Questions Nos. 1 to 8, inclusive, answered orally.

International Protection

Questions Nos. 10 and 11 answered orally.

Ceisteanna (9)

Thomas Pringle

Ceist:

9. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if the interdepartmental taskforce that was in place during the drafting of the European Communities (Reception Conditions) Regulations 2018 is still functional; if not, if he will consider the recommendation of an organisation (details supplied) to re-establish this taskforce on a permanent basis to oversee the implementation of the regulations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39979/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I can inform the Deputy that I met recently with the organisation referred to in the Deputy's question shortly after the publication of their report, which we discussed thoroughly.  They raised several issues with me, including the issues around vulnerability assessments and accommodation standards.  They also raised concerns about emergency accommodation and I share those concerns. We are appreciative of their insights and advice in these matters.

The inter-departmental taskforce to which the Deputy refers ceased to function once it achieved its goal of a successful opt-in for Ireland to the European Communities (Reception Conditions) Regulations 2018.  As a result of the State’s opt-in to the Regulations, we now have a legal obligation to offer accommodation, food and a range of other services (including meals, utilities, healthcare etc.) and allowances to any person who claims a right to international protection in Ireland while their legal claim is being examined.  As of 22 September 2019, the Department is accommodating 6,014 people in its 38 accommodation centres and 1,379 people in 33 emergency accommodation locations.

A High Level Interdepartmental Group has been established in my Department, chaired at a senior level, to review the system.

To complement the work being undertaken by the Inter-Departmental Group, an Advisory Group is being established, chaired by  Catherine Day. The Group will look at longer term approaches to providing supports to persons in the protection process and will include experienced former public servants and representatives from the NGO community. The Advisory Group will begin its work later this month.

A whole-of-Government approach to direct provision means that several Government Departments and Agencies work closely together to ensure the necessary supports and services are provided to residents in direct provision. The Department of Justice and Equality offers accommodation and related services. The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection pays a weekly personal allowance to each resident and covers any exceptional needs.  The Department of Education and Skills provides school places for children resident in the centres and children also have access to the free pre-school scheme, the Early Childhood Care and Education programme.  The HSE provides mainstreamed health services to residents.  

Since the introduction of the Regulations, significant improvements have been made to the Direct Provision system including an increase to the daily expenses allowance for residents, granting access to the Labour Market – since its introduction in July 2018, the immigration service has granted 3,100 permissions to residents living in our international protection accommodation services.

Further targeted improvements include the rollout of the National Standards which were published on 15 August 2019.  The National Standards provide a framework for the continual development of services and supports for residents by improving the quality of care and ensuring consistency across the centres.  The Immigration Service of my Department inform me that the aim is to have all residents in commercial centres benefitting from independent living (cooking facilities and onsite food hall) by the middle of 2020.

The implementation of the Standards, along with the continual rollout of independent living across the centres will significantly enhance the lives of all applicants and in particular families and children.

Questions Nos. 10 and 11 answered orally.

Courts Service Data

Ceisteanna (12)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

12. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will report on the non-service of summons in relation to road traffic offences in view of the fact that Court Service figures in summer 2019 showed that 46% were not served between January 2017 and May 2019; the status of the working group which was set up in 2014 to monitor the serving of summons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39749/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

Last year saw the lowest number of fatalities ever recorded on Irish roads and this year Ireland received the European Transport Safety Council’s prestigious Road Safety Performance Index award, in recognition of the considerable progress made in terms of road safety. It should be noted that Ireland was the second safest EU member state in terms of road deaths per million inhabitants in 2018.

However maintaining progress in road safety requires consistent ongoing attention and in the first instance it should be noted that up to 85% of all road traffic fines are paid by motorists on receipt of the relevant Fixed Charge Notice issued by An Garda Síochána.  It is important to understand that the figure referred to by the Deputy relates solely to a proportion of the remaining cases where Fixed Charge Notices had not been paid and the matter proceeds to summons.

I am informed that approximately 95% of all penalty point offences are endorsed by the National Vehicle and Driver File on driver licences every year with over 85% of penalty point offence records received directly from An Garda Síochána when the offender opts to pay the fixed charge amount and accept the penalty points. The remainder of relevant records are received from the Courts Service, following convictions in court.

Insofar as non-service of summons is concerned this rate is higher than I as Minister or any agency engaged in road traffic enforcement would wish.  However, I am assured that work is ongoing by An Garda Síochána to further improve the rate of summons service.

I am informed that a Garda Summons Service Working Group has undertaken a review of the entire summons service process and has identified actions to improve the rate of service and a marked improvement in the rate of summons served has been noted since the commencement of its review.  Indeed I understand from Garda management that summons service rates are now at their highest in a decade.

Further, the Criminal Justice (Fixed Charge Processing System (FCPS)) Working Group, jointly chaired by officials from my Department and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, continues to monitor progress in implementing the recommendations of the comprehensive 2014 Garda Síochána Inspectorate report, including the summons service process.  The Working Group's most recent progress report in respect of 2018 was published on my Department's website in July last.

The Deputy will also be aware that the third payment option, introduced in June 2017 encourages recipients of Fixed Charge Notices for road traffic offences to avail of a third and final opportunity to pay their Fixed Charge Notice amount, thereby eliminating the requirement to attend court.  In the period 25 October 2017 to 5 April 2019, take-up of the third payment option was at 31.37%, which represents a solid return in road traffic enforcement terms. 

