Gangland Crime

Ceisteanna (114)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

114. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views in relation to the increased number of shootings and inter-gang drug shootings and murders; his further views on whether a review is necessary of resources in order to prevent these gang related shootings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3454/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I can assure the Deputy that the Government is fully committed to ensuring that An Garda Síochána has the necessary resources to continue to disrupt the operation of criminal groups who carry out these killings and who endanger the safety of our communities and he will have noted An Garda Síochána have made significant progress in tackling the insidious threat of organised crime, particularly in Dublin’s North Inner-City.

Operation Hybrid has been established to coordinate the response to violent crime in Dublin and address public safety concerns about community safety, particularly in the North Inner City, and it benefits from significant support by Armed Support Units. As of 13 January 2019, this response has included:

- 86 arrests.

- 11 persons charged in relation to organised crime gang murder investigations, 3 persons convicted of murder with life sentences imposed.

- 37 firearms seized (in relation to murder offences).

- In the region of 290 searches.

- 16,969 lines of enquiry  conducted with more than 73,220 high visibility checkpoints implemented with significant support from Armed Support Units.

- A significant amount of CCTV footage, mobile phone traffic, and forensic evidence has also been examined.

We have also seen reports of very significant drugs seizures by An Garda Síochána in Waterford and Dublin recently which led to a number of arrests being made. Yesterday, as part of an intelligence-led operation targeting serious organised crime activity in the Louth Division, Gardaí from the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, assisted by Officers from the Criminal Assets Bureau and Louth Division, seized a quantity of cannabis herb with a street value thought to be in the region of €940,000 (pending analysis). An arrest was made on foot of the operation and investigations remain ongoing.

In addition, a number of arrests were made in the UK recently on foot of investigations into the supply of drugs and firearms in Ireland and the UK which resulted in a number of court appearances, while others arrested were released under investigation.

The Deputy will appreciate that the allocation of all Garda resources, including personnel, is a matter for the Garda Commissioner and his management team and I have no role in this matter. However, I have been advised that An Garda Síochána continues to monitor all new and emerging crime trends so that Garda resources can be allocated accordingly.

As part of Budget 2019, the Government has increased the budget for An Garda Síochána to €1.76 billion for this year, which will facilitate the continued recruitment of new Garda members as well as Garda staff. The Garda Commissioner has now indicated that it is his intention to recruit a total of 600 trainee Gardaí along with a net 600 Garda staff.  The recruitment of these additional Garda staff will allow the Commissioner to redeploy a further 500 fully trained Gardaí from administrative duties this year to the frontline policing duties for which they were trained.

I have been assured by the Garda Commissioner that the recruitment of Garda members and Garda staff planned for 2019 will ensure that, taking account of projected retirements, the Government's commitment to increasing the strength of An Garda Síochána to 15,000 Garda members and 4,000 Garda staff by 2021 will be achieved. The number of Garda members in An Garda Siochana increased to just over 14,000 at the end of 2018, a net increase of over 1,000 since the end of 2016.  The Commissioner's plans for the redeployment of Gardaí to frontline policing in 2019 will result in a net additional 1,100 Gardaí deployed to operational policing by the end of 2019.

This approach to management of resources by the Commissioner, including recruitment and redeployment, is very much in line with the Report of the Commission for the Future of Policing in Ireland which recommended the return of Gardaí to the front line to deliver visible policing. The Deputy will be aware that on 18 December 2018 I published a four year high level plan, ‘A Policing Service for the Future’,  which sets out the approach to implementation of the Commission's recommendations. Civilianisation, workforce planning and redeployment are some of the key projects which will continue to be progressed over the lifetime of this reform programme.

Prison Service Staff

Ceisteanna (115)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

115. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views in relation to recent reports in the media regarding prison officers leaving their areas of responsibility due to health and safety concerns, particularly in Portlaoise Prison, in which gang members are imprisoned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3455/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

The Irish Prison Service has informed me that on 04 May 2018 a number of staff members left their post in Portlaoise prison, without leave to do so, while on duty.

This was clearly unacceptable and I am further informed that management immediately implemented measures to ensure that the impact of the situation was minimized and controlled, with the situation returning to normal that evening.

Furthermore, I am informed that management took prompt and appropriate action under the relevant Human Resources policies of the Irish Prison Service. As I am sure the Deputy will appreciate neither I, nor the Irish Prison Service, are in a position to comment further in respect of the application of Human Resources policies to individual staff members.

