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Thursday, 25 Nov 2021

Written Answers Nos. 112-141

Domestic Violence

Ceisteanna (112)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

112. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Social Protection the new measures to assist victims of domestic violence to access the rent supplement; the number accessing same, by county, to date; the number of refusals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [58007/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

Responsibility for the development and provision of services to support victims of domestic violence is a cross government body of work involving Department of Justice, Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) and associated agencies. The co-ordination of the services addressing the needs of these customers is managed by The Child and Family Agency, Tusla. The accommodation needs of victims of domestic violence are met through this joined-up service delivery model provided by Tusla with the close involvement of the various housing authorities nationwide.

In August 2020, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, I agreed to make rent supplement more accessible to victims of domestic violence. This has ensured that victims of domestic violence are not prevented from leaving their home because of financial or accommodation difficulties.

For victims of domestic violence the measure provides that the standard rent supplement means test does not apply for an initial three month period. After the initial three-month period, a further three-month extension may be provided, subject to the usual rent supplement means assessment. After six months, if the tenant has a long-term housing need, they can apply to their local housing authority for social housing supports and, if eligible, will be able to access the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), a social housing support provided by Local Authorities.

Access to rent supplement is additional and complementary to, and not a substitution for, the range of other supports already in place for victims of domestic violence.

Following a review of the measure after twelve months of operation involving all key stakeholders, I recently announced that victims of domestic violence will be granted easier access to rent supplement on a permanent basis. This ensures that victims of domestic violence can continue to get immediate access to rent supplement for a three month period to ensure that they are not prevented from leaving their home because of financial concerns.

There are 40 victims of domestic violence currently being supported under the Protocol, with 153 cases supported since the Protocol came into operation in August 2020.

The table below details the number accessing support by county to date and the current recipients by county. There are no refusals to date.

County

Number of Beneficiaries (August 2020 to date)

Number of Current Recipients

Carlow

5

4

Cavan

3

0

Clare

7

2

Cork

24

7

Donegal

5

2

Dublin

20

4

Galway

15

2

Kerry

3

2

Kildare

4

2

Kilkenny

1

1

Laois

5

3

Leitrim

1

1

Limerick

2

0

Longford

5

1

Louth

3

0

Mayo

11

2

Monaghan

2

0

Offaly

9

1

Roscommon

8

3

Sligo

6

0

Tipperary

4

0

Waterford

1

0

Wexford

5

2

Wicklow

4

1

Total

153

40

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Insurance

Ceisteanna (113)

Christopher O'Sullivan

Ceist:

113. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Social Protection the strategies in place to ensure that persons can receive information regarding their insurance contributions record ahead of retirement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [58019/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

Currently, all persons wishing to obtain details of their social insurance contributions can do so by request to the Client Eligibility Services section in my Department. The details are provided by way of a contribution history statement which is a summary of the person's social insurance history in Ireland.

There are several ways in which a person can request their contribution history statement, including online via www.MyWelfare.ie. This channel requires the person to have a basic or verified MyGovID account. A basic MyGovID account will allow the person to request a copy of their contribution history statement to be sent to their home address, whereas with a verified account the statement will appear on screen immediately.

While the quickest way to access a person's social insurance record statement is via the online MyWelfare channel, statements may also be requested by emailing cstgeneralqueries@welfare.ie or telephoning 0818 690 690 or 01 4715898 or writing to Records Section, Client Eligibility Services, Department of Social Protection, McCarter’s Road, Buncrana, Co. Donegal. All requests should include details of the person's PPSN, name, date of birth, address and mother’s birth surname.

As part of its recommendations, the Pensions Commission proposed that the Department issue regular PRSI contribution statements to contributors so that they are aware of their level of contributions and how that would relate to the level of State pension (contributory) they would be entitled to. The Commission's report has been referred to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Recovery and Investment for consideration with a view to bringing a recommended response and implementation plan to Government by the end of March 2022.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Employment Support Services

Ceisteanna (114)

Claire Kerrane

Ceist:

114. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will provide an update on the forthcoming phase two of the tender for employment services process; the expected timeline in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57825/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The second phase in the procuring of new employment services is currently under preparation. In phase two, the Regional Employment Services model will be rolled out throughout the rest of the State; that is a further nineteen counties. The first phase of the procurement is concerned with seven counties. The Department is currently reflecting on feedback from Phase One and amending the Request for Tender as appropriate, specifically in relation to minimum referral numbers but also looking again at issues such as up-front monetary advances to assist cash flow for potential tenderers.