In addition, the restructuring currently underway in An Garda Síochána will have a positive impact on road traffic enforcement capacity over time.  For example, the mobility project currently being developed includes a particular focus on roads policing.   I am confident that the use of Garda mobile devices at the roadside will provide for a timelier, consistent and targeted approach to road traffic enforcement.

Anti-Social Behaviour

Ceisteanna (13)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

13. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the powers An Garda Síochána has to deal with anti-social behaviour, in particular on-street drinking in Dublin city centre; if his attention has been drawn to the impact such behaviour is having on retailers, in particular on-street traders such as market vendors; and the way in which the force can address such problems. [40056/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I thank the Deputy for her question.  I am informed by the Garda Commissioner that working to tackle public disorder and reduce anti-social behaviour is a key priority for An Garda Síochána. This approach includes a strong focus on quality of life issues and collaboration with local authorities to help address the causes of anti-social behaviour.

Garda visibility is a key element in tackling and indeed deterring anti-social behaviour and in this context An Garda Síochána is a growing organisation which is developing a partnership approach to problem solving with the community and other agencies.  In addition, anti-social behaviour is addressed through deployment of resources, including the Public Order Unit to augment local plans where appropriate.

A number of strong legislative provisions are available to Gardaí to combat anti-social behaviour, including those under:

- the Criminal Damage Act 1991;

- the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994;

- the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 2003; and

- the Intoxicating Liquor Acts 2003 and 2008. 

As the Deputy will be aware, the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing placed a particular emphasis on the importance of community policing, in which front-line Gardaí are visible and engaged in communities, developing partnerships with other public agencies and stakeholders, to deliver a multi-agency approach to community safety.

The new Garda Operating Model and revised Divisional Structure, announced recently by the Commissioner, meets a key commitment in "A Policing Service for the Future", the four year implementation plan giving effect to the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing. The new model is intended to provide more visible Gardaí on the front line, as well as devolving more power and decision-making power from Garda Headquarters to Chief Superintendents leading Divisions.  This will ensure a more responsive police service reflecting local needs.

I am confident that these measures - the unprecedented resourcing of and increased recruitment to An Garda Síochána, as well as the ongoing process of Garda reform including a strengthened focus on community policing - will assist in ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country which will maintain and strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance to citizens and deter crime.

The Government also remains committed to ensuring that An Garda Síochána have the necessary resources to tackle all forms of criminality in our communities.

Penalty Points System

Ceisteanna (14)

Marc MacSharry

Ceist:

14. Deputy Marc MacSharry asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he has engaged with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport with regard to the considerable loopholes that exist within the penalty point system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40156/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I regularly meet my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, to discuss road safety matters, in particular at the Ministerial Committee on Road Safety which met most recently last month.

Minister Ross and I co-chair that Committee, which is made up of all the major stakeholders involved in road safety, including the Road Safety Authority, An Garda Síochána, the Health and Safety Authority, Transport Infrastructure Ireland, the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, the Department of Health, the City and County Managers' Association and the Attorney General.  It provides an important forum to oversee the implementation of the Road Safety Strategy and facilitate high-level discussion of road safety issues.

In relation to the specific issue raised, I understand that the Deputy is referring to recent media reports indicating that almost half of motorists caught speeding did not receive a court summons; and that up to two-thirds of speeding motorists did not have the correct number of penalty points endorsed on their driving licence.

I am aware of these media reports and welcome this opportunity to clarify the position in relation to the figures reported.

In the first instance it should be noted that up to 85% of all road traffic fines are paid by motorists on receipt of the relevant Fixed Charge Notice issued by An Garda Síochána.  It is important to understand that the figure included in media reports and referred to by the Deputy relates solely to a proportion of the remaining cases where Fixed Charge Notices had not been paid and the matter proceeds to summons.

I am informed that approximately 95% of all penalty point offences are endorsed by the National Vehicle and Driver File on driver licences every year with over 85% of penalty point offence records received directly from An Garda Síochána when the offender opts to pay the fixed charge amount and accept the penalty points. The remainder of relevant records are received from the Courts Service, following convictions in court.

Insofar as non-service of summons is concerned, this rate is higher than I as Minister or any agency engaged in road traffic enforcement would wish.  However, I am assured that work is ongoing by An Garda Síochána to further improve the rate of summons service.

I am informed that a Garda Summons Service Working Group has undertaken a review of the entire summons service process and has identified actions to improve the rate of service and a marked improvement in the rate of summons served has been noted since the commencement of its review.  Indeed I understand from Garda management that summons service rates are now at their highest in a decade.

Further, the Criminal Justice (Fixed Charge Processing System) Working Group, jointly chaired by officials from my Department and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, continues to monitor progress in implementing the recommendations of the comprehensive 2014 Garda Síochána Inspectorate report, including the summons service process.  The Working Group's most recent progress report in respect of 2018 was published on my Department's website in July last.

The Deputy will also be aware that the third payment option, introduced in June 2017 encourages recipients of Fixed Charge Notices for road traffic offences to avail of a third and final opportunity to pay their Fixed Charge Notice amount, thereby eliminating the requirement to attend court.  In the period 25 October 2017 to 5 April 2019, take-up of the third payment option was at 31.37%, which represents a solid return in road traffic enforcement terms.

