I welcome the opportunity to appear before the committee to discuss the draft guidelines. My responsibility in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform lies in the Garda area, including the implementation of the Garda Síochána Act, in particular the joint policing committees.
With me is Mr. Brendan Callaghan, a principal officer in the Department who chaired the working group that drew up the first draft of the guidelines that went to the Minister for approval. Beside him is Mr. Joe Allen, a principal officer in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government who was involved in the same working group. Beside him is Mr. Laurence Kelly from the same Department who was also involved and, finally, Chief Superintendent Michael Feehan, who is based in Store Street Garda station and was also involved in drawing up the guidelines.
I have submitted a statement and I will touch on some of the main points. It might be helpful to have a question and answer session instead of listening to me droning on about the guidelines.
We should do all we can to foster links between the gardaí and local communities. The Garda Síochána, more than many police forces, has always had close links to the community. It is a police force of the community it serves. That is coming under strain with urbanisation and commuter belt life but that link must be fostered. There are many ways to do that. The committee discussed the Garda reserve yesterday, a provision in the Act which has a bearing on this point. Representatives in the committee have also talked about community policing, another aspect.
The establishment of joint policing committees is widely accepted to be an important step in this process. There has always been close co-operation between local authorities and the gardaí but the Garda Síochána Act places that on a statutory basis and enables a constructive dialogue at local level. The joint policing committees will be started on a pilot basis in 22 of the 114 local authority areas. It is proposed they will run for a year, with a review then of their effectiveness, before being rolled out on a national basis.
The committees will review two areas: the level and pattern of crime and disorder and anti-social behaviour in a particular area, including drug and alcohol misuse in particular, but not limited to them, and the underlying factors that give rise to those issues. That is a two-way process whereby the local authorities and representatives can put to the Garda Síochána their points of view and concerns, highlighting difficulties, to which the Garda Síochána can then respond. Equally the Garda Síochána can highlight issues it feels the local authorities can address. These could be simple matters such as public lighting or estate design.
The committee will advise both the Garda Síochána and the local authority on how best it can bear down on the problems that have been identified. The committees will also arrange and host public meetings periodically to discuss the policing of the area. A final important function is that each committee will be able to establish local policing fora to discuss problems at a neighbourhood level in consultation with the local Garda superintendent.
This will be done on a pilot basis. As soon as the Minister gets the views of this committee, it is his intention, in consultation with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, to move ahead and publish the guidelines under the Act and to establish these committees. They will need secretarial support, requiring resources, and the Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government are each making available €300,000 for this year. Looking ahead to full roll-out next year, the costs will be factored into the Estimates to be debated this autumn.
In anticipation of the start of this, the Garda Síochána and the local authorities have been working hard behind the scenes to get ready and the two Departments have been helping in that. Next week we are holding an information seminar for the Garda Síochána and the relevant local authorities to ensure they are ready to start as soon as the guidelines are issued and the committees are established.