I wish to give a brief history of our organisation. Our community was affected by the drugs and drug dealing which occurred in the north east inner city. Young people died, including eight children who died in the summer of 1998. The community was anxious and knew that action must be taken. Drugs were sold openly within the area and people were intimidated by drug dealers. Members of the community felt that there was a lack of response from gardaí and Dublin City Council. A campaign was launched by the inner city organisation network, ICON, to explore solutions to the problems of drugs and their effect on the community. Local meetings were held, expanding from 50 participants at the first meeting to hundreds and then thousands. Gardaí were not invited to these meetings because of a lack of trust from the community.
Responses to the problem included marches to protest at drug dealing and to regain ownership of the community. This demonstration of people power was effective at forcing some of the bigger drug dealers out of the area. Unfortunately some people became involved in vigilante activity, which ICON and the majority in the community believed would undermine acceptable actions.
The north-east inner city community policing forum was proposed by ICON in 1997 to the local drugs task force as a result of this vigilante activity. The forum's board of management was appointed by the supply and control sub-group of the task force. Dublin City Council, the Garda and the local drugs task force each appointed a representative to the board, ICON appointed a community representative to the board and a chairperson was decided upon. Community representatives are now elected to the board through the forum.
The forum was established in 1999 and employed a full-time co-ordinator and a part-time administrator. It was officially launched in 2002 in Store Street Garda station by the Taoiseach, the then Garda Commissioner, Mr. Pat Byrne, and Mr. John Fitzgerald, Dublin city manager.
Speaking at the launch, the Taoiseach said that initiatives such as the forum could bring significant benefit by assisting the efforts of the Garda and that improved relations and communications between local people, the local authority and Garda personnel at local level, as demonstrated by the forum's launch, could help develop strategies to achieve common goals.
The Dublin city manager and the Garda Commissioner also offered their support to the CPF. Commissioner Byrne felt the CPF would provide a structure where local communities working in partnership with the Garda Siochána could develop solutions to local problems.
The board of management consists of Deputy Gregory as chairperson, Mr. Barron of Dublin City Council, Assistant Superintendent Séan Ward, Mr. McCabe of the local drugs task force and community representative Mr. Gerry Fay. The aims and objectives of the project are to co-ordinate a common community and Garda strategy against drug pushing and anti-social behaviour; to improve communication and help resolve difficulties between the community and the Garda; to liaise between Dublin City Council and residents' groups and encourage the development of new residents' groups; to promote community development, particularly with regard to the drugs problems and help the quality of life for local residents; to ensure that the law is effectively enforced against those involved in the supply of drugs, particularly heroin; and to reduce local fears of drugs and address concerns about anti-social behaviour.
The CPF operates through regular meetings of 28 local committees in flat complexes and streets in the north-east inner city which represent a population of approximately 12,000 out of a total area population of approximately 32,000. Minutes are recorded at all local meetings and copies are circulated to all agencies and community representatives as a basis for action. Issues that arise but are not resolved at local meetings are brought before the forum. Representatives have the opportunity to raise issues at meetings for which agencies are held accountable.
Every local committee is represented at the forum, meetings of which are held every three months in Store Street Garda station with an average participation of 70 to 80 community members. Senior gardaí and members of Dublin City Council attend every meeting of the forum to formally report to the community. Political representatives from the area are also invited with two Deputies, four councillors and one Senator attending the most recent meeting. While the Taoiseach was unavailable, he was also represented.
Confidentiality is a major aspect of the project. People people need to feel secure that information passed to the authorities will not have repercussions. A great deal of liaison work with the Garda and Dublin City Council takes place behind the scenes. Issues have been resolved with the effect that gardaí have been deployed in ways which suit both the community and the force. For example, where a resident unhappy with the treatment of her or her children by gardaí wants to have her voice heard, I can arrange a meeting with senior officers to listen to her complaints.
Funding is essential to keep the project running. On foot of demands on the community policing forum by residents from Ballybough and the North Wall area, particularly Sheriff Street, we felt there was a need for extra resources and have now employed three full-time staff. Dublin City Council provided us with a beautiful office which is centrally located on a main street in the north-east inner city. The facility functions as a drop-in location for individuals.
In terms of managing expectations, it has been found that while not all issues can be resolved, they can be listened to. The north-east inner city community policing forum is unique and has been fully operational for the last six years. We have received requests from other areas wishing to establish policing fora, including Cabra, Blanchardstown, Tallaght, Rialto, Fatima Mansions and Wexford, to provide information on the way in which our structures and system have worked. We have attended seminars at the request of the PSNI and the local authority to outline the operational structures of our community policing forum. We have also been asked by senior members of the Garda to make representations to European police, Store Street Garda station and public policy seminars. Representatives of the forum and the community have visited the Garda training college in Templemore on a number of occasions.
The community policing forum has been evaluated internally and externally by leading academics, Mark Morgan and Johnny Connolly. According to the community survey, 70% feel the Garda service has improved, 60% feel the local authority service has improved, 72% are more willing to provide information on drug dealing, 59% are more willing to provide information on non-drug criminal activity, 70% are more willing to provide information to the local authority on estate management and 45% are less worried about drug crime. The majority of community members wish to see the community policing forum continue. The forum has of late begun to deal with all community issues. I thank the committee for its attention.