There has been continuous engagement with local development companies and other relevant stakeholders in recent years. As recently as the 9th of November, my Department hosted a webinar exclusively for organisations who are interested in tendering for the procurement of employment services at which questions were taken for over an hour following a presentation, which provided detailed information on public employment services procurement.

The Request for Tenders for the Regional Employment Service and the National Employment Service will be issued before year end, with an approximate deadline of March for tenderers. It is intended that the services will be in place from July 2022.

Energy Prices

Question No. 116 answered with Question No. 29.

Questions Nos. 117 to 127, inclusive, answered orally.

Ceisteanna (115)

Ruairí Ó Murchú

Ceist:

115. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for Social Protection if additional support will be provided to households during this energy price crisis; if so, the details of those supports; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57832/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The Government is committed to protecting vulnerable households from the impact of energy costs through a combination of supports, energy efficiency awareness initiatives, and investment in programmes to improve the energy efficiency of the housing stock.

In light of ESRI research and the commitment to ensure that the carbon tax is progressive, the Government has committed to very significant increases in a targeted package of social protection supports in Budget 2022. The total cost of these interventions is projected at €146m in 2022. These supports were selected to counteract the impact of the increased carbon tax on low income households. The specific measures are:

i. An increase to the Qualified Child Payment of €2 per week for children under 12 and €3 per week for children aged 12 and over.

ii. An increase in the Living Alone Allowance of €3 per week.

iii. An increase in the Working Family Payment of €10 per week.

iv. An increase to the Fuel Allowance of €5 per week.

In Budget 2022, I also announced further easing of the qualifying criteria for Fuel Allowance with the allowable means increased by €20 to €120 above the relevant State Pension Contributory rate. I also announced that the eligibility for Jobseeker’s and Supplementary Welfare Allowance recipients will be enhanced by reducing the qualifying period from 15 to 12 months with effect from September 2022. This measure is estimated to benefit some 3,300 households.

My Department also provides discretionary exceptional needs payments, where appropriate, to people who face difficulties in meeting fuel bills. These payments are not ring-fenced or budget limited as they would be if they were drawn from an earmarked fund, but rather are demand led.

The provision of any further additional supports above those announced on Budget Day would have cost implications and could only be considered while taking account of the overall budgetary context and the availability of financial resources.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Question No. 116 answered with Question No. 29.
Questions Nos. 117 to 127, inclusive, answered orally.

An Garda Síochána

Ceisteanna (128)

Jennifer Murnane O'Connor

Ceist:

128. Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor asked the Minister for Justice the number of new gardaí who will be recruited in 2022; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [58037/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I am pleased that Budget 2022 reflects the commitment of the Government to enhancing community safety and that An Garda Síochána has the resources to be an effective and trusted policing service.

The budget provided by Government to the Garda Commissioner continues to increase to unprecedented levels, with an allocation of €1.952 billion for 2021 and over €2 billion in funding in Budget 2022. Indeed since 2016, the budget for An Garda Síochána has increased by some €500m, or approximately 33%. This has enabled 3,340 probationer Gardaí to be deployed across the country since 2016, with total Garda strength now at 14,298, as well as continued investment in modern equipment. In addition, over 800 Gardaí have been redeployed to front line policing work through the recruitment of Garda staff.

I am delighted that Budget 2022 includes funding for the recruitment of 800 new Garda recruits and 400 Garda staff in 2022 - a further additional 1,200 personnel. This planned increase in the number of Garda members and staff is designed to deliver significant growth in operational policing hours nationwide and improved public safety and services to the public generally.

Redeployment of Gardaí from administrative and support roles will also continue next year, thus allowing highly trained Gardaí to focus on frontline policing duties. The organisation's capacity will be further strengthened by the recruitment of additional Garda staff, including to specialist roles to support the investigation of crime and enhance the management of the organisation.

