, and the local authority should be privileged for the purpose of the law of defamation, and be exempt from the provisions of the freedom of information Act. I ask the committee to take note of the points I have raised. We welcome the proposals in the Bill. They will enhance the role of the local public representative, which is at the heart of our organisation.

I now ask my colleague Councillor Kevin Sheahan to address ideas within the Bill, on which we base the amendments I have asked the committee to address.

Mr. Kevin Sheahan

I thank the committee for the invitation to address it. As general secretary of the Local Authorities Members' Association, LAMA, I endeavour to be influenced by the thinking of LAMA members. However, in the time allotted to me, I will speak mostly about my own experiences, and how I believe community policing should be dealt with. I refer to some aspects of the proposed Garda Síochána Bill.

I come from a town of fewer than 1,500 people. There is a high employment rate. My electoral area in west Limerick is predominantly made up of small towns and villages, with a large percentage of people living in one-off houses in rural settings. For a period of 30 years, up to five years ago, I owned and managed a pub. Prior to that I served in the Garda Síochána for eight years — four in uniform and four in plain clothes. My experience has greatly influenced my thinking on the problems associated with anti-social behaviour and the benefits of community policing.

Last June's local elections afforded me the opportunity to canvas my constituents. I was shocked at the number of complaints I received from the silent majority. Most complaints referred to anti-social behaviour emanating from boys and girls aged nine to 16. There was no direct connection to alcohol, although many cases could be linked to alcohol-related problems in the family. Unemployment could also be linked to some of these families. Community policing should certainly involve volunteers from the community, but a significant available resource is retired members of the Garda Síochána — members who have served a minimum of 13 years' service. To employ these people for a minimum of eight hours per week, with a minimum of two hours and a maximum of three hours per occasion, would contribute to dealing with anit-social behaviour in communities. As well as knowing the law, these people are professional court witnesses. I have not discussed this submission with any former member of the Garda Síochána.

Unemployment can seriously contribute to anit-social behaviour in an estate. At a time when we attract non-nationals to fill job vacancies we should stop at nothing to ensure that every able-bodied man and woman in receipt of social welfare can find a job, or training for a job. We should never offer any inducements to any sector to opt for social welfare rather than employment. This should apply to ethnic groups, Travellers and any other minority group in the State, with the exception of anyone in training, education or those who suffer from disability.

Landlords have an important role to play in ensuring that tenants are prevented from engaging in anti-social behaviour. This applies to local authority estates in particular, as well as student villages. The appropriate legislation should apply to all landlords. I refer to the Garda Síochána Bill in so far as it affects members of local authorities. The joint committee meetings should be held in private, and there should be an annual general meeting in public. A report should then be published.

Garda divisional level is not the correct way to establish these committees. A Garda superintendent administers a Garda district, and a division under a chief superintendent embraces many districts. Priorities vary greatly from district to district. A Garda district and an electoral area can have a similar catchment area. If the joint committees are set up on a county and divisional basis some districts will be excluded. This will diminish their effectiveness. The majority of gardaí do not live where they work. The local councillor is more in touch with the local people than anyone else. This is a unique opportunity to create structures with the potential to work very well. The local area committee and the district superintendent can work together in the best interests of the electorate.

I welcome the Confederation of European Councillors, including Councillor Bertie Montgomery, chairperson of the federation, Mr. John Devaney, director, and Councillor Cáit Keane, a member of the federation who is representing both LAMA and the federation here. I remind witnesses that they do not enjoy the parliamentary privilege that members enjoy. We will begin with Mr. Devaney, or should that be Councillor Devaney?

Mr. John Devaney

: I am not a councillor. I thank the members for the invitation to contribute. Regardless of where one is based, the issues discussed here are very important. We are all colleagues, as LAMA and Councillor Montgomery's organisation, NAC, formed the confederation through amalgamation. I know testimonies and briefings from other individuals and agencies from Northern Ireland will probably have given the committee an insight into the bigger picture of policing in the jurisdiction, so I will merely touch on the background to these issues that have brought us to where we are now, while focusing on community policing and the roles of local authorities and their members within the present structures.

