Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Ceisteanna (6)

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

6. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the status of the roll-out of community-based CCTV schemes nationwide. [47678/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (15 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Justice)

I ask the Minister the status of the roll-out of community-based CCTV schemes nationwide. There was a specific commitment in the confidence and supply agreement and the programme for Government whereby Fine Gael committed to invest in CCTV. Despite committing to and promising €1 million per annum, we have not seen the colour of that. We need much more investment and a much more proactive approach from Government.

It is not a matter of investment. It is a matter of ensuring that the regulatory framework is known to people and can be deployed as such. The legal framework requires that any proposed community CCTV scheme must meet a number of conditions: it must be approved by the local joint policing committee, it must have the prior support of the relevant local authority, which must also act as data controller, and it must have the authorisation of the Garda Commissioner. This is the legal basis for all CCTV schemes, regardless of how they are funded, and these key legal requirements have not changed since 2006. The option to establish a community CCTV scheme is available to groups anywhere in the country that meet these legal requirements.

My Department does not maintain a register of all community-based CCTV schemes nationwide, which would be beyond its remit. However, I can confirm to the Deputy that, since 2017, my Department has administered a grant aid scheme supporting groups wishing to establish a community-based CCTV system in their area. To date, 22 applications have been approved under the scheme, involving approved grants of more than €566,000.

Eligible groups, including community groups and local authorities nationwide, can apply for grant aid of up to 60% of the total capital cost of a proposed scheme, up to a maximum of €40,000. As the Deputy may be aware, earlier this year, I expanded the grant aid scheme to cover not only new CCTV systems but also to allow funding applications for extension or upgrade of existing community CCTV systems, some of which are outdated or obsolete. Applicants can now seek a once-off grant of up to €5,000 for minor maintenance costs.

The scheme is very much open for applications from interested parties and groups. All fully completed applications received before the end of this year will be considered. I am also pleased to announce that I have recently approved extension of the grant aid scheme for a further year into 2020.

The Minister announced that a total of €566,000 has been approved, but the fact is he committed to €1 million per year. The problem is not that community groups do not know the regulations involved. The problem is that they know the regulations all too well and they know the difficulties with them. It is not possible for some communities to get together to put in an application because, for example, they might be too big or might not have somebody driving it forward. Moreover, it is not based on crime statistics or on need. There is huge difficulty.

Another difficulty, of course, is the idea that the local authority is the data controller when this is for the purpose of fighting crime. The local authority is not a crime fighter and it really should be the Garda Síochána that has full control of the images, as it does in one particular scheme I know of, which was not funded under this programme but works very well. Nobody has access to that except very senior gardaí in the station.

Much more needs to be done on this. It cannot be dependent on one or two communities that have the wherewithal and the ability to fund the remainder of the scheme to get this up and running. It must based on where schemes are needed and on the crime figures. That is the basis on which CCTV should be provided.

I am not sure what the Deputy has put forward in terms of alternatives. I can say, however, that the requirement for local authorities to act as data controller for the schemes is a statutory one set out in the Garda Síochána CCTV order of 2006. It is a legal requirement for any proposed scheme that the relevant local authority act as data controller. This is the law. It has not changed.

I would further note, however, that the power to establish the criteria for CCTV schemes is now a matter for the Policing Authority by order made with the approval of Government. The statutory framework does not place an obligation on local authorities to take part in community CCTV. However, if a local authority decides it is not prepared to act as data controller for community CCTV, this prevents the community scheme from operating in its functional area. In effect, the current legislative structure is an enabling one that empowers local communities and local authorities to establish a system to which gardaí have appropriate access, provided they meet the statutory requirements.

I am not sure if Deputy Byrne is proposing that we disregard the statutory requirements, which include the fact the local authority is prepared to assume responsibility as data controller. By contrast, Garda CCTV is set up by the Garda and is a different scheme under different regulations and a different framework. That is set at locations that have been chosen and prioritised by the Garda, whereas the community groups are in locations chosen and prioritised by local communities, and that is the essence of the scheme.

The Minister is rapidly acquiring the nickname "Sir Humphrey". He has given us every reason something cannot be done and every reason to pass the buck from the Department to local authorities and community groups by saying I want to disapply statutes, which of course I do not. I want the Minister to give a helping hand to those communities that he promised to fund but has not funded. He has funded only a fraction of what the Government committed to do, which is wrong.

People need a helping hand. We must consider whether placing the burden on local authorities, which are not charged with fighting crime, and community groups that are struggling to do lots of other things represents the best value for money. Let us be honest: some community groups are better placed than others to apply for grants such as this. That is a fact. Fair play to them, and I admire them, but there are other areas which could benefit from this scheme. All we ask is that the Minister, who effectively administers the scheme in terms of providing 60% of the funding for it, make it as easy as possible for towns and villages to get involved. We ask him to assume his responsibility and not simply pass the buck to local authorities and accuse me of trying to break the law in some way, which is the most ridiculous answer a Minister has ever given to the House.

By way of explanation to Deputy Thomas Byrne, who has difficulty listening, if he is aware of any groups that wish to avail of the scheme, first, further details are available to download from my Department's website; second, support and guidance is available to help interested groups through a dedicated email address in my Department; and third, if he would like to bring any specific issue to my attention-----

-----my door is always open, as he should know. My officials are available to help in any way the Deputy feels would be appropriate, but within the legal framework. I emphasise again that grant funding will only be considered where the application meets the legal requirements for CCTV. In other words, I refer to systems that have been approved by the local joint policing committee, meetings of which I am sure Deputy Thomas Byrne is a regular attender in Meath-----

-----and of which I am sure he is aware, or the relevant local authority. I assume the Deputy has been a member of Meath County Council.

In fact, he has a direct familial link in that area - again, importance by way of assistance. The systems must also have received the authorisation of the Garda Commissioner. I do not believe this is an issue of mirth-----

The Minister's answer is.

-----but I would be very keen to assist any local groups that Deputy Byrne believes would like to avail of assistance from the Department of Justice and Equality. I would be keen to ensure that any community group, provided it meets the legal requirements, may be assisted under what is an attractive grant aid scheme.

I remind all Deputies and Ministers of the time. We want to reach as many questions as possible.