An Garda Síochána have advised that a recruitment plan for 2022 is currently being developed to manage the recruitment processes for Garda members and Garda staff roles. Implementation will of course be dependent on public health guidelines but I very much hope it will be possible to maximise the intake to Templemore next year. I understand there are a number of successful candidates still to be called from the last competition but I am delighted to confirm that a new Garda Trainee competition is also being planned for early next year.

Both the Minister and the Garda Commissioner are particularly keen that the new competition will focus on the need for greater diversity among rank and file Gardaí and we would encourage all those with an interest in joining the organisation to consider doing so.

Victim Support Services

Question No. 130 answered orally.

Ceisteanna (129, 134)

Emer Higgins

Ceist:

129. Deputy Emer Higgins asked the Minister for Justice the steps she will take to support the victims of crime. [57739/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

James Lawless

Ceist:

134. Deputy James Lawless asked the Minister for Justice the initiatives being taken to provide greater supports to victims of crime; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57975/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 129 and 134 together.

I would like to thank both Deputies Higgins and Lawless for raising this matter and assure you that protecting and supporting victims of crime is a key priority for me as Minister.

My Department is leading a number of important initiatives to support victims of crime. When victims of crime begin to engage with the judicial system, they should know what to expect, what their legally enforceable rights are, and the supports available at every step in the process. We are working to increase and strengthen the level of supports available and to ensure that victims are aware of, and receive, those supports.

These initiatives include:

- The publication earlier this year of an updated Victims Charter and a supporting website which sets out all the information a victim of crime might need in an easily accessible and user friendly way.

- A campaign to raise awareness of the rights afforded to people under the Victims of Crime Act 2017 is also underway.

- Budget 2022 includes the allocation of €4.9m to continue the work we are doing to support Victims of Crime. This includes the retention of emergency COVID-19 funding to support service providers. It will also ensure that court accompaniment related supports are available to all categories of crime victims throughout the State.

- An additional €1.1m in funding is also being provided for the Legal Aid Board to begin putting in place a legal advice and legal aid service in court for victims of sexual violence and funding of €1m is also being made available under the Garda Vote to support the Garda Divisional Protective Service Units.

and

- My Department will soon be inviting partners to newly established Victims’ Forum for state, social and community groups.

These initiatives are, of course, in addition to my ongoing work to support vulnerable victims through the implementation of Supporting a Victims Journey and in the context of developing the third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender based violence.

This includes a review of the funding available to civil society organisations and of the supports provided by them to victims of crime. This is with a view to identifying where gaps exist and how to bridge them. Specific geographical areas and categories of victims not adequately covered by NGO supports have been identified and we are engaging with relevant NGO partners to agree revised funding to ensure that we meet the gaps identified. This piece of work will be completed shortly.

I know the Deputies agree that we need a criminal justice system that is victim-centred and that is what I am working to achieve. Victims deserve a system that supports them, keeps them fully informed and treats them respectfully and professionally for the entirety of the difficult journey they have to face. I am committed to continuing to work with my colleagues across government and with our partners and stakeholders to deliver what is needed to do this.

Question No. 130 answered orally.

An Garda Síochána

Ceisteanna (131)

James Lawless

Ceist:

131. Deputy James Lawless asked the Minister for Justice her assessment of the recently published statistics for recorded crime detection in 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57997/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy will be aware, under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the detection of and response to any criminal activity is an operational function for the Garda Commissioner. As Minister, I have no direct role in these matters.

The Central Statistics Office's latest release on Recorded Crime Detection, published earlier this month, identifies the percentage of crimes recorded by Gardaí in 2020 that had been deemed ‘detected’ by 2 September 2021. A crime is considered detected when a suspected offender has been identified and sanctioned for the crime.

The figures provide a sound baseline on which to measure policing performance going forward. As we all know, during 2020 the public health crisis continued to influence the needs of our communities, and this resulted in a change in the demands on policing. Crime types are increasingly more complex and can require resource-intensive investigations, but throughout 2020 the Commissioner and An Garda Síochána remained committed to protecting people from harm in public, private and virtual spaces.

The release provides an overview of the crimes reported to Gardaí and the figures show considerable variations in the proportions of the different types of crime incidents which were detected.

