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Thursday, 25 Nov 2021

Written Answers Nos. 142-161

An Garda Síochána

Ceisteanna (142)

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

142. Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Justice if she will provide an update following her meeting with the members of a campaign (details supplied); her views on whether this initiative could be rolled out in other locations; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57817/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy is aware, a key pillar of the Programme for Government, Our Shared Future, is building stronger and safer communities. I can assure the Deputy that my Department is committed to ensuring that there is strong, visible community policing right across Ireland, both rural and urban.

Making our towns, villages and rural areas safer is best achieved when Gardaí work closely with communities. The “See Something, Say Something” campaign, which was initiated by Kerry Gardaí and developed in collaboration with Tralee Chamber Alliance, is a commendable example of how Gardaí and the community can work together to make a town a safer place.

The ‘See Something, Say Something’ initiative allows any member of the public to report anti-social or suspicious behaviour via text message by texting TRALEE or KILLARNEY followed by the information to 50555. The message is received at the Communications Desk at Tralee Garda Station, entered on CAD and the nearest available mobile patrol unit or Garda on foot/bike patrol is dispatched.

‘See Something, Say Something’ was launched in July 2018 and is the first initiative of its kind in Ireland allowing anybody with a mobile telephone to text An Garda Síochána if they hear or see something that does not seem quite right. It creates an extra channel of communication between the community and Gardaí, is simple to use, and available to everyone with a mobile phone. The service is also anonymous which further promotes its use, especially for those who would otherwise be reluctant to contact Gardaí. Information regarding illegal drug activity is also regularly received.

I am advised by the Garda Authorities that over the three years during which the initiative has been in operation, Gardaí have responded to over 2,200 text messages. This has enabled Gardaí dealing with cases of anti-social behaviour to respond to and deal with problems before they escalate into more serious issues. I am further advised that the initiative assisted in reducing public order incidents in Tralee by 22% in 2019. The initiative has also assisted Gardaí in Kerry to assign patrols to areas where they are needed most, which can change on a weekly and daily basis.

I am informed that ‘See Something, Say Something’ will shortly be rolled out across the remainder of the Kerry Division in towns such as Listowel and Dingle.

Joint Policing Committees

Ceisteanna (143)

Dara Calleary

Ceist:

143. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Justice if she plans to review the current plans for joint policing committees; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57660/21]

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 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. Rather, it will be 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. The Local Community Safety Partnerships will replace and build upon 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 will 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.

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.

Coroners Service

Ceisteanna (144)

Brian Leddin

Ceist:

144. Deputy Brian Leddin asked the Minister for Justice the response she plans to make to the recommendations from the inquest into the death of a person (details supplied) on the operation of coroners and the National Forensic Laboratory; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57604/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I wish to acknowledge the pain and trauma experienced by all families of missing persons in the State.

As the Deputy will be aware, the national DNA database, which is administered by Forensic Science Ireland (FSI), has been a significant breakthrough in identifying missing and unknown persons in recent years. To encourage more family members to participate in DNA testing, my Department is developing a targeted outreach, in partnership with An Garda Síochána and FSI, to build on the success of National Missing Persons Day.

To support the work of these organisations, it is crucial that they are aware of all unidentified remains (partial and full) within the State, which fall under coronial jurisdiction. In July, Minister Humphreys wrote to each coroner in the State, requesting that they send my Department the number of unidentified human remains within their coronial districts. These results will be collated by my officials and will be shared with the Missing Persons Unit of the Garda National Protective Services Bureau.

In order to keep this data up-to-date, from 2022 onwards, coroners will be asked to include details of any unidentified human remains reported to them in the preceding year, as part of their statutory annual returns to the Minister for Justice.

In July, a forum was established by my Department with An Garda Síochána’s Missing Persons Unit, and with FSI, in order to maintain regular communication and information exchange on these very important matters.

National Missing Persons Day will take place this year on 1 December. This event provides an important opportunity to remember those who have gone missing as well as raising awareness of the significant contribution made by DNA testing to the conclusion of a considerable number of missing persons cases over recent years. I look forward to participating in this year's virtual event, along with a representative of the Coroners Society of Ireland, relatives of missing people, and other key stakeholders.