My role is that of partnership manager of the Confederation of European Councillors, a body that is essentially the partnership organisation of local authority representatives in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Our origins lie in the relationship that developed between the National Association of Councillors and the Local Authority Members' Association; one has been placed on a more structured basis in recent years. There has been growth in the number and variety of bodies or movements that operate fully or in part on a North-South basis over the past five to ten years, and one of the most relevant areas in terms of politics for co-operation on areas of mutual interest is through local representatives, as they are and should be viewed as the leaders in local communities who are most closely connected to what is happening on the ground. As we move forward in Ireland and on our islands, the part they play in developing relations and issues and areas of mutual interest cannot be under estimated.

We do not under-estimate the value of being a body of politicians made up of all of the major political parties on the island of Ireland. Our board reflects most of the political parties in both jurisdictions. Those board members represent Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour and Progressive Democrats in the Republic of Ireland, and the Ulster Unionists, Democratic Unionist Party, Social Democratic and Labour Party, and Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland. They are all councillors and they talk about very practical issues. In that way it is unique, and if we want as a people to exist in harmony where we respect each others viewpoints but work on areas of co-operation and mutual interest, it is only right that local representatives lead the way.

Our name is a curiosity to some. The name of the organisation appears more and more apt as we develop, because we are funded through Europe, and part of our ambition is to explore relevant links throughout these islands and beyond to continental Europe. Our funding has allowed us to extend and strengthen the links, to enhance friendship and co-operation, to promote civic leadership and dialogue and to provide an effective forum for councillors to discuss and progress political issues and cross-Border and cross-community matters.

Councillors and councils North and South have a vital role to play in civic leadership, and the roles, responsibilities, powers and functions, while differing in some ways in the two jurisdictions, are generally the same. If we expect local representatives to take responsibility on vital areas of everyday life, from local education, health, planning and waste management, then it is natural that they should play a leading role in an area as vital as law and order. This is no different in Northern Ireland and the Republic than it is in the US or anywhere in the world. Law, order and policing are not just global or national issues, they are just as important at local level. We cannot expect our local politicians to provide commentary on local policing and security without allowing them to engage directly with the identification and implementation of the key aspects.

With this in mind, the recent developments in policing in Northern Ireland took account of the importance of involving local politicians and their constituents in the policing processes. In relation to any questions or comments the committee may have, please bear in mind that it is not within my remit and I do not have a particular expertise in this arena, but my colleagues are more directly involved and well-versed in the every day matters, particularly Councillor Montgomery on Northern Ireland, as he is a member of the District Policing Partnership in Magherafelt. I will concentrate on community policing in Northern Ireland, as I was aware that there was a representation to the committee from LAMA.

Much has been recorded and talked about on the history of policing in Northern Ireland, though the modern phase of development essentially begins with the peace process and the evolution of the recommendations since 1998. Policing has changed dramatically since the signing of the Agreement and particularly its recommendation to establish an Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland. The vision for change was set down by Chris Patten and his team in 1999, and the foundations for these new arrangements came through the two major police Acts passed since then.

Throughout the change process, developing a police service that is more effective and representative of the community it serves and which obtains the confidence and support it needs has been the main aim as it was not there all along. Among the first changes was in November 2001 the policing board was established, with Nationalist and Unionist participation and extensive powers to hold the police to account. The RUC was renamed the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, with a new badge for the service.

A third key institution which relates to our bodies has been the creation of District Policing Partnerships, DPPs, in 2003, which essentially gave local people a stake in policing and was designed to provide policing accountability at local level. Other developments include the establishment of the Oversight Commissioner, currently Mr. Al Hutchinson, who has regularly reported on the reforms described by that office as the most comprehensive change programme ever embarked upon by a police service anywhere in the world. In 2000, the initiation of the office of the Police Ombudsman, which deals with complaints about police conduct, meant that Northern Ireland now had one of the most rigorous systems of independent civilian oversight of policing in the world.

The policing board in Northern Ireland includes a number of members of the Assembly at Stormont who are also members of local authorities. It is within these DPPs that councillors have played a real and effective role alongside the police and their constituents. An important theme of the Patten report was that policing should be more localised by creating district command units that would cover the same area as district councils. By district councils, I mean borough councils and city councils. The commission also said that regular discussions on policing issues should take place at district level between police and the community. As a means of achieving this, almost exactly two years ago, the DPPs were initiated as meaningful partnerships between the local councils, councillors and representatives of the community for the purpose of monitoring the effectiveness of policing in that area. The partnerships reflected the geographical make-up of local government, there are 26 partnerships and 26 councils, though there is a special requirement for Belfast to have four sub-groups, one for each district command unit within that council area.