In addition, the restructuring currently underway in An Garda Síochána will have a positive impact on road traffic enforcement capacity over time.  For example, the mobility project currently being developed includes a particular focus on roads policing.  I am confident that the use of Garda mobile devices at the roadside will provide for a timelier, consistent and targeted approach to road traffic enforcement.

It is important to acknowledge that last year witnessed the lowest number of fatalities ever on Irish roads. This year, Ireland received the European Transport Safety Council’s prestigious Road Safety Performance Index award in recognition of the considerable progress made in road safety. Ireland was the second safest EU member state in terms of road deaths per million inhabitants in 2018. However, maintaining progress in road safety requires ongoing attention and this Government is committed to this critical task.

International Protection

Ceisteanna (15)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

15. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of vulnerability assessments carried out pursuant to the transposition of the EU reception conditions directive into Irish law in June 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40122/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

It is important to emphasise that all Departments and their agencies involved in the delivery of services and supports to applicants have a role to play in identifying and addressing the needs of applicants who present as vulnerable. This is particularly the case where vulnerabilities may only be disclosed or become evident after the initial stage of the protection process.  

In June 2018, Ireland opted into the EU (recast) Reception Conditions Directive. This Directive lays down the standards for the reception of international protection applicants. Article 21 of the Directive requires Member States, in implementing the Directive, to take into account the specific situation of vulnerable persons, and Article 22 provides for the assessment of the special reception needs of vulnerable persons. The Article also sets out that the assessment need not take the form of an administrative procedure. For the purposes of the Directive and Regulation 8 of the 2018 transposing Regulations, vulnerable persons include minors, unaccompanied minors, disabled people, elderly people, pregnant women, single parents, victims of human trafficking, persons with serious illnesses, persons with mental disorders and persons who have been subjected to torture, rape or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence, such as victims of female genital mutilation.

My Department is continually reviewing how to improve services to applicants and my officials are currently examining the options available to improve the procedure for the identification and assessment of those applicants deemed to be vulnerable in accordance with Article 21 of the Reception Conditions Directive.

To assist in determining how best we can meet the health and related needs of applicants, the HSE National Office for Social Inclusion has recently commissioned research to explore the concept of vulnerability with a view to further improving our existing processes. I look forward to the outcome of this research.

With regard to current procedures, every applicant has an initial interview conducted when they first attend the International Protection Office in Dublin. If the applicant indicates that they require accommodation , he or she will then be assessed for any specific reception needs. The result of the assessment is taken into account when assigning accommodation to the individual. 

Applicants are also invited for an initial health assessment on a voluntary basis. A Health Screening Team, which is funded and managed by the HSE, is located onsite at the Balseskin Reception Centre for this purpose. The team comprises of GPs, a Medical Officer, a Clinical Nurse Specialist and two nurses, a primary care social worker, two primary care psychologists and clerical/administration support. The team offers a range of individual services and screening for medical and psychosocial needs and makes onward referrals for any further treatment required. These health professionals communicate with my officials in the International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS - formerly RIA), within the bounds of patient confidentiality, if a particular need is identified that will impact the person's accommodation requirements. In the coming weeks, a new primary care facility will be opening in Balseskin, which will enable the health care team to provide their services in a facility that is to the standard of all new HSE primary care facilities.

In addition, arrangements are in place with Safetynet, who carry out health screening in various parts of the country on behalf of the HSE, to offer the screening service to those who do not, for whatever reason, avail of it in Dublin. Staff from Safetynet liaise with the IPAS if the person is deemed vulnerable on medical or related grounds. This can include a request that special arrangements should be taken regarding the assignment of the person's accommodation, for example if they need to be located near a particular hospital.

Criminal Law Review

Ceisteanna (16)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

16. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on the recent report titled A Review of the Criminalisation of Paying for Sexual Services in Northern Ireland; if there is an update on the review of criminalisation of sex work under the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40123/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I am familiar with the Review of the Criminalisation of Paying for Sexual Services in Northern Ireland carried out by Queen's University Belfast and published on 18th September.  That review was commissioned under the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act 2015 which introduced the offence of paying for sexual services.

In this jurisdiction, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 amended legislation relating to prostitution.  

Part 4 of the 2017 Act provides for a new offence of paying for sexual activity with a prostitute. The Act also removes those who offer their services as a prostitute from the existing offences of soliciting for the purpose of prostitution. One purpose of this measure is to provide additional protection to persons involved in prostitution and to allow them to make reports to the Gardaí, for instance where they have been subjected to violence by clients, without fear or concern of being prosecuted for selling sexual services.

As with the legislation in Northern Ireland, there is provision under the 2017 Act to report on the operation of the legislation.  This will include an assessment of the impact on the welfare of those who engage in sexual activity for payment, as well as information on prosecutions and convictions.  The review will commence early next year.

While not pre-empting the outcome of this forthcoming review, I am conscious that there are many differing opinions on the approaches which should be adopted to address this issue.  It is very important that any review should be underpinned by qualitative and quantitative data that includes the experience of those providing sexual services as well as those who provide support and advice and advocate on their behalf.

This is undoubtedly a complex issue - reflected in the debates around the introduction of the 2017 provisions.  Measures to target the demand for commercial sex must continue to keep as a core principle the safety, health and well-being of all of those involved in prostitution.