An Garda Síochána

Ceisteanna (145)

David Stanton

Ceist:

145. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Justice the current strength of An Garda Síochána and the Garda Reserve; her Department’s plans to further increase the strength of An Garda Síochána; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57949/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy will be aware, the Garda Commissioner is responsible, under the Garda Síochána Act 2005 (as amended), for the management of An Garda Síochána as well as the allocation and distribution of resources. This includes responsibility for the recruitment, training and deployment of Garda members and members of the Garda Reserve. As Minister, I have no responsibility in these matters.

I am assured however that Garda management keeps the distribution of resources under continual review, in the context of emerging crime trends, policing priorities and identified operational needs, to ensure their optimum use.

The overall strength of An Garda Síochána as of 31 October 2021, the latest date for when figures are available, is 14,298 and the current strength of the Garda reserve is at 439 across the country. In addition, there are currently over 3,000 Garda Staff.

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.

To this end, 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. It is intended to launch details of a new Garda Recruitment campaign early in 2022.

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

The Garda Commissioner recently published the Garda Reserve Strategy which has a focus on how to make best use of the Reserve and a commitment regarding future recruitment of the Reserve. While Reserve recruitment has not reached the targets initially set, Garda management and Government are committed to continuing to support the growth and contribution of the Reserve over the coming years to 2,000.

Domestic Violence

Ceisteanna (146)

John Lahart

Ceist:

146. Deputy John Lahart asked the Minister for Justice the action being taken to deal with the increase in domestic violence during the pandemic. [57819/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I can assure the Deputy that tackling domestic abuse and providing supports for victims is a priority for me as Minister for Justice, and for this Government.

There is no doubt that in the context of the pandemic there is an increased risk of domestic abuse, evidenced in the figures reported by frontline services. Additional resources, support, enforcement and services to combat this have been provided and this continues to be the case.

An Garda Síochána treats all instances of domestic and sexual violence as a priority. ‘Operation Faoiseamh’, launched at the start of the pandemic, is an ongoing proactive initiative. It is designed to ensure victims of domestic abuse are supported and protected and ensures domestic abuse incidents receive the highest priority response from Gardaí.

My Department initiated the ‘Still Here’ public awareness campaign in partnership with frontline services, to reassure victims that access to support services continues to be available during this time. We also provided additional funding for support organisations to help them overcome the challenges presented by the pandemic in delivering their services.

Under Budget 2022, a total of €13m has been allocated to my Department to combat domestic sexual and gender based violence and to support victims of crime. This represents an increase of €5.35m. This includes the retention of emergency COVID-19 funding to address the impact of the pandemic on domestic violence services and additional funding in direct supports to NGOs and specific domestic violence intervention programmes.

While it is Tusla, under the remit of the Minister for Children, Equality, Integration, Youth and Disability, which has responsibility for funding frontline services for victims of domestic abuse, I understand that Minister O'Gorman has secured an increase of €41m for Tusla under Budget 2022. This includes the budget which will be allocated to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services.

I think it is important to emphasise that this Government is not only working collectively to address the immediate challenges posed by the pandemic, but is also working together to improve how we deliver supports and services to domestic abuse victims going forward.

The Deputy will be aware that my Department is leading the development across government of the third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. This plan will outline how the Government will radically improve services and supports for victims. My Department is also currently implementing Supporting a Victim’s Journey, which is our plan to help victims and vulnerable witnesses in sexual violence cases. It will reform the criminal justice system at every point a victim comes into contact with it.

This work is in addition to the audit of how domestic, sexual and gender-based violence policy and services are organised which was published in July. The recommendations of this audit, as well as the Tusla review of accommodation needs and the outcome of the mapping exercise undertaken as part of implementing Supporting a Victim's Journey, will play an important role in the development of the new national strategy. I expect to receive a complete draft of the new strategy by the end of this year and I will then engage in a focused public consultation process early in the New Year, before bringing the finalised strategy to Government in Quarter 1 of next year.

I can assure the Deputy that I continue to prioritise all aspects of our work to combat domestic abuse and to address the needs of victims, both through short term measures and working with my colleagues to evaluate and improve how we do this in the longer-term.

An Garda Síochána

Ceisteanna (147)

Seán Haughey

Ceist:

147. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Minister for Justice the number of gardaí in the DMR north as of 1 November 2021 or the latest date available; the number in the 12 months previously; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57946/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy will appreciate, the Garda Commissioner is responsible, under the Garda Síochána Act 2005 (as amended), for the management and administration of Garda business, including the recruitment and training of Garda members and staff. The Commissioner is also responsible, under the Act, for the deployment of Gardaí throughout the State. As Minister, I play no role in these independent functions.