More than 1,500 people applied to sit on the partnerships alongside the political members, who were selected by their councils to reflect the balance of parties in their chambers. The policing board appointed 215 people to serve alongside the 241 elected members. An interesting point to add is that this also led to one of the largest single appointments of women to public bodies in recent years. Also, the chief executives of the councils, which would be the county managers in the South, have overall responsibility for setting up the DPP and ensuring its effective operation, while each council is obliged to commit 25% of reasonable expenses incurred by the DPP.

It is interesting to note that six of the nine members from Northern Ireland who sit on our board of the Confederation of European Councillors are members of DPPs in Ards, Ballymena, Coleraine, Lisburn, Newry and Mourne and Mr. Bertie Montgomery in Magherafelt. The DPPs act as fora for discussion and consultation on matters affecting the policing of the district for which it is responsible, including for example, the prioritisation of policing issues on behalf of local people and contributing to the formulation of local policing plans. The strength of this system emanates from the fact that it provides a unique opportunity for local people to shape local policing and it is a good mechanism for facilitating dialogue between the police and the local community.

There is an expectation that each DPP hold at least six public meetings a year in different places and at different times to maximise the number of people that can take part. At each of these public meetings the district commander will present his or her report and the DPP will then question him or her on issues that have been raised in the report and will also ask the police questions that may have been forwarded to them by members of the public.

From there, annual reports are submitted to the councils and forwarded to the policing board, while comprehensive surveys and community attitudinal analyses that were carried out in 2003 and 2004 have provided information used in formulating local policing plans. The surveys were sent to 60,000 households and addressed areas such as existing problems, priority areas for policing resources, satisfaction rates, awareness, and confidence levels in policing and DPPs. The result of these studies is an overall policing plan for 2005-08 based around six key areas at the centre of policing: citizen focus; reducing crime; improving crime investigation and increasing detection; promoting public safety; resources; and progressing the programme of change for the police. Within each of these areas, the policing board has set objectives and targets for the police to achieve. For example, during 2005-06 the PSNI will aim to work to increase public confidence, reduce violent crime, reduce the fear of crime which was an important issue in the surveys, improve crime detection and investigation, promote public safety by dealing with anti-social behaviour and road safety problems, improve police organisational effectiveness and efficiency and continue to implement the PSNI programme of change.

It is worth noting that while the unique recent history and circumstances have brought about the changes and developments in Northern Ireland's policing structures and systems, international models of community policing have been considered during the establishment and progression of the DPPs and local policing structures, particularly from Canada, the United States where Boston was one area studied, and some of the EU countries.

Above all, the local policing structures in Northern Ireland are unique and are already providing models of best practice in a jurisdiction where policing has long been such a divided area. The DPPs have served to improve overall confidence in policing, while engaging people in a very practical manner on areas of policy and operation. That is not to say they have not encountered problems, among them the obvious fact that the policing board and DPPs are still not able to benefit from the full range of political representation necessary for true accountability and effectiveness, while some DPP members have suffered from high-profile attacks and intimidation. Change will inevitably take time, and we must remember that many of the present day problems that exist are not necessarily unique to Northern Ireland. The involvement of all agents would obviously enhance the structures, as the full potential of the changes would be hard to imagine without those who are not presently engaged.

However in his report last September, the Oversight Commissioner stated that the transformation to policing in Northern Ireland in recent years has been remarkable and that the deep change that the police service would undergo is beginning to take root. He added "such widespread police reform did not occur in a vacuum, but in an environment of real people with genuine concerns and expectations".

I thank Mr. Devaney for an informative presentation.

I welcome both delegations, particularly Councillor Hayes from Waterford city, and thank them for their presentations. It is good to get the perspective from Northern Ireland again. Mr. Denis Bradley already made a submission on it to the committee.

Councillor Guckian believes committee meetings should be held in private, while the Minister believes they should be held in public in the interests of transparency. Will Councillor Guckian expand on her reasons for this? The committee realises the demands these proposals will make on local authority finances. Will this funding come from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform?

