Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 30 November 2016
Select Committee on Justice and Equality
Estimates for Public Services 2016
Vote 20 - An Garda Síochána (Supplementary)
Vote 22 - Courts Service (Supplementary)
We will proceed with the address of the Supplementary Estimates for Votes 20 and 22, An Garda Síochána and the Courts Service, respectively. They were referred by the Dáil to the committee on 22 November with the instruction to report back to the Dáil by 8 December. The role of the committee under Standing Orders is to consider the Supplementary Estimates and then to report that we have done so by way of a message to the Dáil.
I thank the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, and her officials for attending and assisting our consideration of the Supplementary Estimates. I would also like to thank the Minister and her Department for the briefing material that has been circulated to the members of the committee. I remind members that in accordance with Standing Order 184, discussion should be confined to the items constituting the Supplementary Estimates. I must insist on this. In order to commence our address of these matters, I invite the Minister to make her opening contribution.
I thank the Chairman and the committee for making time available today to consider the Supplementary Estimates for An Garda Síochána and the Courts Service Votes. The Supplementary Estimate requirement in respect of the Garda Vote is €10 million and an additional €2 million is required for the Courts Vote in 2016. The additional requirements will be offset by surrender balances at year end in respect of the other votes in the justice group: prisons, the Property Registration Authority, justice and equality, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, the Valuation Office and the Policing Authority.
The additional funding for the Garda Vote in the current year is the final part of the funding package announced by Government earlier this year. It is largely due to the sustained response to tackle gangland crime, fund the continuation of Operation Thor, with which the committee will be very familiar, and to ensure that measures to prevent international terrorism are continued throughout the year. This funding is in addition to the €40 million already provided in the Revised Estimates for 2016. That was provided in October.
The Government has consistently made clear that we would fund whatever measures were needed for An Garda Siochána to best tackle the challenges it currently faces. We have backed up these assurances with the approval of substantial additional funding to support large-scale policing operations, which members of the committee and the Chairman will have seen in Dublin and around the country.
The additional funding will ensure that gardaí may continue to confront and dismantle criminal networks. The funding will be utilised across a number of subheads, including: overtime expenditure, which is expected to be over €90 million in the current year; travel and subsistence; and the purchase of additional operational equipment for specialist units, etc.
There is no question but that this investment is yielding results. For example, Deputies would be interested to know Operation Hybrid has been established to co-ordinate the response to violent crime in Dublin and to address concerns about public and community safety. As of October, 38 arrests have been made and five charges have been brought in connection with recent shootings. In addition, 23 firearms have been seized and over 9,000 lines of inquiry conducted. In excess of 14,350 high-visibility checkpoints have been implemented with significant support from the armed support units and a major amount of CCTV footage, mobile phone traffic and forensic evidence is also being examined. The committee can see how the funding I outlined is being put to very good use in terms of Garda operations.
The goal of this budget allocation is focused on the key objectives of strengthening the law to get tougher on serious and repeat offenders and investing in the capacity of the Garda to enforce the law effectively. I will not go into too much detail. Operation Thor is a multi-strand national anti-crime and anti-burglary operation. It is a significant stepping up of the response to burglaries and we know patterns of crime change. There was a pattern around the country regarding burglaries. This operation has provided a very swift return on the Government's investment made in Garda resources and that is reflected in the figures recorded by the Central Statistics Office, which indicate a reduction of 26.3% in the level of burglary crimes. In the first six months of this year, there were 36% fewer burglaries than in the first six months of 2015, underlining the impact of Operation Thor since it was established at the end of last year. Everybody would welcome that success.
There has been concentrated activity throughout the country as a result of Operation Thor. I have already spoken about Operation Hybrid and Operation Thor has brought about more than 30,000 crime prevention patrols, with 38,500 targeted checkpoints nationwide. There have also been approximately 2,500 arrests and 2,900 charges, covering a range of offences which, in addition to burglary, have included handling stolen property, possession of firearms and drugs offences.