I am advised that Garda management keeps the distribution of resources under continual review to ensure their optimum use in light of emerging crime trends and identified operational needs.

As of the 31 October 2021, the latest date that figures are available for, I am advised that the Dublin Metropolitan Region (DMR) North has a strength of 781 members of all ranks. This is a reduction of 7, or 0.8%, compared to 31 October 2020, when the division had a strength of 788 members. Notwithstanding this small decrease over the last twelve months, the current strength remains an increase of 113 members, or 16.9%, since the end of 2015, when there were 668 members of all ranks assigned to the Division.

As the Deputy will appreciate, public health restrictions have also had an unavoidable impact on the Garda College over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, I am pleased to note that recruitment has resumed and that 385 trainees are engaged in their training following intakes in May, July, September and earlier this month.

Furthermore, budget 2022 has provided an unprecedented allocation of in excess of €2 billion to An Garda Síochána, which includes funding for the recruitment of up to an additional 800 Gardaí and a further 400 Garda staff, subject to the public health situation. This significant investment demonstrates the Government's commitment to increasing the Garda workforce to enable the organisation to keep our communities safe.

For the Deputy's information, detailed statistics on Garda workforce numbers are published on my Department's website and updated on a monthly basis.

Departmental Strategies

Ceisteanna (148)

Cormac Devlin

Ceist:

148. Deputy Cormac Devlin asked the Minister for Justice the progress made to date on the implementation of the Justice Plan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [58053/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

Justice Plan 2021 outlines a wide range of actions under the Department's five strategic goals, which are to:

1. Tackle crime, enhance national security and transform policing

2. Improve access to justice and modernise the courts system

3. Strengthen community safety, reduce reoffending, support victims and combat domestic, sexual and gender based violence

4. Deliver a fair immigration system for a digital age

5. Accelerate innovation, digital transformation and climate action across the justice sector

The full Justice Plan 2021 is available at the following link:

www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Department_of_Justice_Action_Plan_2021.pdf/Files/Department_of_Justice_Action_Plan_2021.pdf

Under Justice Plan 2021, I am progressing a suite of policy and legislative reforms which are priorities for me as Minister, in line with the various commitments set out in the Programme for Government.

To date, my Department has made substantial progress on delivering reforms recommended by the Commission on the Future of Policing, including publication of the landmark General Scheme of the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill, which provides for wide-ranging and coherent reform of policing by improving the performance and accountability of our policing and security services, and supporting the human rights of all people throughout Ireland to be and feel safe in their communities.

Further key actions delivered to tackle crime include the publication earlier this year of the General Scheme of the Hate Crime Bill; the publication of the Hamilton Review and subsequent implementation plan on tackling white collar crime; delivering on Ireland’s successful connection to Schengen Information System (SIS II) which has already led to an increased number of arrests; and enactment of the Criminal Procedure Act 2021 will improve efficiencies in the criminal trial process, by introducing preliminary trial hearings for the first time.

In terms of improving access to justice, the Peter Kelly Report, Reform of Civil Justice in the State has been published and an implementation group has been established. I intend to bring an implementation plan for those recommendations to Government in the coming weeks. We have also published draft legislation which will put in place a remedy for delays in court proceedings, responding to the McFarlane v Ireland judgement of the ECHR.

We have also progressed work to reform the family justice system. Last September, Government approved the General Scheme of the Family Court Bill which will restructure the family justice system to enable jurisdictions in appropriate Courts. Work is ongoing on drafting of the Bill while we await pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, with a view to its publication by the end of February 2022. In parallel, the Family Justice Oversight Group are working to develop a new family justice system.

We have also published the General Scheme of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill which will replace the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board with a new Commission, and established a Judicial Planning Working Group to work on judicial numbers over the medium term.

On the issue of gambling reform, we recently published the General Scheme of the Gambling Regulation Bill, bringing us closer to the establishment of a Gambling Regulator. The Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Act 2019 also came into effect in December 2020.

We have introduced strong measures to tackle the cost of insurance, including bringing into operation new personal injuries guidelines and enacting the Perjury Bill to establish a statutory criminal offence for perjury.

Strengthening the safety of all communities is a cross-Government priority and we have established three pilots of Local Community Safety Partnerships (in Dublin’s North Inner City, Longford and Waterford) which will inform the roll-out of the new Community Safety model nationwide. We have also published an implementation plan and established an implementation board to deliver on the recommendations of the Drogheda Scoping Report, which outlines 70 actions to improve community safety and wellbeing in Drogheda through greater co-operation by State agencies and others.