I welcome both groups and compliment them on their interesting submissions. It is obvious that LAMA has gone through the Bill with a fine tooth comb. Hearing the Northern Ireland perspective was interesting and gave us guidelines on how the joint policing committees can be fashioned. LAMA argued that funding must come exclusively from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. If there was a financial contribution from local government, does it see some scope for it influencing the shape of the joint policing committee? This takes into consideration the Northern Ireland position, where 25% of funding comes from local government. Should the coterminous arrangements between the district command units and district council areas be examined? The City and County Managers' Association suggested the districts should be coterminous with electoral areas.

Councillor Bertie Montgomery would describe himself as a moderate Unionist. Those who know him will agree that the moderate viewpoint on both sides of the divide will shape Ireland's future. What is the composition of the district policing partnerships in Northern Ireland? I note there are partnerships between the police, local councils and representatives of the community. How many members of the community are on them? How do they work in practice and in influencing the direction of policing? How open are the police to a wide group of people sitting with them on these partnerships? It is recommended that six public meetings be held annually, which is an innovative idea. What public interest is there and what is the attendance for such meetings?

I welcome both delegations and thank them for the two different perspectives. Can we have a copy of Councillor Sinéad Guckian's contribution as it is a critique of Chapter 4 of the Bill and would be useful for members?

How is community representation for the district police partnership decided? What is the perception of community representation of the joint policing committees, as the Bill does not provide for it or business or voluntary sector representation? Regarding the confederation, we have the police boards and district partners but no policing fora. There is a distinction there and the district policing partnerships have a major role of oversight rather than partnership. In other words, the police report back and the partnership monitors the police. However, there is no such apparent provision in the legislation. Is this because of the perceived role of the PSNI?

Mr. John Devaney stated there are six meetings annually. What percentage are held in public? Would they be general meetings or the type envisaged by LAMA? Is it not better to have the onus on meetings being in public, while the local policing committees could decide which meetings need to be held in private? Such an arrangement would be similar to how county councils have public meetings through standing orders. For public confidence, these meetings must be held in public as much as possible. I accept that certain topics mean some meetings need to be held in private. However, general matters such as traffic management will be discussed at most meetings. Having open meetings gives people the feeling they are democratically involved.

I am interested in joint partnership and how best to progress local policing. The Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland has suggested a body of representatives from the Oireachtas and local councils to be on the partnership boards. What is LAMA's viewpoint on this?

I ask Councillor Cáit Keane to respond first to these questions.

Councillor Cáit Keane

I am wearing both hats as a member of LAMA and of the Confederation of European Councillors. It is unique that we have such co-operation with the North of Ireland on this confederation committee. The model proposed in section 31 already exists in the North of Ireland and is working well. From the submission provided by Mr. John Devaney, it is obvious that we have much to learn in terms of best practice from the North of Ireland model. We can also learn from the experience of others. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Much research has been undertaken in Northern Ireland and the EU. Section 31(1) does not refer to gender equity in regard to membership of the boards whereas the provisions for the establishment of the ombudsman commission stipulate that at least one member should be a woman. The former is an omission that must be rectified.

Section 31(2)(b) deals with licensing matters. The Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2003 gave powers to local authorities regarding late-night extensions. However, councillors have no power under the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2000 in respect of off-licences. This matter was raised recently in the courts when a judge advised that legislation was required to introduce such authority. The issue of licensing powers for local authorities in regard to off-licences should be dealt with in this Bill. It is around these establishments that many young people congregate and they are the source of some problems. This committee has a serious job to do in tackling this matter. If we succeed in getting this right we will do a great service for the community.

The issue of boundaries has been discussed at county development board level. The stipulation that the "boundaries of a regional or geographic area may be altered at the behest of the Commissioner" in section 21(1)(b) represents an opportunity to deal with this matter. It must be done at some time. The situation cannot continue whereby different boundaries exist in the form of health boards, educational divisions, policing units, local authorities and so on. This provision will allow the committee to call a halt to this situation and to lead by example in this area.

Section 21 provides that the Garda Commissioner must prepare an annual policing plan that may be done in consultation with the joint policing committees. LAMA recommends "may" should be replaced by "shall" to give strength to this provision by ensuring these committees are not merely talking shops. There should be an onus rather than an opt-out in regard to consultation. Section 21(1)(c) provides the Commissioner with the power to establish, relocate and close down Garda divisional quarters. Again, such authority should only be exercised after consultation with the relevant joint policing committee. The committee should be allowed to discuss proposals and offer recommendations in this regard. Section 29 gives the Garda Commissioner the power to determine the manner in which gardaí are distributed. Joint policing committees should have a consultative role in this matter.