Gardaí are achieving significant successes in a range of crime categories and should be commended for their efforts. In comparison to the detection rates for crimes committed in 2019 at this stage after their occurrence, there have been welcome increases in detection rates in 2020 for a number of offence groups, including homicide offences at 82.1% (up over 16 percentage points on 2019 incidents at this time last year), attempts or threats to murder, assaults, harassment and related offences at 37.7% (up over 4 percentage points), burglary at 22.4% (up over 7 percentage points) and theft at 36.2% (up over 3 percentage points), as well as public order offences at 86.4% (up over 2 percentage points).

However, there were markedly lower detection rates for sexual offences. The 2020 figures reflect a rate of one in ten crimes detected to date (10.3%).

It is worth noting that the updated figures for 2019 suggests that there is an increase in detection for sexual offences over a longer period following reporting of the crime, with the percentage of detection of such offences recorded in 2019 increasing from 12% in September 2020, to over 20% by September 2021. This reflects the fact that sexual offence cases can be more complex and take more time to go through the Court system.

Reforming our criminal justice system to make sure victims feel confident and secure in reporting these crimes, that Gardaí have the tools to pursue perpetrators, and that the Courts deal with these cases as quickly as possible, is a top priority for me as Minister.

An Garda Síochána

Ceisteanna (132)

Pádraig O'Sullivan

Ceist:

132. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Justice the number of incidents of drink spiking reported to An Garda Síochána in Cork city and county in recent months; the number of incidents reported nationally; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57994/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

Spiking a person’s drink or spiking someone by injection are obviously very serious offences. They are, in effect, poisoning and they are criminal offences, under the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997, that can result in a three year prison term.

I can assure the Deputy that any incident of this type of crime, including those with evidence to suggest a link with ‘spiking’, will be investigated by either local Gardaí supported by, or attached to, Divisional Protective Services Units.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Garda Commissioner is responsible under the Garda Síochána Act 2005 for the management and administration of An Garda Síochána, including the investigation of all allegations of criminal activity. As Minister, I play no role in these independent functions.

I am advised by the Garda authorities that identifying incidents which involve drink spiking for statistical purposes is dependent on the use of keywords in the incident narrative. I am further advised that a search was carried out on the PULSE system for incidents reported between 1 January 2021 and 21 November 2021 which include any of the following terms in the narrative or investigation notes: “spike”, “spiking” or “date rape”.

I am advised by the Garda authorities that this search indicates that, as of 21 November 2021, there have been 46 crime incidents recorded nationally this year. 25 of these incidents specifically refer to syringes or needles. The remaining 21 either refer to drink spiking or do not specify the method of spiking. Fewer than 10 of these incidents relates to incidents of drink spiking recorded in the Garda Divisions of Cork City, Cork North and Cork West. As the Deputy may be aware, An Garda Síochána Analysis Service does not typically report on details where there are fewer than 10 incidents in a given period, as there is a risk, due to the sensitive nature of the information, that offenders or victims may be identified if the information were to be released.

It is worth noting that figures are operational and liable to change and are based on a reported date using data obtained from PULSE.

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 has been widely recognised as a landmark piece of legislation dealing with consent and exploitation in sexual activity. For the first time, it set out in statute what consent actually means - a free and voluntary agreement between people to engage in sexual activity.

The 2017 Act amended the Criminal Law (Rape) Amendment Act 1990, to set out certain circumstances where consent is impossible, such as when a person is asleep or unconscious, or if they are so drunk or intoxicated that they are in no position to consider the activity and make up their mind.

The commitment of this Government to combatting domestic, sexual and gender based violence and to supporting victims is reflected in the funding allocated under Budget 2022, with a total of €13m allocated to the Department of Justice in this area. This represents an increased allocation of €5.35m and will enable the roll out of specific awareness raising and training programmes to combat domestic, sexual and gender based violence. It will also provide additional supports to NGOs and specific domestic violence intervention programmes, and it will support a number of front-line activities.

The Deputy will be interested to note that a national public awareness campaign, led by my Department, around the meaning and understanding of consent in the context of sexual relationships will be launched in the new year.

Closed-Circuit Television Systems

Question No. 134 answered with Question No. 129.

Ceisteanna (133)

Jennifer Murnane O'Connor

Ceist:

133. Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor asked the Minister for Justice her plans for the expansion of Garda CCTV in County Carlow in order to deter criminal activity; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [58038/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

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, I have no direct role in this matter.