A number of technical adjustments are also included in the Supplementary Estimate, including the reallocation of a capital expenditure underspend of approximately €20 million in the building programme to other areas. One often gets that underspend with very large capital projects as it can be quite difficult to predict precisely the pace at which they develop and the spending of money. We have reallocated that to capital expenditure in important areas like information and communications technology, ICT. There is a major ongoing ICT programme and we have reallocated some of the money there, as well as to transport, including for the purchase of 191 extra cars for An Garda Síochána to be delivered by the end of the year. There is also €9 million in respect of unspent buildings capital that will be carried over to 2017 to meet costs relating to the completion of the divisional headquarters at Kevin Street in Dublin, Wexford and Galway, all of which are under way. This will ensure the effective use of the capital allocation on a multi-year basis.
Even allowing for the capital carryover adjustments, it is projected that over €90 million will be spent on Garda capital in 2016. Under the transport heading, in 2016 alone, 520 new vehicles have come on stream to ensure that gardaí are mobile, visible and responsive on the roads and in the community to prevent and tackle crime. As I stated, before the end of the year another 191 vehicles will be bought at a cost of €4 million. This area has been neglected because there was no capital investment and stock had run down very considerably, as all Deputies realise. That is now being replenished. There will still be €4 million under the capital plan for new vehicles next year. A constant programme of replacement is needed for those vehicles.
It is expected that €53 million will be expended in Garda ICT capital in 2016. There will be significant expenditure on new systems. There will be new rosters and a duty management system to facilitate better management of resources, with a cost of €1.5 million. There will be investigations management systems to ensure enhanced management of crime investigations. This will ensure that PULSE does not just record incidents but that it also follows through on investigations. The cost attaching is €5.7 million. There will be technology to combat money laundering and terrorist financing, at €1.6 million, and Microsoft upgrades, at €5.2 million. I am very pleased we have been able to start the work on the Schengen information system II this year as we are one of the few countries in Europe that does not have interoperability with other countries on that system. This allows the Garda to work with international colleagues to develop the Irish Schengen information system II.
Aside from capital, there are a number of other overruns and savings in various subheads, including surplus receipts mainly relating to pension-related deductions, which are being rebalanced as part of the Supplementary Estimate process. I am particularly pleased that an additional amount of almost €3 million is being provided in subhead A2, maintenance of Garda premises, which provides funding for improvement and maintenance works to the Garda estate to support the effective discharge of the force's functions. This where gardaí can do this work in local Garda stations and although they are essential, they are smaller items of work. That is in contrast to larger-scale refurbishment with which, for example, the Office of Public Works and the Garda would be involved. As well as the relatively routine maintenance expenditure, significant improvements have been carried out at a wide number of locations throughout the country. These smaller non-capital projects are addressing security and health and safety matters in particular. In addition, a large number of Garda stations have received minor but necessary upgrade works to provide enhanced facilities for both members of An Garda Síochána and the public. There is a large-scale refurbishment programme that must go on, given the state of many of the Garda stations around the country. We must continue to invest in that area.
The Government recently agreed a five-year reform and high-level work force plan for An Garda Síochána. This is ambitious and has not previously been attempted by An Garda Síochána. It is a new departure that marries reform with resources. The resources in terms of personnel are backed up by the substantial capital investment already earmarked, as I outlined, for critical ICT systems, the transport fleet and Garda stations under the capital plan for 2016 to 2021. It is in the programme for Government and the supply-and-confidence agreement that we will increase the overall size of the Garda organisation to 21,000 by 2021. This will be made up of 15,000 gardaí but also a doubling of the number of civilians and the Garda Reserve. The recruitment for the Garda Reserve will start mid-year. This high-visibility policing will fulfil a key commitment in the programme for Government and is a direct response to what the public have told us they want to see happening. The funding secured for 2017 ensures we can make a strong start in realising this vision for the overall work force; 800 Garda trainees, up to 500 additional civilians and 300 new members of the reserve are to be recruited next year. These are ambitious targets but we will certainly focus on delivering them so we can reach the overall target in five years.