We welcome the provisions in section 26(6) in regard to charging for policing services at certain events. However, these provisions should be amended to stipulate that payments must be made in advance. A local authority or joint policing committee should not be obliged to fund events which may prove to be unsuccessful.

Section 55 deals with confidentiality in regard to certain information. The provisions of this section should also apply to members of joint policing boards. If confidential information is to be provided to these members as right, they must be aware that the release of such information constitutes a criminal offence. This is important, particularly in regard to meetings that involve members of the public.

This raises the questions as to whether meetings should be held in private or public. We are all aware that an issue can become a political football if the press and public become involved. The community policing fora established by the joint policing committees should be public in order to allow citizens to contribute to debates on relevant issues. However, the joint committees should hold their meetings in private rather then succumb to the dangers of playing to the gallery. Moreover, the Garda may not be comfortable with divulging or disclosing information in public that may be of valuable support to committees. Law is a sensitive area and the point made by another speaker regarding training for members is well made. What one says in these matters, whether in public or private, is very serious.

Mr. Pat Hayes

I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to attend this meeting of the committee. My situation is akin to that of the unfortunate man who employed Fionn MacCumhail after which the latter put his finger on the salmon of knowledge. There are many who have sucked the same thumb today. I can only repeat what has already been said, with which I am mostly in agreement.

LAMA's responsibility is to its members, who have been elected to represent citizens and give voice to their concerns. As Senator Cummins and others who have served on local authorities are aware, the community often calls on members in preference to reporting concerns to the Garda. I have been called to the homes of elderly people in my area as a consequence of a recent spate of break-ins, including 12 since Christmas. These people look to me rather than the Garda for assistance either because of confusion or through fear of intimidation. All councillors have similar experiences in this regard. That mandate and duty of care must be carried through into the establishment of adequate community policing structures.

Senator Ormonde raised a number of questions in regard to these structures. The area committees already exist, are representative of councillors and officials and present the ideal overseeing structure for the establishment of the joint policing committees. The joint committees must refer to the local area committees. We are the people with first-hand experience of the situation through our continuous dealings with the public. What we want from the joint committees is action. Likewise, the community policing boards should not be allowed to become merely talking shops.

LAMA's objective is to ensure Garda action and activity in the community. Local residents must identify with the local garda and be confident he or she will protect them. It is important to have gardaí in vehicles but most vital is the garda on the street.

I will provide a simple example. On a Saturday night several weeks ago, while sitting down to dinner with friends, I was called to a break-in at the home of an elderly lady. Although the detectives arrived two hours later, she was not satisfied. The lady actually wanted a policeman in uniform to appear on the street for a while, to give comfort to her neighbours and herself. I refer to simple measures like that.

The real point about community policing is that it should not involve setting up another structure that will be meaningless to the public. Policing committees must establish links to local area committees. As Mr. John Devaney can explain, not all meetings should be held in public. However, I want to be able to attend a local area committee meeting with the police referred to that board. I wish to be able to name the families and people who are destroying my community.

One problem that arises periodically is the intimidation of people within the community who show some courage and stand up. In a recent case, when people went into court, the judge scandalised them. I do not know how we can involve the Judiciary but it must form part of our activities. It is scandalous to see people who had the courage to go to court subsequently walk out, possibly being jeered, in the full knowledge that the intimidation will worsen. This has happened on several occasions and has been widely reported.

There have been excellent contributions. I welcome Councillor BertieMontgomery from Magherafelt.

Mr. Bertie Montgomery

I thank the joint committee for providing the opportunity to present a view of current policing in the North. I will take the questions in reverse order.

Senator Tuffy asked about the number of public meetings. We have 12 meetings per year, six in public and six in private. In addition, the chair, vice-chair and two other members meet the divisional commander in the interim. He or she gives updates about any local events that we believe require discussion.

