Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Ceisteanna (40)

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

40. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of Garda members in the Meath division. [4167/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (5 contributions) (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy is aware, the manner in which the resources of the Garda Síochána are deployed is solely a matter for the Garda Commissioner and his management team. I, as Minister, have no direct role in the process. I can, however, assure Deputy Thomas Byrne that Garda management keeps the distribution of resources under continual review in the context of crime trends and policing priorities so as to ensure optimum use is made of resources.

I am informed by the Commissioner that as of 31 December 2018, the most recent date for which figures are readily available, the strength of the Meath division was 318. There are also 13 Garda Reserves and 30 civilians attached to the division.

It is important to note that the increased specialisation within An Garda Síochána means that the number of gardaí assigned to various divisions does not include those assigned to various specialist bureaus or units that include the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the armed support units, the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, all of which are particularly active, as the Deputy will appreciate, in the Meath division. Around 200 extra gardaí were assigned to the specialist bureaus within Special Crime Operations since 2017.

Since the reopening of the Garda College in Templemore in September 2014, almost 2,400 recruits have attested as members of An Garda Síochána and have been assigned to mainstream duties up and down the country. Some 73 of these were assigned to the Meath division. This accelerated recruitment of officers led to Garda numbers reaching just over 14,000 by the end of 2018.

Furthermore, the Commissioner has been allocated an additional €100 million for 2019. This will bring his total budget to almost €1.8 billion.  This substantial investment will allow the accelerated recruitment programme to continue at the same time that new and leading edge technology is deployed to An Garda Síochána to support our front-line officers in carrying out their work of delivering a visible, responsive and effective police service in Meath and elsewhere.

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. He stated that 73 new gardaí have been assigned to the Meath division and I accept that. However, although any increase is welcome, the overall increase in the number of gardaí is approximately 29. While the Garda Commissioner may have allocated 73 gardaí to Meath, approximately 40 to 50 gardaí retired from the division. That said, we welcome the increase which was provided as part of the confidence and supply agreement. More work needs to be done, particularly in County Meath due to its population among other issues. County Westmeath has twice as many gardaí per head of population as County Meath. We have approximately one garda for every 600 residents while County Westmeath has one for every 300 residents, although the figure varies. The largest town in Ireland without a Garda station, Ratoath, is in my constituency. I urge the Minister to bring that to the attention of the Commissioner if they are discussing these matters. Other towns such as Slane and Dunboyne only have part-time Garda stations. There is justified concern about crime and Garda presence. We thank gardaí for their work, but they need more resources in my constituency and wider County Meath.

I am happy to immediately share the table I have in respect of the Meath division with the Deputy. However, Garda strength in the Meath division has recovered to levels last seen in 2008-09. In the past four years, Garda strength in Meath has recovered. There has been an increase of 15% from the low point of 277 in 2015. I do not have a figure for the number of retirees in County Meath but I am happy to acquire it for the Deputy. The Commissioner stated his intention to recruit 600 trainee gardaí and 600 Garda civilian staff this year. It is important that we make every effort to release gardaí from office or administrative duties to do the work on the street and in communities for which they were, perhaps, best trained. If the annual intake of approximately 800 continues and there are approximate 300 retirees annually, the force will be significantly strengthened. I have no reason to believe there are proportionally more retirees in Meath than elsewhere in the country but I am happy to get the figure for the Deputy.

The population of County Meath has increased rapidly compared to other counties. In addition, it started from a low base in respect of Garda numbers.

An issue of concern is that the number of Garda reservists has dropped significantly from 20 to 16 and there are now 13. Although some may have become full-time members of An Garda Síochána and I am delighted if they have, a renewed focus on the Garda Reserve may be of assistance to policing and Garda duties in my constituency.

I note the Deputy's comments on the Garda Reserve. It is somewhat disappointing that its numbers have dropped from a peak of 1,100 in 2013 to 530 in 2018. However, I acknowledge the importance of the recommendations in the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing, which the Government published before Christmas. It is an elaborate and ambitious implementation plan that reviews all aspects of policing in Ireland. The commission specifically recommended that recruitment to the Garda Reserve be paused pending completion of a strategic review of the reserve with a view towards ensuring the best use is made of this valuable resource. I confirm that this year the Garda Commissioner intends to recruit a further 600 trainee gardaí along with 600 Garda civilian staff. That recruitment will allow him to redeploy a further 500 fully trained gardaí from administrative to front-line duties. I expect that County Meath will benefit in that regard.