Prison Service

Ceisteanna (116)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

116. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he is satisfied in relation to the investment in health and safety provision in prisons here; the investment in same on a yearly basis since 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3456/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I am advised by my officials in the Irish Prison Service that it aims to achieve the highest health and safety standards across its operations and to meet the statutory requirements set out in the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005 as well as compliance with the provisions and requirements of other relevant legislation, standards and codes of practice.

To do this the Irish Prison Service has established and maintains an occupational health and safety management system (OHSMS) based on the requirements of the internationally recognised safety management system – Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS) 18001. The Occupational Health and Safety Management System facilitates the Irish Prison Service’s compliance with legal requirements and ensures that the policies and procedures are implemented, operated, checked, audited and reviewed in accordance with a structured programme with the objective of continual improvement.

I am not in a position to disaggregate the spend on health and safety as this is incorporated into a range of subheads such as capital spending, fire safety, planned preventative maintenance, personal protective equipment, staff training, salaries and information and communication technology.

I am assured by the Director General of the Irish Prison Service that she is committed to ensuring that adequate resources are provided to enable to Irish Prison Service meet its statutory requirements and its commitment to the safety of all those to whom it owes a duty of care, including staff, prisoners, contractors and visitors.

Rural Crime

Ceisteanna (117, 118, 119, 120)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

117. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on rural crime; if rural crime statistics are increasing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3469/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

118. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he has spoken to the Garda Commissioner in relation to rural crime; the actions being taken to prevent incidences of rural crime; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3470/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

119. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the policy action being taken to prevent rural crime; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3471/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

120. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when the policy on rural crime was last reviewed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3472/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 117 to 120, inclusive, together.

The Deputy will be aware that last week I, along with Minister of State Stanton, responded to a Private Member's Motion on rural crime in the Dáil, during which I outlined the initiatives and supports introduced by this Government to tackle rural crime.  I also recognised that when it comes to tackling crime, including rural crime, all members of the Oireachtas are seeking the same goal, which is safer communities for all of our citizens.

The Government's response to crime in both rural and urban areas is focused on two key objectives: Strengthening the law to get tougher on repeat offenders and investing in the capacity of An Garda Síochána to enforce that law effectively. I can assure the Deputy that this approach is kept under constant review.

The Government remains committed to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country in order to maintain and strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance to citizens and to deter crime. Since the reopening of the Garda College in September 2014, almost 2,400 recruits have attested as Members of An Garda Síochána and Garda numbers reached almost 14,000 by the end of 2018.  The Garda Commissioner intends to recruit an additional 600 Gardaí next year along with redeploying a further 500 Gardaí from administrative duties to frontline policing.

The Programme for Government underlines the need for close engagement between An Garda Síochána and local communities and this is an essential feature of the strong community policing ethos which has long been central to policing in this jurisdiction.  As part of the overall strategy to oppose criminality, the Garda authorities pursue a range of partnership initiatives with important rural-based organisations such as the IFA, Muintir na Tire and other community organisations. 

It is appropriate to also highlight the Government’s plan to implement the recommendations of the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland.  Those recommendations have a core focus on a more visible Garda organisation working closely and collaboratively with communities and other agencies to keep communities safe and to prevent harm to vulnerable people.   

In relation to the deployment of Garda resources, including personnel, to specific areas, members will appreciate that this is the responsibility of the Garda Commissioner. However, I am advised that Garda management constantly monitor the distribution of these resources in light of crime trends and overall policing needs at local level – and this applies equally in both rural and urban areas. A total budget of €1.76 billion has been provided to An Garda Síochána in 2019, an increase of over €100 million on the 2018 allocation. This substantial investment will provide new and leading edge technology to support our front line Gardaí in carrying out their work in both rural and urban communities.   

Since November 2015, there has been concentrated policing activity throughout the country as a result of Operation Thor. As of January 2019, there have been over 177,000 targeted checkpoints and more than 270,000 crime prevention patrols carried out nationwide. This concentrated policing activity has produced in the region of 9,300 arrests and 10,600 charges covering a range of offences which, in addition to burglary, have included handling stolen property, possession of firearms and drugs offences.  An Garda Síochána will continue to bring pressure on the gangs and individuals responsible for these type of offences.  

On 20 December 2018, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) published the latest crime statistics for Q3 2018.  While I am pleased that, nationally, burglary and theft-related offences were down, I am concerned that offences relating to robbery increased over the 12 month period to the end of Q3 2018 when compared to the end of Q3 2017.  This trend must be tackled comprehensively, and the focus on the recruitment of new Gardaí and increased resourcing of An Garda Síochána reflect this Government’s commitment to support Gardaí in the fight against crime.    