As the Deputy will know, we are making strides in providing greater supports to victims of crime, and combating domestic, sexual and gender based violence and have published and begun to implement Supporting a Victim’s Journey, our plan to implement the recommendations of the O’Malley Review.

We have published plans for a revised National Referral Mechanism for victims of human trafficking, recognising the role of other state bodies and NGOs in addition to An Garda Síochána in identifying and referring victims, and we are drafting legislation to put this on a statutory footing. We have also put in place additional practical supports for victims including a cultural mediator project and additional grant supports for victims, and published the Smuggling of Persons Bill.

We have enacted Coco’s Law, the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Act. We have recently published draft legislation to strengthen the post-release monitoring and management of sex offenders. We have also secured Government approval to reform the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme and are now working on legislation to place a new scheme on a statutory footing. In addition, we have established the new statutory parole board and commenced the parole act, which increases the time those serving life sentences must serve from 7 years to 12 years before they are eligible to be considered for parole.

To support young people and divert them away from crime, a new Youth Justice Strategy 2021-2027 was launched and is being implemented; we have established an Anti-Social Behaviour Forum to bring forward proposals to tackle the issue of anti-social behaviour (including subgroups examining the misuse of scramblers and quadbikes, and knife crime) and have published the General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Exploitation of Children in the Commission of Offences) Bill.

In terms of developments in the immigration area, an end-to-end review of relevant international protection processes by a multi-disciplinary team from my Department has now been completed and published. We have announced draft proposals for a scheme to regularise thousands of undocumented migrants in Ireland and introduced a temporary system to enable citizenship applicants to complete their naturalisation process by signing a statutory declaration of loyalty.

Of course it is important to note that all the above mentioned milestones and achievements are just a snapshot of the substantial programme of work being delivered on by my Department. We continue to work with our agencies and partners across the sector to receive feedback and ensure that the targets set out in the Plan are met. Justice Plan 2021 is the first in a series of annual action plans to actualise my priorities as Minister and deliver on the Department’s strategic goals.

In August, my Department published a mid-year report outlining the progress on Justice Plan 2021 which is available at:

www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Justice-Plan-2021-Mid-Year-Progress-Report.pdf/Files/Justice-Plan-2021-Mid-Year-Progress-Report.pdf

I look forward to publishing an end of year progress report on Justice Plan 2021 in early 2022.

Immigration Policy

Ceisteanna (149)

Mick Barry

Ceist:

149. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Justice if she will report on progress on a scheme to regularise undocumented persons; if she will consider time while documented as reckonable time to be eligible for the scheme; if the scheme will be subject to ministerial discretion for regularisation of individual applications or be given as a right if criteria are met; if time while undocumented counts towards reckonable time for citizenship applications; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57951/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

The Government committed to introducing new pathways to status regularisation within 18 months of its formation. My Justice Plan 2021 contains a commitment to create new pathways for long-term undocumented people and their dependents who must meet specified criteria to regularise their status.

The scheme will provide an opportunity for those who meet its criteria to remain and reside in the State and to become part of mainstream Irish society rather than living on its margins. Successful applicants will receive an immigration permission, access to the labour market and will be able to begin the process of becoming Irish citizens, should they wish to do so. The objective is to ensure that the scheme is as inclusive as possible and my Department has conducted a targeted consultation on the proposed scheme which has provided a valuable opportunity to hear from those affected by the proposed approach to the scheme.

Following the consultation process, my Department continues to work to finalise the details, including eligibility considerations and qualifying criteria, and also to design and manage the practical aspects to enable applications to be made and processed as efficiently as possible.

We are now working to finalise the details for the scheme, including eligibility considerations and qualifying criteria, with a view to bringing a proposal to Government and to publish the details of the scheme before the end of this year.

Domestic Violence

Ceisteanna (150)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

150. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Justice the status of the third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence; when the strategy will be published; if the strategy will include a fully costed implementation plan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57989/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy may be aware, my Department is leading the development across Government of the third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, which will place a priority on prevention and reduction and will include a national preventative strategy.

My Department has engaged in an innovative partnership with the sector in leading the development and design of the third national strategy. This inclusive process is key to ensuring a comprehensive, impactful strategy.

