As the Deputy will be aware, the Garda Commissioner is responsible by law for the management of An Garda Síochána, including personnel matters and deployment of resources. As Minister, I have no responsibility for these matters. I am assured however that Garda management keeps the distribution of resources under continual review in the context of emerging crime trends and policing priorities.
The new Programme for Government, Our Shared Future, underlines the need for close engagement between An Garda Síochána and local communities. This is an essential feature of the strong community policing ethos which has long been central to policing in this jurisdiction. Consequently the Programme for Government commits to prioritising visible policing in rural and urban communities which will ensure community policing is at the forefront of our police service and an integral strand of our social contract with the public.
With regard to crime trends in the Meath Division, I am informed by the Garda authorities that the most recently available data (as on 7th June 2020) shows that under most headings crime rates have reduced significantly in the year to date. For example, Property Crime has reduced by 16%, Burglary (non-aggravated) has reduced by 15% and Crimes Against The Person have reduced by 17%. The circumstances surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic are considered to have been a factor in such significant reductions. I can inform the Deputy that the official crime statistics from the CSO for the second quarter of 2020 are due to be released later this month and I look forward to reviewing these statistics when they are available. The statistics for Q2 of this year will be of particular benefit in terms of assessing the impact of Covid-19 on crime trends.
The CSO crime statistics for Q1 2020 showed that while there have been increases in the Meath division in some crimes, such as theft, compared to the same period in 2017, there have been welcome decreases over this time period of 28% in recorded burglary and related offences and 26% in public order offences in Meath.
As the Deputy may be aware, Census 2016 results show that Meath is one of the fastest growing counties in the country with the population growing by 5.9 per cent between 2011 and 2016 to 195,044. This population growth rate is the second fastest growth rate recorded in the State (after Fingal). The Meath Garda Division contains four Districts - Navan, Ashbourne, Trim and Kells - and 16 Garda Stations. The Garda strength of Meath Division at 31 July 2020, the latest date for which figures are available, is 335 members and 43 Garda Staff. There have been several allocations of Trainees to the Division over recent years which has resulted in an increase in personnel, mainly in Navan and Ashbourne Districts.
That said, I am very conscious of how the impact of anti-social behaviour affects the quality of life for local communities. Preventing children getting involved in and diverting children away from criminality when they have already become involved is a key priority for me as Minister for Justice and the Programme for Government contains a number of commitments with regard to tackling anti-social behaviour.
Some of the measures either currently underway or due to be progressed in line with the Programme for Government include:
- A commitment to set up a special expert forum on antisocial behaviour, to consider the effectiveness of existing legislation and propose new ways forward, including new powers for An Garda Síochána and additional interventions to support parenting of offenders.
- New legislation, implementing the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, which will, among other elements, redefine policing to include prevention of harm to those who are vulnerable. This approach will mandate multi-agency collaboration, in conjunction with impacted communities, to address in a holistic way the range of social problems including those exploited by criminals to involve young people;
- The Joint Agency Response to Crime (JARC) programme has had success managing prolific offenders and the Programme for Government includes a commitment to extend the pilot scheme of the programme to more areas to target prolific repeat and vulnerable offenders aged 16-21;
- The Garda Youth Diversion Programme and over 100 Garda Youth Diversion Projects operate nationwide. Funding for these projects has increased every year since 2015. €15.3 million was provided in 2019 and at least €15.6 million has been committed for 2020;
- Development of a Youth Justice Strategy 2020-2026 is currently underway. This includes consideration of the full range of issues connected to children and young people at risk of coming into contact with the criminal justice system, including early intervention and preventative work, family support and diversion from crime, through to court processes and facilities, supervision of offenders, detention and reintegration and support post release.
The Deputy will also be aware that as part of the overall strategy to oppose criminality, the Garda authorities pursue a range of partnerships with community stakeholders; for example, the Community Alert Programme and the Garda Text Alert Scheme.
These projects are being progressed in parallel with record investment in An Garda Síochána. €1.88 billion has been allocated to An Garda Síochána for 2020 along with €116m in capital investment. This investment is aiding the sustained growth of the organisation and there are now more approximately 14,700 Gardaí nationwide, supported by over 3,000 Garda staff.
Extensive information is available on my Department’s website in relation to the numbers of Garda members and their assignment nationwide at the following link: http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/Garda_Workforce
This information is updated every month with the latest data provided by An Garda Síochána. Details in relation to the number of Garda staff nationwide are also available on my Department's website at the following link: http://justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/Garda_Staff