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An Garda Síochána

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 25 November 2021

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Ceisteanna (123)

Joe Flaherty

Ceist:

123. Deputy Joe Flaherty asked the Minister for Justice the number of community gardaí in the Roscommon-Longford division; the number of community gardaí in the Westmeath division; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57983/21]

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

Following on from a theme raised by Deputy Haughey, I ask the Minister of State to give details of the number of community gardaí in the Roscommon-Longford and Westmeath divisions and, if possible, to make a statement on same.

I thank Deputy Flaherty for bringing up this very important matter. I know it is something the Deputy has raised on a number of occasions. As the Deputy will be aware, under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the management and administration of An Garda Síochána, including the deployment of gardaí. As Minister of State, I have no direct role in these matters. I am assured however that Garda management keeps the distribution of Garda members under continual review in the context of policing priorities and crime trends, to ensure An Garda Síochána is optimally positioned to keep our communities safe.

To date, the official categorisation as a community garda has simply referred to those who are exclusively assigned to building relationships with local communities and civil society, including giving talks to schools, community groups and others. As I have previously stated, it is important to note however that community policing is at the heart of An Garda Síochána and that all members of the Garda have a role to play in community policing in the course of carrying out their duties. Indeed, this is at the heart of the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, which are being implemented under the plan, A Policing Service for our Future, and the policing, security and community safety Bill will enshrine this in legislation.

I can inform the Deputy that as at 31 October 2021, there were 11 Garda members, comprising three sergeants and eight gardaí, categorised as community gardaí in the Roscommon-Longford Garda division. I can further inform the Deputy that as at the same date, there were seven Garda members, comprising two sergeants and five gardaí, categorised as community gardaí in the Westmeath Garda division. The Deputy may wish to further note that there are currently 300 gardaí assigned to the Roscommon-Longford division as a whole and 262 gardaí assigned to the Westmeath division. As I have stated, community policing is at the heart of everything all of these members of the Garda do in the course of their duties.

As the Deputy will be aware, budget 2022 will see over €2 billion allocated to An Garda Síochána next year. This funding will include provision for the recruitment of 800 new Garda recruits and additional Garda staff, subject to the public health situation. This increase in the number of Garda members and staff will deliver significant growth in operational policing hours nationwide and improved services to the public generally.

I thank the Minister of State for the response. We all agree community policing is very much at the front line and has proven itself to be extremely effective over the past decade in tackling antisocial and street crime.

Through a parliamentary question earlier this year, I asked for the number of gardaí in County Longford. The response was that there had been 139 gardaí in the county as of 30 September. I am concerned that this figure includes those who were injured on duty and those on long-term sick leave, officers who are incapacitated and not yet pensioned off, officers working in offices owing to chief medical officer certification because of incapacitation, and gardaí still assigned to County Longford but who are operating in other roles. Although I am aware that deployment is an operational matter for the Garda, it is important that we get a definite figure for the number of gardaí operating across the country to reassure the public.

I thank the Deputy for consistently raising the importance of Garda deployment in his area and for supporting the organisation there. The distribution of members of the Garda throughout the country is a matter for the Garda Commissioner, and the designation of members of the Garda within the divisions is a matter for the chief superintendent. We have seen a significant increase in funding for the Garda this year through the budget. There is funding to support an additional 800 members, in addition to another 400 civilian staff. The latter will help to release members of An Garda Síochána from administrative duty to do front-line work. All the increases will help the Commissioner in distributing additional gardaí right across the country, including, I have no doubt, the Deputy’s constituency. I do not have the specific numbers the Deputy is seeking on those gardaí who may be out sick or otherwise not on duty.

I thank the Minister of State. It is important that we place on record our gratitude to An Garda Síochána, particularly throughout the Covid period. It has been a very difficult period for it. Many officers have been affected by Covid, and their families have been affected as a consequence.

With regard to the 139 gardaí assigned to County Longford as of 30 September, that figure is in the round very good, suggesting there is a garda for every 208 people in the county; however, I revert to the point I made about officers who are currently incapacitated, restricted to office duty and assigned to other roles. For the integrity of the entire Garda operation, and to reassure the public, it is important that we get from the Garda Commissioner a clear and concise figure pertaining to the number of gardaí operating in the various districts across the region at any given time.

The distribution of gardaí is a matter for Garda senior management. I hope the 800 additional members of the Garda funded through this year’s budget will mean additional resources right across the country. In fact, I have no doubt about this. There will be an estimated 14,600 fully attested members of An Garda Síochána and 600 in training, putting us on course to meet our target of 15,000 sworn members of An Garda Síochána throughout this country. That will be important. I cannot provide the detail the Deputy is seeking on individual cases and on whether particular gardaí are out sick or deskbound. Perhaps there are general data protection regulation, GDPR, difficulties associated with gaining access to that type of information. I have no doubt, however, that the Garda Commissioner will keep all areas under consideration in respect of the support they need. I have no doubt that the Garda Commissioner accounts for every set of circumstances, particularly availability for operational duties, when considering the distribution of gardaí right across the country.

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