The Commissioner authorises CCTV for the purposes 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 (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 schemes operated by the Gardaí, section 38 (c) provides for community CCTV schemes in collaboration between 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 which meet the legal obligations and requirements. In other words, CCTV systems which 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.

Since the establishment of the current scheme in 2017, my Department has provided funding to St Mullins community CCTV scheme in Co. Carlow. In August 2021, my Department also provided maintenance grant funding to the Develop Tullow group.

If the Deputy is aware of further groups wishing to avail of the grant aid scheme, further details are available to download from my Department's website. Support and guidance is 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 Recordings) 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. Once this review is completed, appropriate guidance will issue to An Garda Síochána on the control and supervision of community CCTV systems.

Question No. 134 answered with Question No. 129.

International Protection

Ceisteanna (135)

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

135. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Justice the steps she is taking to address the recommendations concerning the international protection system in a report on the international protection process (details supplied). [57976/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

My Department's overall objective is to have decisions made on applications from people seeking international protection as quickly as possible. This ensures that those who are found to be in need of protection in Ireland can receive it quickly and begin rebuilding their lives here with a sense of safety and security.

My Department is fully committed to implementing the key recommendations in the Expert Advisory Group Report to reduce processing times of both first instance decisions and appeals to 6 months respectively, as outlined in the White Paper to End Direct Provision and Establish a New International Protection Support Service.

The White Paper proposes that the new system should be operational by 2024 and that the intervening period should provide an opportunity to progress improvements in the overall processing times for international protection.

An end-to-end review of relevant international protection processes by a multi-disciplinary team from my Department, has now been completed and published. A series of measures are being put in place to address the recommendations of the review and improve efficiencies and throughput.

The International Protection Office (IPO) in my Department is also implementing measures with a view to speeding up processing times and reducing the overall number of applicants in the process. Over the last number of months there has also been a restructuring of the IPO.

The new measures have included a new case management function, restructuring of the processing division, an increase in the number of staff trained to make recommendations/decisions and removing a number of steps from the process to speed it up. The IPO have trained additional staff to increase interviewing capacity. A revised, shorter questionnaire for applicants is in place since 28 June, and is now available online.

My Department will, by October 2022 at the latest, commence a review of progress made in reducing and improving processing times. Based on the outcome of that review, we will decide by the end of 2022 whether additional measures are required in order to ensure that the new system can come into operation without the overhang of any significant number of legacy cases.

Immigration Support Services

Ceisteanna (136)

Thomas Pringle

Ceist:

136. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Justice the time it takes to deal with immigration cases within her Department; if the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted on dealing with cases; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57782/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on my Department's immigration service delivery. In line with public health advice, my Department has implemented a suite of measures to help reduce the spread of the virus. This has unavoidably led to a reduction in processing capacity across many business areas. We continue to operate to the best of our ability and a number of actions have been taken to reduce the impact on immigration processing times.

I have provided the attached table for the Deputy on the current waiting times across the main immigration application categories. While COVID-19 has undoubtedly had an impact on all of these areas, it is important to note that other factors may also play a role in determining processing times.

ISD Operational Area

Application type

Current Average Processing time

Visas (Dublin Office)

Type C – Short stay (Business, tourism, visit family etc.)

3 weeks

Type D – Long stay (study, employment, join family etc.)

2-4 months (depending on sub-category)

Other

11 months

Preclearance

Family Member of UK National, Minister of Religion, De Facto etc. 

2-4 months (depending on sub-category)

International Protection Office

Applications for International Protection (includes decisions on Permission to Remain at 1st Instance). 

14 months for prioritised cases and 23 months for other cases

The Atypical Working Scheme Unit

ATWS

One week

Citizenship Division

Applications for a certificate of naturalisation

23 months

Registration Office

Online registration renewal (Dublin)

9/10 weeks

In terms of citizenship applications, in addition to the Covid-19 disruption, a High Court case in 2019, subsequently successfully appealed, also resulted in significant delays and the loss of over six months’ processing time. There are currently 22,200 applications on hand, of which approximately 3,500 adult and 300 minor applications are in the final stages of processing. A number of actions have been taken to maximise processing capability. For example, while it has not been possible to hold in-person citizenship ceremonies since the pandemic began, in January, I introduced a temporary statutory declaration process, which has seen more then 7,400 new citizens receive their certificate of naturalisation since then.