I expect to receive a complete draft of the new strategy by the end of this year and I will then engage in a focused public consultation process early in the New Year, before bringing the finalised strategy to Government in Quarter 1 of next year.

The strategy will be accompanied by a detailed annual action plan, I intend to publish the 2022 action plan at the same time as the strategy is published.

Legislative Measures

Ceisteanna (151)

Pearse Doherty

Ceist:

151. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Justice if proposals have been made to Government to change the Occupiers Liability Act 1995 and Civil Liability Act 2002 in order to reform the duty of care and increase protections for consumers, business, sporting clubs and community groups; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57916/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

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, and in the Justice Plan 2021.

In accordance with the Action Plan on Insurance Reform, my Department has completed a review of the Occupiers’ Liability Act, including the duty of care and notices and waivers.

Under that review, we have considered relevant current legislation in Ireland and other common law jurisdictions, as well as notable Irish case law. Subsequently, my Department has identified a number of options in relation to occupiers’ liability which the review has recommended pursuing.

One option is to reform the law in line with recent superior court rulings, which sought to bring “ordinary common sense” to bear on personal injuries cases and usually led to a dismissal or reduction in the award granted.

Another is to adopt a 1994 Law Reform Commission recommendation introducing voluntary assumption of risk, where if a person willingly places themselves in a position they know might result in harm, they cannot bring a claim against the other party.

My Department is currently engaging with the Office of the Attorney General on progressing both of these recommendations. It is my intention that final proposals on this matter will be brought to Government for its approval as part of a General Scheme of a Bill in due course.

An Garda Síochána

Ceisteanna (152)

Jim O'Callaghan

Ceist:

152. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice when she last met the Garda Commissioner. [57685/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I wish to inform the Deputy that I last met with the Garda Commissioner on Tuesday, 16 November 2021.

An Garda Síochána

Ceisteanna (153)

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

153. Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Justice the additional number of gardaí who have been allocated to special units the past three years; the activities which have been enhanced through these units; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57741/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy will be aware, the general administration including the allocation of personnel within An Garda Síochána is a matter for the Garda Commissioner under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, and the decision to allocate resources to Garda Specialist units is assessed and carried out in line with operational demand.

The table at the link below includes the number of Garda members assigned to national units supporting the work of Garda Divisions across the country.

[<ahref="https://data.oireachtas.ie/ie/oireachtas/debates/questions/supportingDocumentation/2021-11-25_pq153-25-11-21_en.docx">Garda Special Units</a>]

The table above does not include the numbers of Gardaí assigned to Specialist Tactics and Operations Command, which cannot be released for operational reasons.

Drug Dealing

Ceisteanna (154)

Ruairí Ó Murchú

Ceist:

154. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for Justice the status of the work of her Department in tackling drug-related intimidation and reporting; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [58050/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

Tackling serious drug crime is a priority for the Government and An Garda Síochána.

The Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau (GNDOCB) is having significant success in proactively disrupting the illicit supply of drugs by organised crime groups. The Bureau's work is further supported by Divisional Drugs Units, which tackle drug-related crime on a local basis throughout the country, in collaboration with CAB and other law enforcement partners and all Gardaí working in local communities.

The Deputy may be aware that the National Drugs and Alcohol Strategy, "Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery - a health led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017-2025 ", is unique among national drugs strategies across EU Member States in recognising the need to address drug-related debt intimidation at a community level.

The Programme for Government, Our Shared Future, includes a commitment to support the Drug-Related Intimidation Reporting Programme. The programme, which was developed by An Garda Síochána in partnership with the National Family Support Network (NFSN), responds to the needs of people who use drugs and family members who may be subject to the threat of drug related intimidation and has been implemented on a national level since 2013.

An Garda Síochána regard drug-related intimidation as a hugely serious issue which impacts significantly on communities throughout Ireland. An Garda Síochána advise people to seek help and support from their local Gardaí, even where a person has felt compelled to pay money to those who engage in drug related intimidation.

In dealing with any complaint of drug related intimidation, or advice sought in relation to this issue, An Garda Síochána have the utmost regard to the safety and most effective means to afford the person or family subject to the threat the best level of security, advice and support. Confidentiality and security of the persons concerned are paramount for An Garda Síochána when dealing with reports under the programme.