Northern Ireland

Ceisteanna (17)

Michael Moynihan

Ceist:

17. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the status of ongoing discussions with his UK counterpart on the Kingsmill massacre. [28213/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

The murder of ten innocent workmen at Kingsmill in January 1976 was an appalling atrocity and the Irish Government is committed to co-operating fully and in accordance with law with the Northern Ireland Coroner’s Inquest into the Kingsmill murders.  In line with this commitment, a substantial amount of relevant evidential material in the possession of An Garda Síochána has been transferred by them to the Northern Ireland Coroner. 

The transfer of sensitive or personal information from one jurisdiction to another must, of course be carried out on a proper basis in order to be lawful.  At the time of the commencement of the Kingsmill inquest, there was no formal framework in place to facilitate such cooperation with a civil inquest in Northern Ireland.  The Government took measures in the form of a Directive under Section 25 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and making Regulations under of the Data Protection Acts which facilitated the Garda Commissioner in making material available to the Northern Ireland Coroner.  These measures have facilitated the Garda Authorities to transfer material to the inquest.  

The Garda Authorities have continuously sought to cooperate with the Northern Ireland Coroner and his legal team as part of what is an ongoing legal process.  I can assure the Deputy that every effort has been made to facilitate further cooperation, both formally and informally, insofar as that can be done in accordance with the law.  The Deputy will be aware that on 12 July 2019, the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Act 2019 was passed by the Oireachtas.  The Act was commenced by me on 4 September.  The primary purpose of the Act is to facilitate co-operation by An Garda Síochána with Coroners’ Inquests in Northern Ireland and Great Britain that are examining troubles-related deaths, whether caused by paramilitaries or by the security forces, and that have a substantial connection with this State.

The Government is fully committed to taking actions to address the painful legacy of the past in Northern Ireland and implementing the relevant provisions of the Stormont House Agreement is a priority objective, one which was prominent in the recent negotiations on the formation of a new Northern Ireland Executive.  The Government will continue to engage with all parties in seeking agreement on how to best advance the implementation of that framework.

Garda Stations

Ceisteanna (18)

Robert Troy

Ceist:

18. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the negotiations he has had with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform regarding the much-needed extension to Mullingar Garda station. [40054/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy will appreciate, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for managing and controlling generally the administration and business of An Garda Síochána, including the management and efficient use of resources, having regard to operational need.  

The Office of Public Works (OPW) has responsibility for the provision and maintenance of Garda accommodation. As a result, all works to the Garda estate involve close cooperation between the OPW and the Garda authorities.  Major capital investment has been made in the Garda estate in recent years, to provide fit-for-purpose facilities for Garda members and staff, as well as the public interacting with them.  This is a significant undertaking, as there are over 560 stations nationwide.  

Significant funding has been provided for the Garda Building and Refurbishment Programme 2016-2021 which is based on agreed Garda priorities, underpinned by significant Exchequer funding across the Garda and OPW Votes.  The programme is benefiting over 30 locations and I understand that some work was previously carried out at Mullingar in the context of that programme.  Other major ongoing works to the estate include the development of a new facility at Military Road and the refurbishment of Fitzgibbon Street station as well as the Pilot Garda station reopening project.  

As the Deputy is aware, the Commissioner last month announced a new Operating Model, which includes a restructuring of the existing Regions and Divisions.  Decisions on the location of Divisional and other Headquarters are operational questions for the Commissioner and, as Minister, I have no role in these decisions.

In the new model, the existing Meath and Westmeath Divisions will be merged and will form part of the Eastern Garda Region with the new Meath/Westmeath Divisional Headquarters to be situated in Mullingar.  I am informed by the Commissioner that in light of the new structures, An Garda Síochána is undertaking a review of accommodation requirements, including Mullingar Garda Station.  I am informed that the need for new or additional Garda accommodation or facilities in Mullingar will be considered and prioritised in the context of that review.

Organised Crime

Ceisteanna (19)

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

19. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to increase co-operation in policing and security issues on a North-South basis arising from the recent annual cross-Border conference on organised crime; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40159/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy is aware, policing in the border region has always presented particular challenges and these necessitate a collaborative approach to policing between law enforcement agencies north and south of the border.

I am pleased to say that cooperation between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI has never been closer.  As Deputies are aware, the importance of this ongoing high level of cooperation has been emphatically demonstrated again in recent weeks by the abhorrent attack on an individual in Co Fermanagh.  I visited the area last week and was briefed by the Commissioner and the investigation team.  It is clear that elements of this horrific crime took place on both sides of the border and a joint investigation is ongoing, including ongoing sharing of information and evidence, between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI.

The multi-agency cooperation in place to tackle cross-border crime is quite structured and successful.  

The Deputy will be aware that in November 2015 the British and Irish Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive agreed a series of measures in the Fresh Start agreement,as part of a concerted and enhanced effort to tackle organised and cross jurisdictional crime.  These measures included the creation of the Joint Agency Task Force which is led by senior officers from An Garda Síochána, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Revenue Commissioners and UK (HM) Revenue and Customs.  A number of other relevant bodies, including the National Crime Agency and the Criminal Assets Bureau are also closely involved.  

The objective of the Task Force is to build on existing law enforcement frameworks and to increase the collective effectiveness of operational actions.  In this format, the senior management level of the two police services provide strong strategic direction and oversight to front-line operational activities.  

The Task Force has had some notable success in tackling cross-border criminal activity across a range of crime areas.  These include not just traditional smuggling activities, but also rural and farm crimes, organised burglary and drug crime.  

