I am of course very much aware of the particular concerns which may arise in relation to the safety of elderly and vulnerable persons. In this regard I can assure the Deputy that I am in ongoing contact with the Garda Commissioner to ensure that the available Garda resources are used as effectively as possible for tackling crime in our community. In addition An Garda Síochána work in partnership with a wide range of community based groups, including Community Alert and Neighbourhood Watch groups, to support enhanced community safety and with particular regard to the needs of elderly and more vulnerable people.
The protection of elderly and vulnerable people was a key consideration in the broad review of our response to burglary and related crimes which I initiated in the early part of 2015. Arising from this the Deputy will be aware of the concerted strategy which has been put in place to tackle such crimes and protect householders. In particular, very important progress has been made under Operation Thor which has led to concentrated Garda activity with more than 30,000 crime prevention patrols and in the order of 38,500 targeted checkpoints nationwide, with 2,500 arrests and 2,900 charges being made. The success being achieved through Operation Thor is reflected in the official CSO Crime Statistics which show that in the first three months of 2016 there were 36% less burglaries than in the first three months of 2015. The recently announced package of additional resources to support Garda operations in 2016 includes provision for the ongoing implementation of Operation Thor. So there will be no let-up on the pressure which the Gardaí are bringing to bear on the organised gangs engaged in burglary, including the mobile gangs who have targeted rural communities in various parts of the country.
These intensive policing measures are backed up by the specific legislation targeting repeat burglars with previous convictions which was enacted in the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Act
2015. I am very pleased that these provisions are now available to Gardaí to support prosecutions arising from Operation Thor.
More generally, An Garda Síochána’s Older People Strategy promotes actions to support and respond to the needs and expectations of older people on an ongoing basis. In addition, the Seniors Alert Scheme, which is provided by my colleague the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community & Local Government, provides grant assistance towards the purchase and installation of personal monitored alarms to enable older persons, of limited means, to continue to live with independence and peace of mind in their own homes. As part of the Community Policing approach Gardaí engage with a wide range of local groups, including more than 3,700 Neighbourhood Watch and Community Alert groups established countrywide. as well as participating in more formal structures such as Joint Policing Committees, which provide an important forum to address a wide range of local policing concerns.
The Garda authorities strongly support the ongoing development of community partnership initiatives, and I as Tánaiste greatly value this work. In fact, the Deputy will be aware that I secured a doubling of the funding for crime prevention initiatives to be funded by my Department in 2016. Most of this funding goes to support the Community Alert programme which provides a very practical model for communities working in partnership with local Gardaí to prevent crime and to provide reassurance for more vulnerable people. To support the establishment of local groups An Garda Síochána have published Community Crime Prevention Guidelines as well as guidelines for local Text Alert Groups. The Garda Text Alert Scheme is a particularly successful example of community partnership with An Garda Síochána, with over 900 local groups in operation, involving in excess of 160,000 subscribers and with an estimated 200,000 text messages sent each month. I am informed that every Garda Division, rural and urban, now offers the Text Alert service.
Underpinning all of these measures is the Government’s commitment to increase Garda numbers to 15,000 by way of recruitment into An Garda Síochána and the Deputy will be aware of my recent announcement in this regard. This process will involve the recruitment of some 3,200 new Garda members on a phased basis over the next four years, to ensure that the service is renewed and has the capacity to provide visible, responsive and effective policing to every community throughout the country.