In relation to visa processing, the Deputy will appreciate that the processing time at each visa office and location worldwide is determined by a number of factors, in addition to COVID-19 restrictions, such as the volumes and complexity of applications, whether investigation is required or not, peak application periods - this being the busiest time of the year for visa applications generally - and the resources available.

The International Protection Office has also been seriously impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The IPO is currently implementing a number of measures to speed up processing times, including a new case management function, restructuring of the processing division, an increase in the number of staff trained to make recommendations/decisions and removing any inefficiencies from the process following an end-to-end process review, which I have recently published.

The Registration Office of my Department has also had to reduce the number of in person appointments that can be offered and the Public Office has unfortunately been closed during the highest level of public health restrictions, for the safety of our customers and staff. To mitigate against this, eight temporary extension of immigration permissions have been provided, the most recent to 15 January 2022.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge the important role played by the Border Management Unit of my Department in supporting the public health measures introduced in relation to international travel. These duties have been implemented in addition to the core BMU function of immigrating arriving passengers at Dublin Airport and I am grateful to the staff for their professionalism and dedication during this challenging time.

I trust that the information that I have set out for the Deputy will clearly demonstrate that my Department and our frontline immigration service providers are doing all that we can to continue to provide a quality service to our customers during this unprecedented period.

An Garda Síochána

Ceisteanna (137)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

137. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Justice further to Parliamentary Question No. 339 of 11 November 2021, if she will provide figures for the number of gardaí in specialist units in the Roscommon-Longford division and the Galway division, respectively; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57555/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As outlined in a previous response to the Deputy in Parliamentary Question No. 339 of 11 November 2021, under the Garda Síochána Act 2005 (as amended), the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the management and administration of An Garda Síochána, which includes the deployment of Garda members throughout the State. As Minister, I have no role in this independent function.

The Garda authorities advise that 161 Garda members in Galway Division and 37 Garda members in Roscommon/Longford Division are assigned to specialist units. The attached tables outline the number of Garda members assigned to each specialist unit in each Division as requested by the Deputy.

An Garda Síochána continue to develop and implement strategies to dismantle and disrupt criminal networks, utilising advanced analytical and intelligence methods. Gardaí target serious criminals and organised criminal groups through the use of focused intelligence-led operations by specialist units. Gardaí in these divisions continue to be supported by national units, such as the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau (GNDOCB), the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB), the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB), the Special Detective Unit (SDU), the Armed Response Unit, the Emergency Response Unit (ERU), the Air Support Unit (ASU), as-well as the Roads Policing Units.

Specialist Units Roscommon/Longford

Garda Members

Unit

Castlerea

Roscommon

Granard

Longford

Total

Drugs

0

0

0

6

6

Community Policing

5

1

3

5

14

SOC

0

3

0

2

5

DPSU

0

7

0

0

7

Immigration

0

5

0

0

5

Specialist Units Galway Division

Unit

Total

Community Police

22

Juvenile Liaison Officers

4

Divisional Crime

3

Galway Crime

13

Salthill / Clifden Crime

8

Loughrea /Gort Crime

6

Ballinasloe / Tuam Crime

11

Divisional Drugs

8

Divisional Protective Services Unit

19

Divisional TUSLA Office

1

Crime Prevention Unit

1

Garda Victim Services Office

1

Divisional Incident Room

4

Scenes of Crime Unit

5

Immigration

6

Roads Policing

37

Court Presenters

6

Performance Assurance

6

Total

161

[<ahref="https://data.oireachtas.ie/ie/oireachtas/debates/questions/supportingDocumentation/2021-11-25_pq137-25-11-21_en.xlsx">Galway, Roscommon and Longford Division Oct 2021</a>]

An Garda Síochána

Ceisteanna (138)

Dara Calleary

Ceist:

138. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Justice the measures that are being put in place to strengthen community input into policing matters; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57661/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

The Deputy will be aware that my Department published the general scheme of the landmark Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill earlier this year.

The Bill will, inter alia, provide for a key principle from the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland - that preventing crime and harm and making our communities safer does not rest with An Garda Síochána and my Department alone. I think the Deputy will agree that this is best achieved as a ‘whole of government’ responsibility with Departments and agencies responsible for health and social services, education authorities and local authorities, the Gardaí and the wider community working together.