The net additional Supplementary Estimate requirement of €2 million in the courts Vote is made up of a gross expenditure of €3.5 million offset by a surplus in receipts of €1.5 million. The additional requirement is mainly accounted for by ICT capital expenditure to meet video link investment costs of €1 million and other essential ICT infrastructure, including network upgrades and replacement of various parts. Those costs are €1.5 million as well. The additional requirement also includes certain costs associated with works required for the second Special Criminal Court, reflect in the annual public private partnership payment in respect of the Criminal Courts of Justice. The additional receipts, which offset, in part, the cost of the Supplementary Estimates, mainly comprise income collected in the court examiner's office due to residual liquidation cases being dealt with by the office.
The final element of income from this source will materialise during 2017. The introduction of the Companies Act 2014 has ceased the requirement for fees to be paid on company liquidation cases dealt with by the examiner's office. The underspends in the other Votes across the justice sector, which are offsetting the cost of the Supplementary Estimates, mainly arise in payroll savings due to a longer lead-in time than expected for recruitment in some areas. Such savings will reverse in 2017 as recruitment plans are in place. There are other savings in a number of administrative and programme areas, including in the immigration area.
I recommend the Supplementary Estimates for the Garda Síochána and Courts Service Vote to the committee. I am happy to address any questions the members may have on them.
I appreciate that. Deputy Chambers and Deputy Farrell have indicated that they wish to speak and I invite them to make their contributions in that order. I ask any other members to indicate to me if they wish to speak.
I thank the Tánaiste for her presentation. I have a few questions on it. We have had positive results from Operation Thor and there has been a welcome shift in the figures. The Minister outlined that 520 new vehicles will be purchased in 2017. Does she have an indication of the number of vehicles that will be installed with automatic number plate recognition, ANPR, technology? How many vehicles have had that technology installed to date? It is an important technology for crime surveillance and road traffic issues. Many gardaí would mention it to me as being a priority technology. Given that new vehicles are being purchased, it is important that they would have this technology installed. There were previous announcements about an investment in ANPR technology.
Regarding recruitment towards meeting the targeted figure of 15,000 gardaí provided for in the confidence and supply arrangement, it is projected that there will be massive increase in Garda retirements. In the three-year period from 2018 to 2020 there will be a significant number of retirements. Has the Minister planned as part of the Garda recruitment process to offset the number of retirements to ensure there is not a large reduction in Garda numbers? There have been fewer retirements this year, and the same will be the case next year because of the recruitment embargo in the 1980s. Are there budgetary plans and projections for Garda recruitment?
I have a concern about the underspend of the allocation for prisons. It is important that the Minister and the Department focuses on some new programmes around penal reform and on what can be achieved in the prison system. If money from the allocation to prisons is being returned to the State, I would prefer to see it allocated within the system towards new programmes or reforms.
The elephant in the room with respect to these Supplementary Estimates is the funding of the Labour Court agreement if it is approved. There are some welcome improvements in Garda pay and conditions. What is the Minister's plan to fund those? What discussions are taking place at Government level towards funding that agreement, which will probably occur and which many gardaí, particularly younger gardaí, deserve?
Deputy Chambers' first question on the ANPR technology is an operational matter. The ICT funding we allocated would cover that technology if the Garda decided to install it in vehicles. The goal would be to have a fairly comprehensive usage of ANPR technology because it is incredibly helpful in crime detection. I am informed there are some vehicles with that technology installed in every division. Clearly, the operational decision that has been taken is to make sure that throughout the country some vehicles have this technology installed. The goal would be to move to a fairly comprehensive management of ANPR technology with new vehicles. I will see if I can the get a more detailed breakdown on the approach to this and I will forward it to the Deputy. Essentially, it is an operational decision. From a policy point of view, I would fully support it. The funding it would provide would be intended to cover the increasing use of ANPR technology in vehicles.