The regrettable absence of an Executive in Northern Ireland means that the work of the Task Force is less visible than it might have been.  It was designed to report to Justice Ministers north and south and it is my hope that the restoration of power sharing in Northern Ireland will allow the Task Force to reach its full potential.  

The multi-agency nature of the Task Force is critical to its success. It is a strong example of the extensive North-South cooperation between the police, customs services and other law enforcement agencies involved in tackling crime and enhancing the safety of all communities on both sides of the border. The Task Force complements both the ongoing formal and informal co-operation between AGS and PSNI, as well as specific joint investigations which take place when individual crime incidents with a cross border dimension occur, such as the one underway into the abduction and assault of an individual as already referred to.  

Last week I attended the 17th Cross Border Conference on Organised Crime in Co. Cavan together with the Garda Commissioner, the Chief Constable of the PSNI, senior officers from all the agencies and senior officials from Department of Justice Northern Ireland and my own Department.  This is an annual event, aimed at enhancing cooperation between law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border, particularly in relation to cross border organised criminality and related issues.  This conference gave members of the Task Force the opportunity to consider in detail the necessary improvements and innovations, including international cooperation, which can be taken to strengthen the effectiveness of the Task Force.

While the work of the Task Force is reviewed as part of the annual cross border conference on organised crime, there is ongoing multiagency engagement in relation to operations to tackle cross border crime.

I am sure the Deputy will join me in welcoming the Commissioner's decision to establish an additional Armed Support Unit (ASU) in Cavan, which became operational this week. This ASU will complement the work of those already based in Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal and Dundalk, Co. Louth in the Northern Region.  

The Northern region has benefited from the accelerated recruitment to An Garda Síochána and the unprecedented €1.76 billion budget provided to An Garda Síochána for 2019.  The Garda strength in the Northern Region has increased to approximately 1,500, an increase of 150 Gardaí since the end of 2017 as well as approximately 150 Garda staff in the region, which represents an increase of almost 30% over the past 3 years.  

The ongoing recruitment will provide the Commissioner with the resources needed to deploy increasing numbers of Gardaí to deliver a visible, effective and responsive policing service.   These requirements will be kept under ongoing review by Garda management with a view to addressing any policing requirements for the Border region which may arise. In the event that a “no deal” Brexit gives rise to additional requirements in border areas, further resources can and will be provided through redeployment.

Finally, I can assure the Deputy that, irrespective of the political outcome of Brexit, the excellent ongoing cooperation between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI must and will continue to combat the threat posed by criminals that seek to exploit the policing challenges posed by the border.

Organised Crime

Ceisteanna (20)

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

20. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the issues discussed at the recent North-South policing conference in Ballyconnell, County Cavan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40158/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

Last week I attended the 17th Cross Border Conference on Organised Crime in Co. Cavan together with the Garda Commissioner, the Chief Constable of the PSNI, senior officers from all the agencies and senior officials from Department of Justice Northern Ireland and my own Department.  This is an annual event, aimed at enhancing understanding and cooperation between law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border, particularly in relation to cross border organised criminality and related issues. 

The objectives of the Conference include sharing experiences, identifying effective approaches and recommending actions to the Joint Agency Task Force aimed at enhancing cross-border working relationships to enhance our collective ability to tackle organised crime. 

'Information Sharing and Co-operation' were the twin themes of this year's Conference. They are at the very heart of the ongoing partnership, North and South, that continues to yield successful outcomes in terms of crime investigation and prevention. This is vital for communities living along the border in particular.

As the Deputy will appreciate, the specific matters discussed at the Conference are sensitive and operational in nature, however I can advise the Deputy that robust and fruitful discussions around tackling cross border criminality and cross border co-operation between law enforcement agencies North and South of the Border took place.  The report also heard about actions taken on foot of last year's conference. 

The occasion also provided a useful opportunity for members of the Joint Agency Task Force, established under the Fresh Start Agreement, to come together, allowing for detailed consideration of the necessary improvements and innovations, including international co-operation, which can be taken to strengthen the effectiveness of the Task Force.

While the work of the Task Force is reviewed as part of the annual cross border conference on organised crime, there is ongoing multiagency engagement in relation to operations to tackle cross border crime, reflecting the fact that policing in the border region has always presented particular challenges and these necessitate a collaborative approach to policing with law enforcement agencies north and south of the border.

Garda Strength

Ceisteanna (21)

John Curran

Ceist:

21. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when the last review was undertaken to determine the optimum number of gardaí required; if he is satisfied that this is now the appropriate number of gardaí required; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40172/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy will appreciate, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for carrying on, managing and generally controlling the administration and business of An Garda Síochána, including issues relating to personnel and the distribution of personnel. Garda management keeps staffing and deployment requirements under continual review in the context of crime trends and policing priorities, to ensure their optimum use.

The Government decided in July 2016 to increase the number of Gardaí to 15,000 and Garda staff to a total of 4,000 by 2021 and huge progress has already been made towards that goal.  As part of that plan, there is ongoing and increased recruitment of new Gardaí and Garda staff, allowing for redeployment of Gardaí to operational duties at the front-line.  There are now over 14,200 Gardaí nationwide, supported by over 2,700 civilian staff.

In fact, since the re-opening of the Garda Training College in 2014, approximately 2,800 new Garda members have attested and been assigned to front-line policing duties in communities throughout the country. Another 200 probationer Gardaí are due to attest by the end of this year.