The new Bill will achieve this by establishing innovative Local Community Safety Partnerships to develop local safety plans, tailored to the priorities and needs identified by communities themselves. It is intended that these Local Community Safety Partnerships will build on and replace the existing Joint Policing Committees and will provide a forum for State agencies and local community representatives to work together to act on community concerns.

Each Partnership will devise and oversee a Local Community Safety Plan, which will be informed by the community itself. Membership of the Partnerships will be broader than that of the existing JPCs and will include residents, community representatives (including youth, new communities and voluntary sector representation), business and education sector representation, relevant public services including the HSE, Tusla, An Garda Síochána and local authorities as well as local councillors.

The Deputy will be aware that in November 2020, I announced the establishment of three new Local Community Safety Partnerships on a pilot basis in the north inner city of Dublin, Waterford and Longford. The locations of the pilots, which are due to run for 24 months, were chosen based on a number of factors including population density, crime rates and deprivation. An independent Chairperson has been appointed to chair each Partnership pilot and I am grateful to them for their public service.

As the pilots progress, they will be carefully evaluated and any necessary changes made to ensure the Partnerships work as effectively as possible for the communities involved. The pilots will inform the further development of the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill, which will facilitate the rollout of Local Community Safety Partnerships in every local authority area.

An Garda Síochána

Ceisteanna (139)

Mark Ward

Ceist:

139. Deputy Mark Ward asked the Minister for Justice if the Criminal Asset Bureau investigates criminals who do not have assets but whose lifestyle does not match their means; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [58049/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy will be aware, the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) is a multi-agency statutory body established under the Criminal Assets Bureau Act, 1996. The Bureau has staff drawn from An Garda Síochána, the Office of the Revenue Commissioners (including Customs), the Department of Social Protection and my Department.

The Bureau has been one of the great success stories in Irish law enforcement and Minister Heather Humphreys recently marked the 25th anniversary of the formation of CAB with Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and Chief Bureau Officer, Detective Chief Superintendent Michael Gubbins.

The Bureau’s remit is to target the assets, wherever situated, of persons which derive or are suspected to derive, directly or indirectly, from criminal conduct. Since its inception, the Bureau has been at the forefront of fighting organised crime in this jurisdiction – disrupting the activities of criminal gangs through the removal of their ill-gotten gains - and has been recognised as a world leader in asset investigations, tracing and forfeiture.

The Bureau works closely with Gardaí and all law enforcement agencies at national and international levels and continues to focus its efforts on targeting assets deriving from all types of criminal conduct. The Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Act 2005 makes provision for the Bureau to seize assets that were generated in foreign jurisdictions. This Act enables the Bureau to cooperate fully with other international asset recovery agencies.

In summary, there must be an “asset” and there must be “evidence of criminal conduct” for the Bureau to commence an investigation and take action pursuant to the Proceeds of Crime Act 1996, as amended.

In saying this, if a criminal is showing signs of wealth/living beyond their means, the Bureau can commence an investigation and action may be taken under the Revenue Acts and/or Social Welfare Acts, in the absence of assets. The Bureau utilises the Garda Divisional Assets Profiler network to identify criminals who show signs of wealth and who appear to be living beyond their legitimate means.

The Deputy may be aware that CAB recently published their annual report for 2020. Some of the notable recent actions in 2020 include in excess of €4.2 million being returned to the Exchequer and thirty-one new proceeds of crime applications brought before the High Court. During 2020, a total of forty five individuals and corporate entities were assessed under the provisions of the Tax Acts, resulting in a total tax figure of €10.447m.

The Bureau serves to make Ireland a more hostile environment for the generation of proceeds of crime and sends a strong message to criminals and to local communities that profiting from crime will simply not be tolerated. In doing so, the Bureau targets lower to middle tier criminals, in addition to Organised Crime Groups.

As the Deputy is aware, CAB is accounted for in the Justice Vote. I can confirm that CAB received an additional €0.9 million funding for 2022, bringing the total budget allocation to €10.9 million, which is an increase on the €9.96 million provided for CAB in 2021.