The Deputy will be aware that at the National Ploughing Championships last September, I announced details of the 2018 Text Alert Rebate Scheme which was available to over 1000 local groups registered under the Garda Text Alert Scheme. My Department committed in the region of €150,000 to local communities who wish to apply for a rebate towards the costs associated with running their local Text Alert Scheme.  

The Programme for Government also committed to support investment in CCTV systems and a grant-aid scheme was launched by my Department in 2017 to assist in the establishment of community-based CCTV systems in their local areas with 20 CCTV grants scheme applications approved to date. The scheme is open to all groups wishing to take advantage of the available funding.

Finally, I believe it is absolutely vital that, as elected officials, we continue to encourage all citizens to report all instances of criminality to An Garda Síochána. Only then can the crime be properly investigated by Gardaí. Furthermore, these reports will allow the Garda authorities to identify any new or emerging crime trends affecting a particular community and, where necessary, allocate Garda resources in order to tackle these developments.

Ministerial Meetings

Ceisteanna (121)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

121. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he or his officials met the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in 2018 to discuss drink driving legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3473/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I can inform the Deputy that my officials meet with officials from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport on an ongoing basis, in a number of different fora, in relation to road traffic matters.

The overarching road traffic policy structure is the Ministerial Committee on Road Safety, the function of which is to oversee the implementation of the Road Safety Strategy 2013-2020 and provide a forum for high-level discussion of road safety issues. 

The Committee is chaired by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and attended by myself (or officials from my Department), the Attorney General, CEO of the Road Safety Authority (RSA), the Garda Commissioner (or a senior representative) and officials from other relevant bodies.

The Committee has met on 18 occasions to date under the current Road Safety Strategy, and is scheduled to meet next on 5 March 2019. Traditionally, the Committee had met twice a year, however the Committee met 6 times in 2017 and 4 times in 2018.

The Committee primarily focusses on matters relating to public awareness around road safety and associated media campaigns. Garda road traffic enforcement and issues relating to drink driving are discussed in the context of these matters.

Penalty Points System

Ceisteanna (122)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

122. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the policy input he and his officials had on the latest proposal from the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in relation to increasing penalty points further for speeding and to remove the discretion of drivers bringing their licences to the Garda station within days of being checked; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3474/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

The measures referred to by the Deputy are proposed for inclusion in a forthcoming Road Traffic (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.

The Deputy will appreciate that I, as Minister for Justice and Equality, have no direct role in the development of road traffic legislation, nor do I have a direct role in the enforcement of road traffic legislation, which is an operational matter for An Garda Síochána. 

My officials consulted with An Garda Síochána in relation to the key proposals put forward in the Scheme, on foot of which, my Department expressed general support for the overall intention of the Bill, namely to improve safety on the road network and influence driver behaviour.

As is normal with all road safety measures with implications for policing and enforcement, I would expect further engagement between the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, officials from my Department and An Garda Síochána as these proposals are developed.

Drugs Crime

Ceisteanna (123)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

123. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on the increase in drug related crime; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3475/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy will be aware, illicit drugs are a feature of many different forms of crime, ranging from persons under the influence of drugs committing burglaries, or involved in assaults or public order offences, to the trafficking of drugs by organised crime gangs.

The illicit drug market and the associated harm it causes to people is a matter of concern to me and to communities nationwide. I can assure the Deputy that An Garda Síochána remains resolute in its determination to act against those within society who pose a significant threat to the welfare and well-being of our citizens and the communities they serve. All Gardaí have a responsibility in the prevention and detection of criminal activity, whether it be in the area of drug offences crime or otherwise.  A core focus of the work carried out by An Garda Síochána is aimed at tackling drugs and organised crime. 

In that regard, I would like to highlight significant drug seizures made by An Garda Síochána recently in Waterford, Dublin and Louth with a combined estimated value in the region of €1.8 million. These seizures, which also led to arrests being made, were the result of meticulous, intelligence-led planning and execution by key branches of An Garda Síochána in the fight against drugs and organised crime.

The Government has allocated very significant resources to policing in recent years, and this will continue; in particular, through the accelerated programme of Garda recruitment. This will undoubtedly enhance policing services for all communities across the country. I am informed by the Garda Commissioner that as a result of these additional resources, he has been able to assign additional personnel to the Specialist Bureaus that come within the ambit of Special Crime Operations, including the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau.  I would like to re-affirm that the Government remains committed to supporting An Garda Síochána to make communities safer.