An Garda Síochána deals with drug-related intimidation in a confidential and secure manner. Insofar as possible, An Garda Síochána offers confidentiality and provides practical personal security and safety information and advice in relation to particular threats or instances of intimidation, along with information on appropriate drug support services for the individual in the family who is accruing drug debts, while also providing information regarding the process involved in making a formal complaint.

The Deputy will also be aware of the new Youth Justice Strategy 2021-2027. This strategy includes a commitment to develop the work of the Youth Diversion Projects (YDPs) to include targeted work with ‘harder-to-reach’ young people. This includes young people heavily involved in crime and anti-social behaviour, for whom there are little supports and interventions available in practice, unless they are before the courts, in which case they may be under the supervision of the Probation Service. The strategy also prioritises early intervention work, including with younger children who are assessed as being at serious risk. Both of these cohorts may include children at risk of recruitment by crime gangs.

The development of this work within the YDP network will be supported by the Research Evidence into Policy, Programmes and Practice (REPPP) project at the School of Law in the University of Limerick (UL). The REPPP project has also led on the production of the “Greentown Report”, which studied the influence of criminal networks on children in Ireland, and was published in December 2016. The REPPP project is a strategic research partnership between UL and the Department of Justice.

The Greentown Report identifies crime networks as a separate and plausible risk factor underlying criminal offending by certain children. It outlines how the influence of criminal networks increases the level of offending by a small number of children and entraps them in offending situations.

The Greentown Report recommended the design of a programme to include interventions with children and their families to help them withstand the influence of criminal networks. The REPPP project team implemented a bespoke process to produce a model for an Irish evidence-informed intervention programme. This pilot has been designed with the input of leading international expertise on crime and criminal networks, together with Irish scientific, policy and practice expertise in child protection and welfare, drugs and community development. The programme is managed jointly between my Department, An Garda Síochána and the University of Limerick.

The pilot applications of the Greentown programme, developed by the REPPP project, commenced in two locations in 2020 and will run for three years. The learning from these pilots will then be incorporated into mainstream YDP practice. This specially designed intervention programme was developed with international expert advice to tackle coercive control of children by criminal groups which entraps them in offending situations. Funds are already available for the initial pilots from the Dormant Accounts Funds, with a total of €4.2m allocated over three years.

The implementation of the Greentown pilot programme is part of the strategic objectives of the Youth Justice Strategy 2021-2027. This implementation process began with the establishment of the Governance and Strategy Group, and the Youth Justice Oversight Group. Both groups are chaired by my Department, which will provide oversight arrangements for youth justice initiatives, including the Greentown pilots, to ensure that there is a cohesive response in practice to the needs of particular cohorts of children and particular communities.

Domestic Violence

Ceisteanna (155, 164, 171)

Emer Higgins

Ceist:

155. Deputy Emer Higgins asked the Minister for Justice her views on the introduction of new criminal legislation to tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. [57738/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

John Paul Phelan

Ceist:

164. Deputy John Paul Phelan asked the Minister for Justice her views on the introduction of new criminal legislation to tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. [57821/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Colm Burke

Ceist:

171. Deputy Colm Burke asked the Minister for Justice her views on the introduction of new criminal legislation to tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57790/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 155, 164 and 171 together.

As the Deputies will be aware, the Government has considerably strengthened the law and structures which target domestic violence, as part of the second National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence 2016-2021.

Central to this is the landmark Domestic Violence Act 2018 which came into force on 1 January 2019 and which, among other things, introduced the offence of coercive control. Putting the offence of coercive control on a statutory footing was an important step in recognising the effect of non-violent control in an intimate relationship.

The introduction of these measures also supported Ireland’s ratification of the Istanbul Convention, the Council of Europe Convention on the prevention and combating of violence against women and domestic violence.

As the Deputies will be aware, domestic violence covers a broad spectrum of behaviours ranging from non-physical behaviour such as harassment, to physical behaviour such as assault and sexual violence such as rape. Violence in a domestic setting is a criminal offence and such behaviour is provided for in the Non-Fatal Offences against the Persons Act 1997. Sexual violence is also a criminal offence, as is intimidating behaviour such as threats to kill or cause serious harm.

Another important provision contained in the Domestic Violence Act 2018 allows an intimate relationship between a victim and perpetrator to be regarded as an aggravating factor in sentencing for a wide range of offences, including those under the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act.

Our laws in supporting victims of domestic and sexual crimes have also been significantly strengthened by the enactment of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 which introduced a statutory definition of consent. In addition, The Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017, provides for a wide range of measures and services to protect and inform victims during the progress of their case through the criminal justice system.

