Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Ceisteanna (4)

Seán Sherlock

Ceist:

4. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of times the Garda air support unit has been used in each of the years from 2016 to 2018 and to date in 2019; the reason for deployment; the cost involved for each deployment; and the areas from which funds were obtained. [47838/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Justice)

The question is self-explanatory. How many times has the Garda air support unit been used in each of the years from 2016 to 2018 and to date in 2019? What was the reason for deployment and the cost involved for each deployment? From what areas were funds obtained? I seek a perspective from the Minister regarding the use of this service.

The Garda air support unit was established in 1997 and provides a 24-hour proactive and reactive service in support of front-line operational gardaí and specialist units. Two helicopters and one fixed-wing aircraft are currently assigned to the unit. It provides invaluable support to operational gardaí in the course of their duties. I am informed by An Garda Síochána that while specific information on each deployment cannot be supplied, the unit deploys in circumstances where there is an immediate threat to life; incidents of crime or terrorism; an immediate threat to public order of a serious nature; when it is important to gather information on and attend at incidents relating to crime, public order and traffic; searches for missing persons; and where it may be necessary in the context of Garda operational requirements.

I am further informed by Garda authorities that the unit's aircraft have been deployed on a total of 5,414 occasions since 2016. The details requested by the Deputy are set out in the following table:

Year

No. of Times Deployed

Incidents Attended

2019 (up to 14 November 2019)

1,311

1,882

2018

1,443

1,969

2017

1,248

1,904

2016

1,414

2,097

I am advised by the Garda that the current cost per hour for each helicopter flown, including maintenance costs, is €1,089. The cost for fixed-wing deployment is borne by the Department of Defence. The Deputy will have specific knowledge on that area, given his previous and current portfolios.

Under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for managing An Garda Síochána and for the allocation and efficient use of Garda resources. However, as the Deputy will be aware, the resources provided by the Government to An Garda Síochána have now reached unprecedented levels. We have provided a €92 million capital investment for An Garda Síochána this year, which is a 50% increase on last year. Capital investment will increase further to €116.5 million in 2020.

I thank the Minister for his reply. We all agree that this is an invaluable service that we would wish to see further resourced if possible. Do the vast bulk of those deployments take place in the Dublin metropolitan area? Is there scope for extending the deployment of the resource to a more diverse geographical area, including the south, south west, west and north west of the country, particularly in light of the current strain on policing in some of those regions? When events such as music or sporting festivals take place, where thousands of people gather, is there any interaction between An Garda Síochána and the event promoters regarding the costs borne by the State for the provision of those services?

I do not have a regional breakdown of the more than 5,000 engagements, but I would be happy to see if such information can be acquired by An Garda Síochána. I know from anecdotal experience that this is far from a Dublin-only service, and I invite the Deputy to agree with me on that. I would be happy to provide information for other parts of the country insofar as I can. I am anxious to ensure that An Garda Síochána continues to manage the use of its resources in an effective and efficient way. I acknowledge the record investment of €1.76 billion in An Garda Síochána in the 2019 Vote, which was increased to €1.882 billion for 2020.

I appreciate the Minister's reply. We all agree that it is an invaluable service. I welcome the fact that the Minister will provide some information on the geographical spread of those deployments.

I am happy to do so, provided that information is available to me.