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Closed-Circuit Television Systems

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 25 November 2021

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Ceisteanna (124)

Joe Flaherty

Ceist:

124. Deputy Joe Flaherty asked the Minister for Justice the plans in place for the expansion of Garda CCTV; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57984/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

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

This follows on from a similar theme, that of community policing. What plans has the Minister of State in place for the expansion of Garda CCTV? Could he make a statement on the matter if possible?

I thank Deputy Flaherty for raising the important matter of the expansion of Garda CCTV. We are aware of how important CCTV has become in detecting crime. As the Deputy may be aware, under the Garda Síochána Act 2005 the Garda Commissioner is responsible for managing and controlling generally the administration, budget and business of An Garda Síochána, which includes responsibility for Garda CCTV. As Minister of State, I have no direct role in this matter.

The Commissioner authorises CCTV for the purpose of securing public order and safety in public places by facilitating the deterrence, prevention, detection and prosecution of offences under section 38 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. Section 38(3)(a) provides for Garda CCTV schemes operated by An Garda Síochána. I am informed by the Garda authorities that a total of 43 Garda schemes, covering over 700 locations, have received authorisation for operation around the country. I am further informed that while there are no plans at this time to expand the current Garda CCTV schemes, the schemes are being reviewed by the Garda National Community Engagement Bureau, GNCEB.

In addition to providing for schemes operated by the Garda, section 38(3)(c) provides for community CCTV schemes in collaboration with local authorities, community groups and An Garda Síochána. As the Deputy may be aware, my Department also provides grant aid for the establishment of such schemes, and there are currently 34 community CCTV schemes in place nationally.

Grant funding can be considered only for community CCTV systems that meet the legal obligations and requirements. In other words, CCTV systems that have been approved by the relevant joint policing committee and local authority – also acting as data controller – and which have received the authorisation of the Garda Commissioner.

If the Deputy is aware of groups that wish to avail of the grant aid scheme, further details are available to download from my Department's website. Support and guidance are also available through a dedicated email address to help interested groups.

As the Deputy will be aware, the general scheme of the Garda Síochána (digital recording) Bill was published on 27 April. When enacted, this legislation will replace section 38 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. This Bill will also cover CCTV authorised in local communities by the Garda Commissioner. I intend to conduct a further review of the terms and conditions of the current community CCTV scheme to bring it into line with the proposals for this new legislation and in keeping with the commitment in the programme for Government.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit. I thank the Minister of State for his response. We all agree that the three planks of crime prevention and investigation are Garda numbers, technology, and surveillance and information. It is important that we keep abreast of technology. The more money we can invest and the more CCTV schemes we can put in place, the better. The schemes comprise one of the most important deterrents, particularly regarding low-level street crime and antisocial behaviour. I am concerned that there are no plans to invest further in the Garda-specific schemes. I hope that can be reviewed. CCTV gives the community at large great reassurance and lets it know there is an additional arm in place, but it does not replace boots on the streets and what we spoke about earlier, namely strong and effective community policing.

CCTV schemes have an important role to play in deterrence, prevention, detection and the prosecution of offences. My Department is currently funding a community CCTV scheme for a group in Longford town and will provide a once-off maintenance grant to it. My Department has received no applications for community CCTV funding in counties Roscommon and Westmeath, but any applications will be given due consideration. The new Garda Síochána (digital recording) Bill, the general scheme of which has been published, will be advanced as quickly as possible in this respect. It will be a matter for the Garda Commissioner to determine where future Garda CCTV schemes are necessary and appropriate for the deterrence, prevention, detection and prosecution of offences.

I thank the Minister of State. We are very much aware of the investment in the CCTV system for the Garda in Longford town. Work is ongoing on the expansion of the Garda station there. As part of that development, there will be a CCTV control room, which will be a state-of-the-art operation for local gardaí. This has reassured the Longford public at large. We are very fortunate in Longford that we have a very effective community policing team and this, in tandem with the CCTV programme, will be a genuine step forward.

We have had great success in dealing with low-level street crime and antisocial behaviour on estates, and much of that has been boosted and assisted through community-led CCTV projects. I emphasise, as I said earlier, that we cannot invest enough in this. I appreciate all that has been done so far. Over the coming months, when we open the new extension to the station, I know the Minister, Deputy McEntee, will be down and will see for herself the huge work that has been done on the ground and the enthusiasm of the local force and its determination to move forward towards a safer Longford.

As I stated, there are no community CCTV schemes in Westmeath or Roscommon, but if the Deputy is aware of groups that wish to avail of the grant aid scheme, further details, as I said, are available on the website.

With CCTV schemes come data protection challenges. The schemes have to be done very carefully and legally. The Garda Síochána (digital recording) Bill, the general scheme of which was published in April, will enable my Department to address the important data controller concerns that have been raised by the Data Protection Commissioner. That Bill is at pre-legislative scrutiny stage with the justice committee, and I have no doubt but that the committee will advance the scheme as quickly as possible. When we move the scheme forward, it will bring new changes, including a requirement that the Garda Commissioner develop a code of practice for CCTV, which will set out the procedures and standards to be followed and the new rules relating to confidentiality, security, storage, access and retention of data and data subject rights.

We are very much of the view that CCTV schemes form an important part of detection and protection of our communities, but they must be done in a manner that is appropriate and legal.

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