In line with the recommendation of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, it is for the Commissioner to decide and balance the organisation's needs within the resources allocated to him.  For example, in addition to recruiting 600 Gardaí the Commissioner decided this year to recruit an additional 600 Garda staff in 2019.  This will in turn allow for the redeployment of approximately 500 experienced Gardaí to front-line policing duties by the end of this year.

I am advised by the Garda Commissioner that as of 31 August, there were 473 Garda Reserves across the organisation. 

I am informed by An Garda Síochána that a class of approximately 100 Garda reserve recruits commenced training in March 2019 at the Garda College, Templemore.

In addition, as recommended in the Commission's report, An Garda Síochána is currently conducting a strategic review of the Garda Reserve to inform future decisions around its use. The strategy is expected to inform the development and preparation for a new Reserve recruitment drive by the end of 2019.  I understand that a class of 100 reserves commenced training in March and, as of 31 August, there are 473 reserves across the organisation.  

Finally, it may be noted that unprecedented resources are currently being provided to An Garda Síochána.  A total budget of €1.76 billion has been allocated to An Garda Síochána in 2019, in addition to capital investment of €92 million this year. This ongoing investment is intended to support growth in the organisation as well as the ambitious Garda reform plan, with the overall goal of ensuring a visible, professional and effective policing service to all our communities, nationwide.

Courts Service Data

Ceisteanna (22)

Jim O'Callaghan

Ceist:

22. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the way in which he plans to respond to recently published figures from the Courts Service which revealed the large proportion of summonses that are not served; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39989/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I am aware of the recent statistics published by the Courts Service and welcome the opportunity to clarify the position as it stands to the Deputy. 

Last year saw the lowest number of fatalities ever recorded on Irish roads and this year Ireland received the European Transport Safety Council’s prestigious Road Safety Performance Index award, in recognition of the considerable progress made in terms of road safety. Ireland was the second safest EU member state in terms of road deaths per million inhabitants in 2018.

However maintaining progress in road safety requires consistent ongoing attention and in the first instance it should be noted that Gardaí indicate that up to 85% of all road traffic fines are paid by motorists on receipt of the relevant Fixed Charge Notice issued by An Garda Síochána.  It is important to understand that the figure referred to by the Deputy relates solely to a proportion of the remaining cases where Fixed Charge Notices had not been paid and the matter proceeds to summons.

I am informed that approximately 95% of all penalty point offences are endorsed by the National Vehicle and Driver File on driver licences every year with over 85% of penalty point offence records received directly from An Garda Síochána when the offender opts to pay the fixed charge amount and accept the penalty points. The remainder of relevant records are received from the Courts Service, following convictions in court.

Insofar as non-service of summons is concerned this rate is higher than I as Minister or any agency engaged in road traffic enforcement would wish.  However, I am assured that work is ongoing by An Garda Síochána to further improve the rate of summons service.

I am informed that a Garda Summons Service Working Group has undertaken a review of the entire summons service process and has identified actions to improve the rate of service and a marked improvement in the rate of summons served has been noted since the commencement of its review.  Indeed I understand from Garda management that summons service rates are now at their highest in a decade.

Further, the Criminal Justice (Fixed Charge Processing System (FCPS)) Working Group, jointly chaired by officials from my Department and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, continues to monitor progress in implementing the recommendations of the comprehensive 2014 Garda Síochána Inspectorate report, including the summons service process.  The Working Group's most recent progress report in respect of 2018 was published on my Department's website in July last.

The Deputy will also be aware that the third payment option, introduced in June 2017 encourages recipients of Fixed Charge Notices for road traffic offences to avail of a third and final opportunity to pay their Fixed Charge Notice amount, thereby eliminating the requirement to attend court.  In the period 25 October 2017 to 5 April 2019, take-up of the third payment option was at 31.37%, which represents a solid return in road traffic enforcement terms. 

In addition, the restructuring currently underway in An Garda Síochána will have a positive impact on road traffic enforcement capacity over time.  For example, the mobility project currently being developed includes a particular focus on roads policing.   I am confident that the use of Garda mobile devices at the roadside will provide for a timelier, consistent and targeted approach to road traffic enforcement.

Proposed Legislation

Ceisteanna (23)

Eamon Scanlon

Ceist:

23. Deputy Eamon Scanlon asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the reason for the delay in publishing the parental leave and benefit Bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40131/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy will be aware, on 23 April 2019, the Government announced that it had approved the priority drafting of the Parent's Leave and Benefit Bill 2019. The proposed legislation will provide for two weeks of parental leave and benefit for all new parents in employment or self-employment in respect of babies born on or after 1 November 2019. This will facilitate parents in spending more time with their babies in their critical first 12 months.  I expect the Bill to be published shortly.

Garda Transport Data

Ceisteanna (24)

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

24. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of Garda marked and unmarked cars and vehicles assigned to each Garda station in the Meath division. [40168/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

The resources provided by Government to An Garda Síochána have reached unprecedented levels, with an allocation for 2019 of €1.76 billion.  Very significant capital investment is also being made in An Garda Síochána, including a total of €46 million for investment in the Garda fleet between 2016 and 2021.  This continuing investment is intended to ensure that An Garda Síochána can be mobile, visible and responsive on the roads and in the community to prevent and tackle crime.