On the issue of Garda retirements, that has been built in, following discussions with An Garda Síochána, to ensure we reach the target figure of 15,000. It has been agreed that to reach that figure, taking account of retirements which will average approximately 300 per year, we would need to recruit 800 gardaí, but that can be subject to review as we note the level of retirements. The agreement we have come to on the number of gardaí that will go into Templemore is based on an assessment of the retirements not only over a year but over the five-year period. Plans have been made on that basis. The retirements will average 300 per year but it is difficult to predict the number precisely. We have had detailed discussions on the numbers we would need to recruit, taking account of retirements over the entire period, to reach the target figure of 15,000.
I will deal with the Deputy's last question and then return to the prisons issue. I am awaiting the outcome of the ballot and I have full respect for that. What I have said about it, and what I hope will happen, is that every garda in the country who has a vote in that ballot will have all the information on the offer on the table. I understand that is what both Garda associations are ensuring. If there is an agreement and if it is passed, there will be budgetary implications. I welcome the recommendations from the Labour Court which seeks to address the concerns articulated by the representative bodies about Garda pay and conditions, including those of new recruits. There is also access to the new dispute resolution mechanisms. That is part of the agreement. Once the outcome of the ballot is known, and if the proposals are accepted, and I hope they will be, the additional budgetary cost will be the subject of discussions between my Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. In that regard, officials of both Departments can have initial discussions but until we have the outcome of the ballot, we will not be going any further on that. The most important thing at this point is to give the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, AGSI, and the Garda Representative Association, GRA, the time and the space to discuss the issues that are before them.
On the prisons issue, I understand the savings in this area are due to the fact that there has been a slowness in recruitment. I am told that in quarter 2 of 2016 the Public Appointments Service carried out a job analysis of the recruit prison officer role and designed a revised competency framework for use in the selection process. The previous one to that was done in 1998. We made a decision to recruit more officers in 2016 and it coincided with significant changes in the service. It was considered appropriate that the job analysis should be revisited. The principal aims were to identify whether the job had changed and also to consider the evolving nature of the role. The size of the prison population has shrunk since 2008 and an increasing emphasis is being put on the rehabilitation of prisoners. Technology continues to change the balance of prison officers' duties and a higher proportion of their time is spent in contact roles while information technology is increasingly used for monitoring and management of the prison population. This large item of work was done and it has meant that there has been an underspend because that delayed the recruitment, but it is intended that the first classes of the new recruit prison officers will begin their training at the end of quarter 1 in 2017. The Irish Prison Service, IPS, is also recruiting prison administration and support officers who are due to commence service in January 2017. The fact that the funding is in the base is important.
Regarding the time and space that the Minister outlined for the Labour Court recommendation, I assume it will not impinge on what the she has presented here. Certain members of Government have said that the Minister will have to find the allocation within her budget.
As such, there needs to be an assurance to gardaí that the Government will fully implement and fund the recommendation if they agree it. Surely, there have been formal discussions on an additional allocation outside of what the Minister is presenting here.
I remind the Deputy that I am discussing the 2016 budget, not the budget for 2017. The issue Deputy Chambers refers to will arise obviously next year, but I am discussing the Revised Estimate for 2016. Clearly, the Government intends to move ahead with the recommendations, which we have said we accept. As I said, there will be a whole-of-Government discussion but primarily it will be a matter for myself and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
The Minister is very welcome. I thank her for her presentation. I have a couple of questions on a couple of line items and then some comments. Is the Department of Justice and Equality responsible in any way through its budget for Oberstown?
