Wednesday, 18 November 2020
Community Safety and Preventing Crime: Statements
I welcome the opportunity to speak about the proposed local community safety partnership pilot project which the Minister for Justice announced last week and which will operate in Dublin's north inner city, Longford and my constituency of Waterford. The project represents the implementation of some of the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland and is a welcome signal of intent on the part of this Government. I refer specifically to recommendation No. 5 of the commission, which states that "policing partnerships should include the business community, voluntary organisations, faith-based groups, schools and others who can contribute to community safety", and recommendation No. 22, which states that the "building of genuine community partnerships should be a requirement for all Garda districts". These recommendations are important in that they acknowledge the deeply integrated role that gardaí play within local communities. Our policing model has long been based on consent and consensus and it is a matter of pride to me that in Ireland we have one of the very few unarmed police forces in the world. Cuts made to community policing in the past have at times threatened to sever that connection, particularly in disadvantaged communities and I hope this pilot represents a step change in how we do things, placing community safety at the core of our policing model.
I welcome Waterford's inclusion in this pilot. In many ways, the Waterford constituency is the country in microcosm. Waterford is Ireland's oldest city, with many vibrant urban communities but it is also a rural constituency, from towns and villages to people living in very isolated settings. Waterford is also a Gaeltacht constituency and we know that there are specific challenges and deficiencies within our police force in terms of providing a service trí mheán na Gaeilge sna ceantair sin. As such, our community safety concerns span the full range from anti-social behaviour in disadvantaged communities to the issues of rural crime and the anxiety experienced by many living in isolated rural settings. This also presents a challenge and I worry slightly when I see references in the Department's briefing notes to a local community - singular - safety plan. I do not know how well the Minister knows Waterford but there is a world of difference between Ballybricken and Ballymacarbry or between Tramore and Tallow. We may be one county and one constituency, but we are many and diverse communities so I hope that any safety plan drawn up by the proposed new partnership will be flexible enough to reflect that. Also, we like our joint policing committees, JPCs. I was honoured to serve on the JPC in Waterford for the short time that I served as a councillor. It has its flaws as a system but we know it and trust it. I hope that this pilot model can be as inclusive as our JPCs and allow for a plurality of voices at the table.
This brings me to the composition of the local community safety partnerships. I welcome the fact that community representatives will have a working majority, as it were, and that this will include, among others, representatives of new and minority communities as well as youth voices. However, as I alluded to previously, there is a need to strike a balance between urban and rural concerns. In that context, I would welcome the opportunity to examine the exact mechanism by which we hope to ensure an appropriate mix. I am also concerned that there may be a diminution of the role of elected representatives in this reconfiguration. As I said, I served on my JPC in Waterford. I was one of 15 councillors to do so and the door was always open to Oireachtas Members to attend as well. If councillors are to be counted on the agency side of the equation in these proposed partnerships, that may well reduce the number participating to four or five. It would be a challenge in that context to ensure a broad base of representation in terms of geography and political outlook.
As with any such initiative, funding is crucial. This pilot has the potential to bring about positive changes in our communities but it will have to be adequately resourced in order to do so. These concerns notwithstanding, I welcome the pilot scheme, as do all of the officials and elected representatives in Waterford to whom I have spoken. As already stated, Waterford is the ideal testing ground because it has urban, suburban, rural and Gaeltacht contexts within the constituency. I look forward to working with the Minister, community representatives and elected representatives in Waterford to make a success of this project and to improve community safety outcomes across our county.