The Deputy may wish to be aware that €10 million capital funding has been made for the purchase and fit-out of Garda vehicles in 2019.  I understand from the Garda authorities that this allocation will be used for purchase and fit-out of over 300 new vehicles for operational use this year.

As the Deputy will appreciate, in accordance with the Garda Síochána Act 2005 as amended, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for managing and controlling the administration and business of An Garda Síochána.  Further, the allocation of Garda resources is a matter for the Commissioner, in light of identified operational demands. This includes responsibility for the allocation of Garda vehicles among the various Garda divisions.  As Minister, I have no role in these matters. I am assured, however, that Garda management keeps the distribution of resources under continual review in the context of crime trends and policing priorities to ensure their optimum use.

The following information, as provided to me by the Garda Commissioner, sets out the number of vehicles allocated to the Meath Division as at 30 September 2019.

Meath Division

Cars

Vans

Motorbikes 

* 4x4

Others

Total

Ashbourne District

14

5

1

1

0

21

Kells District

7

1

0

0

0

8

Navan Dist.

11

5

0

0

0

16

Trim District

9

1

0

0

0

10

Total

41

12

1

1

0

55

 * The category 'other' refers to MPV, SUV, Minibus or Prisoner Conveyance Vehicles

For security and operational reasons, these tables do not include a breakdown between marked and unmarked vehicle allocations.

Crime Prevention

Ceisteanna (25)

Tony McLoughlin

Ceist:

25. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the impact the use of Eircodes will have in combating crime in rural areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28565/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I am informed that An Garda Síochána, and other emergency services, consider the use of Eircodes to be of vital assistance in locating the position of emergency callers, particularly in rural areas where non-unique addresses can be a significant issue.

Eircodes can assist on a practical level with preventing crime.  An Garda Síochána encourage the marking of property as a crime prevention measure. Where this is done in communities, signs can be erected in the area indicating that property has been marked. This, in itself, acts as a significant deterrent to criminals and has, I understand, had very positive effects on crime rates.

Marking property with an Eircode has a number of distinct advantages. Aside from reducing the likelihood that your property will be stolen in the first place, it can assist Gardaí in identifying stolen property that a person may have in their possession and provides evidence for prosecutions. It also allows for identification of the rightful owner and the return of property quickly and efficiently.

I am informed that highly successful pilot projects involving the marking of property with eircodes have been carried out in West Cork and Monaghan and are being adopted by communities elsewhere in the country.  While supported by An Garda Síochána, these initiatives have been successfully adopted by the local communities involved. Whatever method is used, I would strongly encourage people to mark their property be it farm machinery, bicycles, computers or other personal property and to consider the advantages of using a unique identifier - such as eircode - in doing so.  

I would also like to note the National Rural Safety Forum launched last month at the National Ploughing Championships.  The Forum was established following stakeholder consultation between my Department, An Garda Síochána and key partners such as the Irish Farmers Association and Muintir na Tire.  One of the key objectives of the forum is crime prevention and crime opportunity reduction with a focus on property marking, recording, identification and return.  The Forum will, through individual and collective efforts, attempt to significantly increase the level of property marking and property recording nationally with a view to increasing deterrence, assisting in prevention of crime and to assisting in the identification of stolen property.

Direct Provision System

Ceisteanna (26)

Fiona O'Loughlin

Ceist:

26. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to address the number of persons living in direct provision centres nationally; his further plans to stop using hotels as emergency centres; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40171/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

My Department is responsible for offering accommodation and related services to international protection applicants while their claim for protection is being examined. These services are demand led and generally it is difficult to predict demand far in advance. 

I am advised that as of 26 September 2019, 7,355 persons were being provided with accommodation by the International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS, formerly the Reception and Integration Agency) of my Department. 

Currently, there are 5,966 persons residing in the 38 accommodation centres located nationwide across 18 counties. As these centres are at full capacity, there are also a further 1,389 applicants residing in 34 emergency accommodation locations in hotels and guest houses. 

Every effort is being made to re-accommodate applicants in emergency locations to a dedicated accommodation centre as quickly as possible. My Department is actively working on securing additional capacity, both in its existing centres and through sourcing new accommodation centres. 

 IPAS has sought expressions of interest from parties who would be interested in providing accommodation and related services to people in the international protection process and has also launched a nationwide, regional tendering process to source new accommodation centres.

In relation to the length of time applicants spend in the international protection process, my Department has introduced a number of measures aimed at reducing the time taken to determine applications. The International Protection Act, 2015, introduced the single procedure process for the determination of protection applications.

Under the single procedure all elements of a person's protection claim (refugee status, subsidiary protection status and permission to remain) are considered together rather than sequentially. The aim of the single procedure is to help reduce waiting times significantly.

In addition, a number of other measures have and are being taken including increases in staffing levels at the International Protection Office (IPO). A new streamlined system for processing Safe Country of Origin (SCO) cases has been implemented and various process improvements have been made in the IPO and in the International Protection Appeals Tribunal (IPAT). 

My Department is aiming to reduce processing times for first instance decisions to 9 months by the end of this year. An applicant who applies for international protection today can expect to receive a first instance recommendation/decision within approximately 15 months, provided that no complications arise. Prioritised cases are being processed in just under 9 months.

Prioritised applications include those from countries such as Syria and Eritrea and from especially vulnerable groups of applicants, such as unaccompanied minors.