Deputy Costello asked how the community representatives that sit on the district policing partnerships, DPPs, are chosen. First, Pricewaterhouse was appointed. Subsequently, the councils appointed a chair and vice-chair to each DPP from both sides, Unionist and Nationalist, of the community. The community representative posts were advertised and applied for and the candidates were interviewed by the chair or the vice-chair and a representative from Pricewaterhouse. Recommendations were sent to the Policing Board for approval. Occasionally, a recommended candidate was not approved but 99% of the selected candidates were approved.

The Deputy commented that we operate less as a partnership than in a monitoring role. However, the police service does not see the situation in those terms. At all meetings it emphasises that a partnership exists and that neither side should try to bully the other. It is a partnership between the council, the private sector and ourselves.

Is it true about the community? Mr. Montgomery stated that Pricewaterhouse——

What is Pricewaterhouse's input?

Mr. Montgomery

Pricewaterhouse is a consultancy firm.

Why was it consulted?

Mr. Montgomery

It was employed by the Government to run the process of appointing the community sector members.

Who do the community sector members represent?

Mr. Montgomery

The voluntary and business sectors. Some trade unions are also represented on the DPPs.

Were residents' associations or community councils represented?

Mr. Montgomery

In Northern Ireland, the residents' associations are recognised as the community sector. A residents' association would apply for representation under the community sector.

This is an interesting method of operating. Objectivity comes into-——

Such associations would have applied and been vetted.

Mr. Montgomery

A residents' association would apply, be interviewed and vetted. Subsequently, it would be approved by the policing board. Senator Jim Walsh asked about the composition of the DPPs. The relevant legislation states that a DPP may have 15, 17, 19 or 21 members. My DPP has 17 members. There must be nine councillors and eight members from the voluntary or community sector. The number of councillors must always exceed that of community sector representatives by one.

The Senator also asked about the level of public interest. Public interest in our meetings is quite poor but the number of representations made to DPP members is quite high. Apparently, people cannot attend a meeting and listen to the proceedings but they will pass on questions and queries to DPP members who, in turn, can raise them with the divisional commander at a meeting. Typically, I bring six to seven questions from members of the public to a meeting.

As to the Senator's question about funding, the councils provide 25% of the funding. Being from the Unionist community, this new set-up arising from Patten initially left me with a lump in my throat and I was a staunch supporter of the RUC. However, having gone through this procedure and observed its operation during the past two years, I do not wish to return to the previous set-up. This is much better as both sides of the community are involved, which was not the case previously. There is still some distance to go and we must get some more people on board. This issue is currently being used as a political football. This should not be the case and needs to be addressed. The establishment of the DPPs was one of the best things we have done in Northern Ireland for many years.

Councillor Hayes

I also have the pleasure of serving on the Confederation of European Councillors with Bertie. He is an exceptional man.

I want to know about the funding arrangements.

A total of 25% comes from——

Mr. Montgomery

Some 25% comes from the council and the remainder comes from the policing board, which is funded centrally.

Is it adequate?

Mr. Montgomery

Yes. It is adequate and there are no problems.

We will conclude with Councillor Guckian.

Mr. Guckian

My colleague, Councillor Cáit Keane, touched on the questions raised relating to LAMA's perspective on holding meetings in public and how we view the involvement of community representatives in the fora. It is important to note that, in general, one's local councillor is involved in nearly all aspects of the community. Most of us are members of our community area committees, tidy towns committees, active age groups and Neighbourhood Watch schemes. We participate on that level and would be seen to be representing communities. This is why most of us were elected as representatives.

The question raised by Senator Jim Walsh relating to funding from the local authorities was not addressed. We should look at the scale of providing a system that we all see as being valuable to our communities and which will assist in the reduction of anti-social behaviour and crime. When it is weighed up in that context, one is looking at a different cost to wherever the funding needs to come from. There are many funding constraints on local authorities and the majority of them would claim that they are constrained by funding.

I thank the Chairman and the committee for inviting us here today and hope that our points will be considered. I apologise for the lack of a transcript of our submission. This was due to transport difficulties. LAMA looks forward to playing its role in joint community policing and hopes it will be genuinely effective.

Could LAMA send the committee a copy of its contribution?

Ms Guckian

A copy will be sent to the committee.

I thank LAMA, in particular those contributors from the North, for a useful and informative contribution that will be very helpful to the committee in its deliberations.

The joint committee went into private session at 6 p.m. and adjourned at 6.10 p.m. sine die.