In February of this year, the Oireachtas enacted Coco’s Law, or the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Act. This legislation creates two new offences which criminalise the sharing or threat to share intimate images without consent. Threatening to share intimate images is often employed as a form of coercive control in relationships and this legislation ensures we now have appropriate punitive measures in place to challenge such behaviour.

I can also inform the Deputies that a scoping exercise for a new Sexual Offences Bill has been completed and work has started on drafting the Heads of a General Scheme of a Sexual Offences Bill. This is on foot of recommendations contained in the O'Malley Review to examine what reforms might be introduced to protect victims of sexual violence during the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences.

Earlier this month I announced planned new legislation to strengthen the management and monitoring of sex offenders in the community. The Sex Offenders (Amendment) Bill 2021 includes a number of amendments to the sex offenders register notification requirements, including a prohibition on convicted sex offenders engaging in certain forms of employment.

I can assure the Deputies that my Department keeps all legislation under review on an ongoing basis.

Lastly, An Garda Síochána is continuously improving its specialist services in this area, to respond effectively to the needs of victims. Divisional Protective Services Units with specifically and specially trained officers responsible for investigations, including engagement with victims, have been rolled out nationwide. They support the delivery of a consistent and professional approach to the investigation of sexual and domestic crime.

Court Accommodation

Ceisteanna (156)

John Brady

Ceist:

156. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Justice the status of plans to build a new county town-type courthouse in Bray, County Wicklow; the progress made to transfer the vacant former courthouse on Boghall Road, Bray; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57736/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

Under the provisions of the Courts Service Act 1998, management of the courts, including the provision of accommodation for court sittings, is the responsibility of the Courts Service which is independent in the performance of its functions.

However, in order to be of assistance to the Deputy, I have had enquiries made and the Courts Service has provided me with the following update.

The Government's revised National Development Plan 2021 -2030 includes a number of Courts Service capital building projects to be completed during the period of the plan including the Hammond Lane Family Law complex and the provision of further new or refurbished courthouses in cities and county towns where facilities remain sub-standard, including in Bray.

I am informed by the Courts Service that the priority project for the period up to 2025 is the proposed new Family Law complex in Hammond Lane. The timing and delivery of the remaining projects, including Bray, will be dependent on the availability of funding over the remainder of the NDP.

With regard to the former courthouse on Boghall Road in Bray, the Deputy will be aware that this building has been vacant since 2006, when court sittings and services were relocated to alternative accommodation in the town centre. While the NDP provides for the construction of new courthouses at various locations including Bray, the Boghall Road site is considered unsuitable in terms of both size and location. The Courts Service has informed me that, following receipt of a request from Wicklow County Council earlier this month, a decision has been made to transfer the building back to the Council for community use.

An Garda Síochána

Ceisteanna (157)

Paul McAuliffe

Ceist:

157. Deputy Paul McAuliffe asked the Minister for Justice the number of community gardaí in the Blanchardstown Garda district as of 1 November 2021 or the latest date available; the number in the 12 months previously; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57944/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy will be aware, the Garda Commissioner is responsible, under Section 33 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 (as amended), for the deployment of An Garda Síochána throughout the State. The Commissioner is also responsible, under Section 26 of the Act, for the management and administration of Garda business, including the recruitment and training of Garda members and staff. As Minister, I play no direct role in these independent functions.

I am assured, however, that Garda management keeps this distribution of resources under continual review in the context of policing priorities and crime trends, to ensure their optimum use. I further understand that it is a matter for the Divisional Chief Superintendent to determine the optimum distribution of duties among the personnel available to him or her, having regard to the profile of each area within the Division and its specific needs.

To date, the official categorisation as a Community Garda has simply referred to those exclusively assigned to building relationships with local communities and civil society including giving talks to schools, community groups and others. However, it is important to note that community policing is at the heart of An Garda Síochána and all Gardaí have a role to play in community policing in carrying out their duties. Indeed, this is fundamental to the new Garda Operating Model recommended by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland and currently being rolled out under 'A Policing Service for Our Future', the Government's implementation plan for the Commission's recommendations.

I have been informed that as of 31 October 2021, there are 30 Community Gardaí in the Blanchardstown Garda District. At the same period last year, there were 39 Community Gardaí in the District.