Okay. I will not ask any further questions on that. I expected that but just wanted to check. I am always critical of underspending by Departments and I do not think I should be any less critical of the Department of Justice and Equality. Normally, I reserve it for the Department of Education and Skills, which is overspending this year. My query relates to the capital building programme. The Minister referred to €29 million due to delays in certain projects and, of course, that happens. How imminent is the draw down of that €29 million in those particular projects? Are we talking about months or years? The Minister can be specific if she wishes. I do not mind.
I refer to €8.7 million in respect of aircraft. The Garda operates two EC135s and a Defender. I stand to be corrected, but I understand the two helicopters were acquired in 1997, or at least one of them was. Is there an operational ceiling on that or is there a major programme to keep the aircraft airworthy? I assume the considerable increase in budgetary spend of 52% might, in fact, relate to that. If its operational life is coming to an end, is there a plan in terms of the budget to acquire another EC135 or similar aircraft? Is the Defender aircraft a Garda aircraft or does it belong to the Air Corps? Does it have a duality of use? Will it appear in the Defence Estimates or as part of the maintenance budget?
My question on clothing and maintenance has been covered somewhat by my colleague, Deputy Jack Chambers. There is an additional €1.7 million for uniforms for student gardaí and the armed response unit in Dublin. Can the Minister provide a breakdown of the type of equipment associated with the uniform of the armed response unit? Are we talking about body armour? Is that included in the term "uniform" or are we literally talking about fabric here? Perhaps, the Minister can be a little bit more specific for me.
As a member of the committee, I note that the figures provided by the Department from An Garda Síochána and which were assessed by the CSO recently were nothing short of remarkable on a 12-month basis in regard to my own constituency and Garda division. In my division, which includes the constituency of Deputy Jack Chambers, there was a 40% reduction in burglary, which is extraordinary. These are CSO figures and, as such, are not coming out of the Department. I add the caution that we know there is a reduction in the reporting of crime, which is always a concern, but from my perspective and perhaps from that of the Minister, we can only allocate resources where we know about the issues involved. As my local Garda inspector has been saying during my 12 years in public life, constituents should always be encouraged to call An Garda Síochána even if a matter is minor because otherwise they will not know.
The answer to the Deputy's question is that these are not projects which will slip back months and years. For example, the project at Kevin Street is being built a cost of €33.539 million. While there have been various problems with it, the projected completion date is now the second quarter of 2017. It is estimated that the project might slip by six or seven weeks, but it will be completed in 2017. In Galway, the project cost is €31.181 million and there have been some weather-related delays there. There was some underestimation of the complexities of the concrete elements of the structure by the contractor and there was a staffing issue for a vital subcontractor. Those are the reasons for some of the delay. However, the projected completion date, which was September 2017, is now the fourth quarter of 2017. The projects are going ahead and there are very practical reasons for any underspend, as I have outlined. The projects will be completed in 2017.
Deputy Farrell is right to say the position regarding aircraft needs to be reviewed. My understanding is that a new aircraft will be needed by about 2020. That is one of the matters the Department will be discussing in the context of the mid-term capital review next year. Obviously, we want to ensure that appropriate and safe aircraft are available. That will be up for discussion in the first instance in the review of the capital programme.
The budget for uniforms, including for the armed response unit, includes equipment. That is an operational decision. I have responded positively to any requests I have had specifically for equipment for the armed response unit.
I thank the Deputy for his comments on burglary reductions. People will confirm that it is the situation albeit I always note that if one is the person who is burgled, it is one burglary too many. That is why we have to be vigilant. Clearly, targeted operations, like Operation Hybrid or Operation Thor, work. We also saw with the targeted operation on sham marriages that the incidence of those decreased completely. When we put Border operations in, in particular under the new North-South task force, on which the report was presented to me just two weeks ago, we saw really good success. There was a targeted operation in the Border area on rural crime and there was good success in terms of finding machinery and bringing people before the courts in the North and the South. While there are issues in relation to what gets reported, notwithstanding that and notwithstanding either the issues identified by the CSO on which it is still working, there has been a huge success in preventing crime, interrupting burglaries and protecting the public.
