Thursday, 10 September 2020

Ceisteanna (11)

Mark Ward

Ceist:

11. Deputy Mark Ward asked the Minister for Justice if her attention has been drawn to the increase in the use of fireworks; the resources in place to deal with such a rise; the powers An Garda Síochána has to combat the rise in view of the detrimental effect the issue is having within communities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22809/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

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

I want to draw the Minister's attention to the increase in the misuse of fireworks across Dublin. If the Minister stayed in Dublin in recent nights I probably would not have to bring this to her notice because it is quite visible. What resources are in place to deal with such a rise and what powers has An Garda Síochána to combat this rise? It is having a huge and detrimental impact on our communities.

While I have not stayed in Dublin in the last few nights, I have friends who live here and they have highlighted this issue to me a number of weeks ago, which was surprising and concerning given how far out we are from Hallowe'en.

The importation of fireworks is controlled under law in the interests of safety and security. Government policy restricts the availability of all hazardous fireworks to the public. Licences under the Explosives Act 1875 are issued by my Department but only for the importation of fireworks which are to be used in organised displays conducted by professional and competent operators. Having said that, I am all too conscious of the numerous incidents, and sadly some serious accidents arising from the use of illegal fireworks. I understand this is particularly acute this year for some reason. Every year, as we approach Hallowe'en, my Department runs a public safety campaign. This is aimed at ensuring the public is aware of the dangers of illegal fireworks and bonfires.

As for what the Garda can do, examples of the penalties faced include a fine of up to €10,000 and up to five years' imprisonment if convicted of having fireworks in one's possession with intent to sell or supply. Igniting fireworks or throwing an ignited firework at a person or property is also liable to severe penalty. These penalties demonstrate the seriousness attached to breaches of the legislation governing the importation and use of fireworks. As well as the awareness-raising work undertaken by my Department in the run up to Hallowe'en, additional efforts are made by An Garda Síochána at this time of year to combat the illegal importation, sale and use of fireworks, which is known as Operation Tombola.

As the Deputy is aware, section 26 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 provides that the Commissioner is responsible for the direction and control of An Garda Síochána. The Garda Commissioner is also responsible for the day-to-day management of An Garda Síochána, which includes the investigation of alleged crimes, including in relation to the importation and sale of fireworks, and I have no role in these matters. However, as I have just outlined there are clear penalties for those who breach these rules.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The Garda Commissioner has informed me that under Operation Tombola each district will put in place an operational plan to tackle the sale of fireworks including through: combating the importation, sale and distribution of illegal fireworks; intelligence-led operations; visits to local car boot sales; searches and seizures of fireworks; liaising with local authorities and fire services regarding the provision of official, supervised bonfire sites; the policing of these; the identification and removal of stockpiled bonfire material and abandoned vehicles from other locations; promoting awareness of the danger associated with the improper use of fireworks and unsupervised bonfires through the use of the media and social media; school visits and information leaflet distribution by members and the crime prevention officer; high visibility policing of the Hallowe'en night celebrations, that is, beat, bike and mobile patrols, thus preventing damage to property, injury, trauma for the vulnerable and the elderly and general loutish behaviour; and utilising the divisional public order unit on Hallowe'en night.

Operation Tombola also focuses on preventing associated public disorder and anti-social behaviour through the incremental deployment of resources, including Garda public order units to augment local plans as appropriate. As well as Part 6 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006, which gives An Garda Síochána the power to make arrests in relation to the possession of unlicensed fireworks, a number of strong legislative provisions are available to the Garda to combat anti-social behaviour more generally and include 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.

It is only necessary to walk through parts of Dublin at night to witness the very visible misuse of fireworks within our communities. A constant barrage of flashing lights and noises is making our communities seem to be in a state of lawlessness. Elderly residents are living in fear and are afraid to leave their homes. Shopkeepers and local businesses are fearful for their staff and customers because fireworks are being aimed at them or into their premises. Bus routes have also been curtailed, which has resulted in people having to walk through areas at night where fireworks could be aimed at them.

As the Minister mentioned, it is not yet even Hallowe'en yet. This situation has been going on longer this year than in other years, for some reason. The Minister referred to the legislation seeming to be strong enough. If it is not the legislation that is the problem, it would seem to be a problem with Garda resources. I put it to the Minister that Operation Tombola is not working and is not fit for purpose.

An Garda Síochána is already undertaking a great deal of work. As we both said, this situation is happening much sooner than Hallowe'en and Operation Tombola has commenced and been in effect since 4 September. Perhaps that operation needs to start even sooner, but it is very early. This plan has many aspects directed against the sale of fireworks, including, to name just a few, combating the importation, sale and distribution of illegal fireworks. This is done through intelligence-led operations, visits to local car boot sales and searches and seizures of fireworks.

There is also liaison with fire services and local authorities regarding the provision of official and supervised bonfire sites, including the policing of those sites, and the identification and removal of stockpiled bonfire material and abandoned material from other locations. Awareness of the dangers associated with the improper use of fireworks is also promoted. There is high-visibility policing of the Hallowe'en night celebrations, which means members of the Garda on the beat, on bikes and in mobile patrols preventing damage to property, injury and trauma and utilising the divisional public order unit on Hallowe'en night. Many gardaí are on the ground implementing these measures to try to address many of the concerns expressed.

I live in one of these communities and my impression is that the Garda is not visible when this is happening. I will give a few examples. A newborn baby had a lucky escape last weekend, after somebody posted a banger through a letter box in Palmerstown. Customers in parts of Clondalkin and Lucan are afraid to use their local shops. People will also not walk their dogs because of the distress that the noise is causing to their pets. I met with residents in Rathcoole recently, and they reported an increase in this type of behaviour and a decrease in their quality of life. Rathcoole is one of the fastest growing areas in Dublin and yet it still does not have a full-time Garda station.

Public confidence is shattered. Regarding the current legislation, and as I have tabled a parliamentary question on this aspect I do not expect the Minister to answer now, I would like to know how many convictions there had been under that legislation in recent years to see if it is working. The public perception is that the Garda is less concerned about bangers being shown at the public than if the public had bangers and mash in a pub in the last 28 days.

The challenge here concerns situations, such as those we have seen recently, where there have been large gatherings of people into which fireworks have been thrown. When the police arrived and spoke to people, however, there did not seem to be an ability to identify who had thrown the fireworks. This seems to be a major problem where younger people are not willing to say who threw a firework. Some people living in communities, who also know who is responsible, are not willing to say who did it. If it is not possible to know who threw, fired or set off a firework, it is very difficult for An Garda Síochána to pinpoint who is responsible.

For younger people, in particular, this comes back to education about the dangers of fireworks and what damage they can do. It is often too late to learn lessons once there has been an accident and someone has been seriously injured or damaged as occurred. Whether it is coming up to Hallowe'en or not, we need all communities, all parents and all schools to stress and stress again the dangers of fireworks that are not set off in a controlled environment with people present who have experience in this area. I think that could help a great deal.