I am further informed that the Blanchardstown District has an overall strength of 339 members of all ranks as of 31 October 2021. This is an increase of 9.3% since the end of 2016, when there were 310 members assigned to the District.

Naturalisation Applications

Ceisteanna (158, 167)

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill

Ceist:

158. Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked the Minister for Justice the current wait time for a standard citizenship application; the steps that are being taken to reduce the wait time throughout 2022 to meet the target of a nine-month wait; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57024/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

167. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Justice the measures that are being taken to clear and progress the current ongoing backlog of naturalisation applications; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57992/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 158 and 167 together.

I am deeply conscious of how important the granting of naturalisation is to those who apply for it and my Department continued to accept and process citizenship applications throughout the pandemic and during all levels of public health restrictions.

Regrettably, the current processing time has increased to an average of 23 months, due to the combined impact of the 2019 High Court judgment in the Jones case and the necessary health and safety related restrictions imposed as a result of the Covid-19 disruption.

However, my Department is taking a number of steps to speed up the processing of applications and a number of digitisation measures have also been introduced to increase efficiency in the process, including eTax clearance, eVetting and online payments. The end result of the digitisation process will be to free up more staff to focus on processing applications in a timely and efficient manner, to improve service to our customers and reduce waiting times to between 6-9 months for a majority of applications during 2022.

Last week, I also announced that from 1 January 2022, new applicants for citizenship will no longer have to submit their original passport with their application. Instead, they can provide a full colour copy of their entire passport, including the front and back covers.

I know that this change in practice will be very much welcomed by our customers. They may need their passport to travel to see family or friends abroad, something many of us have not have been able to do for a long time due to Covid-19. It will also free up valuable staff that up to now have been engaged in returning passports to applicants.

Unfortunately, for public health reasons, the in-person citizenship ceremony scheduled for 13 December in Killarney has been postponed. While this is disappointing for all of us, I know that the Deputy will agree that the safety and wellbeing of everyone is paramount. Instead, arrangements are underway in my Department to hold a virtual citizenship celebratory event next month.

Victim Support Services

Ceisteanna (159)

Colm Burke

Ceist:

159. Deputy Colm Burke asked the Minister for Justice the steps she will take to support the victims of crime going forward; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57791/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

Protecting and supporting victims of crime is a key priority for me as Minister.

My Department is leading a number of important initiatives to ensure we better support victims of crime. When victims of crime begin to engage with the justice 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.

- My Department will soon be inviting partners to a 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 Deputy agrees that we need a criminal justice system that is victim-centred and this 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.

Court Accommodation

Ceisteanna (160)

Seán Canney

Ceist:

160. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Minister for Justice the progress that has been made on the refurbishment of the existing courthouse in Tuam, County Galway for court services; when the project will be carried out; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57813/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy will be aware, under the provisions of the Courts Service Act 1998, management of the courts, including the provision of accommodation for court sittings, is the responsibility of the Courts Service which is independent in the performance of its functions.

However, in order to be of assistance to the Deputy, I have had enquiries made and the Courts Service has provided me with the following update.

The courthouse building in Tuam, which is a protected structure, has been vacant for some time and is in very poor condition. As a result, court sittings in Tuam are taking place in a leased facility at Weir Road, Tuam. This facility was fitted out in 2017. I am also advised that there are no current plans to refurbish the existing courthouse.

An Garda Síochána

Ceisteanna (161)

Christopher O'Sullivan

Ceist:

161. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Justice the number of community gardaí in the Clonakilty, Bandon and Bantry Garda districts; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57974/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

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 advised however, that Garda management keeps the distribution of resources under continual review to ensure their optimum use in light of identified operational needs and emerging trends.

To date, the official categorisation as a Community Garda has simply referred to those exclusively assigned to building relationships with local communities and civil society including giving talks to schools, community groups and others. However, it is important to note that community policing is at the heart of An Garda Síochána and all Gardaí have a role to play in community policing in carrying out their duties. This has perhaps never been more clear than in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic over the last two years.

Indeed, community policing is also fundamental to the new Garda Operating Model recommended by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland and currently being rolled out under 'A Policing Service for Our Future', the Government's implementation plan for the Commission's recommendations.

As of 31 October 2021, there is one Community Garda in each of the Clonakilty, Bandon and Bantry Garda Stations. These figures are consistent with this time last year. The Deputy may wish to further note that the total number of Gardaí across the three districts is 226 as at 31 October 2021, which represents an 8% increase since 2016.

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