An Garda Síochána

Ceisteanna (140)

John Lahart

Ceist:

140. Deputy John Lahart asked the Minister for Justice her assessment of the recent rise in fraud crime. [57818/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

Under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the detection of and response to any criminal activity is an operational function for the Garda Commissioner. As Minister, I have no direct role in these matters.

As the Deputy will be aware, the most recent statistics published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show that reported fraud offences have increased by 40.6% across the country in the period covering the 12 months to the end of June 2021. The trend towards online crime is one which had been building but clearly that sharp rise is attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic and the new opportunities which it presented to criminals with increased levels of working from home, far larger numbers engaged in online shopping and so on.

It is worth noting however that the most recent recorded crime statistics also show welcome steep decreases in more traditional crimes against property and other types of crime nationwide. Burglary was down 37.2% nationwide compared to the previous 12 month period, while robbery was down 20.7% and theft was down 22%.

I am advised by the Garda authorities that in recent years An Garda Síochána has significantly stepped up its dedicated resources in the cyber area and is continuing to grow its capabilities. The dedicated Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau is now led by a Detective Chief Superintendent. As of 30 September, there were 45 Garda members attached to the bureau, and plans to continue to expand further over the next year, including the recruitment of 20 civilian expert posts at engineer grade.

The Bureau is responsible for the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of cybercrime incidents in the State. Both the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and the Cyber Crime Bureau continue to engage with telecommunications service providers regarding online scams and the identification of the persons involved in them.

I am pleased to note that Cyber Satellite hubs have also recently been established in Cork, Galway, Mullingar and Wexford. These hubs are engaged in cybercrime forensics, investigations and support roles.

Combatting and preventing fraud and related cybercrime falls under the remit of several Departments and Agencies. There is close cooperation across the whole of Government on this issue and, in particular, between An Garda Síochána and the National Cyber Security Centre.

The Deputy may also be aware that last month my Department launched a major cybercrime awareness campaign, as part of European Cybersecurity Month. This campaign involved Community Gardaí and Crime Prevention Officers around the country providing information to local communities on how to avoid falling victim to such scams. This included local information events, as well as the normal engagement Gardaí have with their communities. There were also dedicated radio advertisements broadcast nationally as part of the campaign.

Cooperation with our EU and international partners remains a key part of Ireland's response to cybercrime and online scams. Ireland is also committed to ratifying the Council of Europe Budapest Convention on Cybercrime, the first binding international treaty on cybercrime, when the necessary legislative requirements have been fulfilled. My Department is currently drafting a general scheme of a Cybercrime Bill which will give effect to those provisions of the Budapest Convention not already provided for in Irish law.

Personal Injury Claims

Ceisteanna (141)

Pearse Doherty

Ceist:

141. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Justice if she will report on the operation of the personal injuries guidelines under the Judicial Council Act 2019; if she will consider legislative changes to monitor the passing on of benefits to consumers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57917/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I am very much aware of the difficulties faced by many small businesses and consumers in relation to the cost and availability of insurance. Insurance reform is a key priority for this Government and is reflected in the Programme for Government, the Government’s Action Plan for Insurance Reform launched last December, and in the Justice Plan 2021.

The Action Plan for Insurance Reform sets out 66 actions designed to bring down costs for consumers and business; introduce more competition into the market; prevent fraud and reduce the burden on business, community and voluntary organisations. The Action Plan includes actions to be taken by my Department, the Department of Finance and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The implementation of the Action Plan is being overseen by the Sub-Group on Insurance Reform within the Cabinet Committee on Economic Recovery and Investment.

As the Deputy may be aware, the Personal Injuries Guidelines were adopted by the Judicial Council to replace the Book of Quantum. The introduction of the Personal Injury Guidelines, which came into effect on 24 April, represent a very significant step in meeting our commitment to make insurance more affordable for consumers, businesses and community groups. The new Guidelines materially reduce award levels for many categories of common injuries, particularly soft tissue injuries.

I will report on the initial impact of the Personal Injuries Guidelines the end of this year.

As the Deputy may be aware, the National Claims Information Database, under the auspices of the Central Bank, ensures that both claims costs and pricing trends are monitored. To date, the database has published two comprehensive reports on the private motor insurance sector and one on employer and public liability insurance. The reports include data on legal costs, settlement channels and all the other elements that impact on the overall cost of insurance premiums.

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