Garda Resources

Ceisteanna (27)

Seán Sherlock

Ceist:

27. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the funding secured for a new Garda headquarters in Macroom, County Cork; and the timelines agreed. [40163/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

The resources provided by Government to An Garda Síochána have reached unprecedented levels, with an allocation of €1.76 billion for 2019, as well as capital investment amounting to €92 million this year.  These resources are being provided in support of the Government's commitment to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country to maintain and strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance to citizens and deter crime.

Major investment is being made in the Garda estate, to provide fit-for-purpose facilities for Garda members and staff, as well as the public interacting with them.  This is a significant undertaking, as there are over 560 stations nationwide.  

The Garda Building and Refurbishment Programme 2016-2021 is based on agreed Garda priorities, underpinned by significant Exchequer funding across the Garda and OPW Votes. 

Other major ongoing works to the Garda estate include the development of a new facility at Military Road and the major refurbishment of Fitzgibbon Street station as well as the Pilot Garda station reopening project.  

The Office of Public Works (OPW) has responsibility for the provision and maintenance of Garda accommodation. As a result, all works to the Garda estate involve close cooperation between the OPW and the Garda authorities.  

As Deputies will be aware, a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement is included in the Building and Refurbishment Programme is intended to deliver new stations in Clonmel, Sligo and Macroom.  

PPP projects are progressed under the auspices of the National Development Finance Agency (NDFA).  My Department, An Garda Síochána, the OPW and the NDFA are working closely in order to progress this project.  

It is not possible to say at this stage when the stations will be completed.  The establishment of PPP projects can be complex and it is vital to get the projects right at the planning and design stage. Pending delivery of the new stations, I am informed that Garda management and the OPW have been working to improve conditions and facilities at the existing stations in Macroom, Sligo and Clonmel.

Departmental Reports

Ceisteanna (28)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

28. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if his attention has been drawn to concerns raised by an organisation (details supplied) regarding the safety of members it represents; the way in which he can ensure the safety of sex workers from abuse; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40055/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 criminalises the purchase of sexual services and the soliciting or purchasing of sex from a trafficked person. These and other measures introduced by Part 4 of the 2017 Act form part of the Government efforts to target the demand for prostitution, reinforced through awareness-raising efforts and well-publicised Garda operations.

Part 4 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 specifies that, not later than 3 years after its commencement, the Minister for Justice and Equality shall cause a report to be prepared on the operation of Section 7A of the Act. It is a requirement that the report should be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas.

The report is required to include information on the number of arrests and convictions in respect of offences under Section 7A of the Act during the period from commencement of that section; as well as an assessment of the impact of the operation of that section on the safety and well-being of persons who engage in sexual activity for payment.

While there may be many differing opinions on the best approaches to addressing this issue, I expect the report to provide important data to allow further consideration of the issues raised.

My Department is at present undertaking the groundwork for the preparation of this report, including through the funding of relevant research.

Commission on the Future of Policing

Ceisteanna (29)

Seán Sherlock

Ceist:

29. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when his attention was drawn to the new divisional structures by the Garda Commissioner; and the date senior gardaí were informed of the new structures of Garda headquarters in the regions. [40164/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As Minister for Justice and Equality, I warmly welcome announcement by the Garda Commissioner of a new Operating Model of An Garda Síochána. 

This functional model has long been recommended by independent policing specialists, including the Garda Síochána Inspectorate and in the Report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland (CoFPI).  Rollout of this model meets a key commitment in A Policing Service for the Future, the four year implementation plan giving effect to that report.

While new to Ireland, this model is the norm in other countries.  It is designed to reduce bureaucracy and will shift real decision-making power from Garda Headquarters to the Chief Superintendents, closer to the communities they serve.  Importantly, it will also result in significantly more Sergeants and Inspectors on the ground.

These changes are being introduced at a time of record investment in An Garda Síochána. €1.76 billion has been allocated to the Garda Vote for 2019, as well as capital investment amounting to €92 million this year. In terms of Garda numbers the Deputy will be aware of the Government's commitment to achieving a Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021.

I am confident that this ongoing investment in Garda resources together with the ongoing reform process will result in an improved policing service for all communities.  

I understand that, while developing the new Model, the Garda Commissioner engaged widely within the organisation, holding 67 workshops which captured the views of over 400 Garda personnel from a cross section of urban, suburban and rural Divisions, as well as all specialist and support sections and their respective Chief Superintendents.  I am informed that the Commissioner also met with the GRA and other representative bodies which were of course also consulted by the Commission which developed the proposals.  

Finally, I can confirm that while I was informed of the Commissioner's plan and, of course, I was familiar with the recommendations of the Garda Síochána Inspectorate and the Commission on the Future of Policing on these matters, the detail of the plan was solely a matter for the Garda Commissioner. This was the case in line with the Garda Síochána Act 2005 which provides that management of An Garda Síochána and the allocation of Garda resources, including the deployment and distribution of Garda personnel, is solely a matter for the Commissioner.   

These changes have been welcomed by the Garda Inspectorate, the Policing Authority, members of the Commission on the Future of Policing and many others, including the Irish Farmers Association.  The Commissioner has also made clear that he and his team are willing to meet Joint Policing Committees all over Ireland in the weeks ahead for detailed local engagement.  I am confident that the new Model will serve Ireland well by providing a more agile, localised and responsive police service nationwide.