Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Ceisteanna (30)

Jim O'Callaghan

Ceist:

30. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of serious offences which were not addressed as a result of administrative error or as a result of Garda negligence within Garda youth diversion projects; the actions that will be taken with regard to the cases; the additional oversight of the projects required; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4427/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Justice)

The Minister of State will be aware that An Garda Síochána made an announcement a couple of weeks ago about a review it had carried out on the Garda youth diversion programme. The announcement indicated that there were a number of significant concerns about the programme. It showed that many children who were arrested or apprehended were not referred to the youth diversion programme. What does the Government intend to do about this? It has serious consequences for the whole youth diversion programme.

I share the Deputy’s concerns about the very serious issues outlined in the Garda Commissioner’s interim report on youth crime cases from 2010 to 2017. In that period, almost 160,000 youth crime incidents were referred for consideration under the Garda diversion programme. Roughly one third of these incidents were deemed unsuitable for inclusion in the juvenile diversion system, and it has emerged that almost 8,000 of these crimes were not properly pursued. This is a completely unacceptable situation that must be thoroughly addressed in the interest of victims and the proper administration of justice, and for the future welfare of the children who committed the crimes.

In addition to the apology which was appropriately issued by the Garda Commissioner, gardaí have commenced a process to contact victims and have also provided a helpline for anyone who might be affected by the failure to process these cases. Details of the helpline are available on the Garda website. I am anxious that all relevant information must be made available to the victims, including the steps being taken to deal with the failures that have occurred.

A number of fundamental issues have been identified by the Garda examination, including inadequate ICT and supervision, a lack of training, and alleged failings by individual gardaí.

Concerns about similar gaps surfaced previously on different issues and, as the Deputy is aware, last month the Government published the implementation plan which will give effect to the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland.  This plan is aimed at addressing, in a systematic way, all the failings identified.

The Government is committed to the implementation of the commission’s report and a programme office has been established in the Department of An Taoiseach to oversee and report on progress.

In addition, the Policing Authority will continue to follow up with an ongoing examination of these specific youth justice related matters to ensure the effectiveness of the remedial actions which the Commissioner has set in train.

As I mentioned, the issue related to Garda oversight of cases deemed too serious for diversion, and not to the Garda diversion programme or to the community-based Garda youth diversion projects which support the diversion programme. I am assured that no negative implications have been identified for these projects arising from this issue. I can assure the Deputy that I will keep in very close touch with the Commissioner and the Policing Authority to monitor progress.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

In relation to the individual cases, the majority took place in the period from 2010-2015.  Therefore, unfortunately, most of them will be statute barred. However, senior Garda managers are looking at the more recent individual cases to determine whether any further action can be taken. The Commissioner has been very clear that alleged failings by individual gardaí will be fully investigated at divisional level. The Deputy will appreciate that this is a matter for the Commissioner and his management team and any process of that kind has to be allowed to take its course and should not be pre-judged.

The Minister of State will agree that dealing with criminal activity by children is a serious issue. Unless children can be deterred and diverted from criminal activity by the time they reach 18 years of age, there is a strong likelihood they will continue on a criminal path. The Children Act was introduced in 2001 and it established the juvenile diversion programme, which has worked very effectively. It seeks to provide community-based initiatives for children caught up in the criminal justice system, provided they accept and admit their responsibility for crimes they have committed. It very much depends on An Garda Síochána liaising with juvenile liaison officers. What is disturbing about this is that during the period July 2010 to July 2017 approximately 7,900 offences, involving 3,500 children, were not dealt with to conclusion. That Minister of State stated that is a matter of concern.

While I understand the Garda Síochána and Policing Authority are looking at this, what does the Government propose to do about it?

The Garda authorities have taken a number of technical and organisational steps to prevent the recurrence of the failures outlined in the Garda review of cases from 2010 to 2017. I am advised that these measures have led to substantial improvements in case management. More work is under way within An Garda Síochána to verify the full details of the treatment of youth crime during that time, including an external validation process which commenced in mid-January. In addition, the Commissioner has established a national bureau for child diversion to improve further the management of this whole area. As Minister of State with responsibility for youth justice, I have initiated work to develop a new youth justice strategy. I took this initiative on the expiry of the youth justice action plan 2014 to 2018 and will chair the expert steering group guiding the work. The first meeting of the steering group will take place on 6 February. The development of the strategy will provide an opportunity for broad consultation to support enhanced approaches to youth justice based on co-operation across State agencies and community partners. Not only are we following this up, but the Police Authority will continue to engage in rigorous examination of these matters and the actions outlined by the Commissioner to address the systemic cultural and disciplinary issues within An Garda Síochána. We are not only looking backwards but forwards also. I agree wholeheartedly with the Deputy that this is a very serious issue which should not have occurred. We want to ensure these young people are given the support they need and that the victims are assisted also.

Youth justice is an extremely important matter and I am pleased to hear the Minister of State say he has responsibility for it. Sometimes, it falls between the two stools of the Departments of Children and Youth Affairs and Justice and Equality, respectively. We must recognise that it was not just the children who were not referred to the youth diversion programme who were failed, it was also the victims of the crimes. Some 7,900 crimes were committed and each victim who made a complaint is entitled to have it investigated thoroughly and dealt with, irrespective of whether a child committed the offence. Similarly, many other children went through the youth diversion programme and took the process seriously in an effort to get off the path of criminality. If they see that others who do not bother engaging with the programme simply get away with it and are ignored by the State, not having to face any consequences for the crimes, it will undermine the whole scheme. I urge the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, to take responsibility for it and to be seen as the person within Government who is driving this crucial issue to ensure children are diverted from crime at an early stage.

I thank the Deputy for his support and sincerity on these matters, which I welcome. With respect to victims, and in addition to the sincere apology issued by the Commissioner, gardaí have commenced a process to contact victims and provided a helpline for anyone affected by the failure to process these cases. Clearly, all relevant information must be made available to victims, including the steps being taken to deal with the failures which have occurred. It is very concerning that there were repeated failures in the cases of some prolific young offenders. Justice was not done for the victims or for the young offenders whose behaviour should have been challenged repeatedly. The issues raised in the report highlight the fact that many young offenders are themselves vulnerable individuals and underline the need to address offending in a strategic multi-agency manner as recommended by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. I take this opportunity to commend the Commissioner on the work he and his team have done to date to deal with this very serious matter. I commend the Policing Authority also for the professional way it continues to handle the matter.