I have a supplementary question which I forgot to ask. It relates to individual cameras for gardaí on the beat. Can the Minister outline or determine whether there is a sufficient allocation within the budget to investigate the use of cameras?
It was done previously, but does the Department wish to pursue it further with the Garda Commissioner? Has a formal or an informal report been received from the Commissioner on the trial usage of cameras? Would there be future budgetary implications if the trial was deemed to be a success?
Part of the budgets for 2016 and 2017 will provide for that type of technology. It is fast-changing and other police forces are using it, for example, to conduct risk assessments when called to a house to deal with domestic violence. However, a number of issues arise. I have discussed the matter with the Garda Commissioner. If new technology can be used, we want to support its development. It forms part of the ICT investment and the Commissioner is examining the matter, but I will ask her for a report on it and forward it to the Deputy.
If no other Deputy is indicating, I have a couple of questions. For the sake of clarity, the Supplementary Estimates do not include additional moneys over and above the provision for 2016. Money is being moved from one subhead to another. That is my understanding of the matter.
My understanding is that there was a legislative debarment of Supplementary Estimates, that is, in terms of an additional spend.
My final question is on the Tánaiste's preamble, in which she made reference to a sum of €4 million for the Schengen Information System II, SIS II. I do not for one moment suggest knowledge of this, but it is my understanding that Ireland has not signed up to the Schengen agreement. or did I not notice it happening while I was dozing? Is there a relationship between the Schengen agreement and the SIS II? Will the Tánaiste elaborate on the matter in order that I might have a better understanding of what is involved in the SIS II?
To confirm, this does not involve an extra spend; it is about a reallocation but all within the justice group of Votes. There is no extra money involved. It is about reallocating money from areas in which there has been an underspend and moving it to areas that we have prioritised, for example, ICT and the purchase of Garda vehicles. There was an underspend in the areas I outlined.
As to SIS II, there is no connection with the fact that Ireland is outside the Schengen agreement. It is called the Schengen information system. The second generation of the SIS is a state-of-the-art EU-wide IT system that allows for an easy and automated exchange of information between national border control authorities, customs and police authorities in different jurisdictions. It is one of the important tools member states are using to exchange information, particularly on terrorist threats. We use other methods also, but there is a move at EU level - I have attended many meetings and chaired a number of others in the Department of Justice and Equality - to try to ensure we will have the best possible interoperability, while respecting the need for data protection and other issues that arise.
As the investment in information technology had been stopped for a number of years, we are behind, but I am keen to accelerate investment. It is a complex matter from an IT point of view, but we are working on it with a number of groups from within the Garda and specialist agencies, including at European level, to ensure we can reach the point of proper interoperability between the systems in order to deal with criminal activity and irregular border movements. The current concern is that we exchange information in a timely way to tackle terrorism. There needs to be greater interoperability between systems and member states in real time. It has been a complicated discussion and it is expensive, with the total amount being very substantial. The timeframe for implementing the necessary systems and structures to support the integration of the SIS II has been provisionally estimated at between 18 and 24 months at a cost of between €18 and €22 million, but this substantial investment in information technology is necessary.
We all concur. For the Tánaiste's information, the committee recently decided to send two members to attend the meeting hosted by the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, LIBE, Committee of the European Parliament last Monday. I was one of those dispatched to engage with colleague representatives from the other 27 member parliamentary establishments. The committee addressed the establishment of a joint parliamentary scrutiny group for Europol. I expect that what we are discussing is within that overall context, namely, developing the interrelationships the Tánaiste indicated. We will write a short report for the committee in the coming week.
On behalf of the committee, I thank the Tánaiste for her attendance and engagement with members. I also thank her officials. We will adjourn until 9 a.m. tomorrow when we will consider Committee Stage of the Courts Bill 2016 and the Tánaiste will no doubt be joining us.