Wednesday, 18 November 2020
Community Safety and Preventing Crime: Statements
I thank my colleagues for sharing their time in this important debate. I welcome the opportunity to speak on community safety and preventing crime. In my contribution to the discussion on community and rural affairs, I made the point that 11 hours of statements are being taken in the Dáil this week. These are all on important issues but it is impossible to discuss any of them if we are not discussing Covid-19 and what we plan on doing after this current phase of level 5 lockdown ends. It is vital that we have an opportunity early next week to discuss this issue. A debate on the report of the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response has been scheduled for late on Thursday. That is a separate issue as it is on work already done by that committee and its subsequent report. I am referring to the future and how we will manage this pandemic not only in December, although that will be important for many people, but into next year, as well as what we need to anticipate in that regard and the changes we need to make.
I hope we will try to see how, as a society, we adapt to this pandemic while we are waiting for the arrival of a vaccine next year without the need to go in and out of lockdowns. I believe we can do that. I was surprised to hear earlier in the week about Government plans to ban the sale of takeaway alcohol. I know that information did not come from the Minister but from elsewhere in the Government. If we want to keep people safe, we must keep them in structured environments and out of doors, if we can. We must question, therefore, any policy that would drive people out of structured social interactions, such as restaurants, pubs, shops or other such activities, and potentially drive them indoors. There is a risk of incoherency in any policy that could drive people to engage in less safe activities. We want to keep people in structured environments where we know they are safer. We also want to keep them outdoors if we can.
We must also avoid knee-jerk reactions. This has been a difficult year for many people. Covid caused great uncertainty when it first appeared in this country. We had to move quickly and we took certain steps. We have lived with the virus for longer now and we understand it better. There have been moments over the past year where we have let ourselves down in taking knee-jerk reactions to things we have seen. We must avoid that as best we can. We should not punish the many for the actions of the few.
We must be very careful that we do not let seep into Irish society the desire to catch people out, blame people and punish people, which we are at risk of doing. We should be wary of that seeping into society. In the first phase of the lockdowns we showed our better nature in how we responded to the crisis, faced down the challenges that were presented to us and came together strongly as a country. I believe we were all proud of that and when people looked to Ireland from abroad they were impressed by it. We want to keep that spirit as we face the future and not adopt anything that might be more negative and undermine our cohesion as a society.
I commend the Minister on the new approach to community policing, which is one of the better things I have seen in the past year. This involves the use of Garda vehicles that are not marked Garda cars. While the car is owned by An Garda Síochána, it is marked in a way that is not obvious. Gardaí can move about in the community and do the type of soft community policing they are great at doing. They can interact with vulnerable groups that may feel unsafe at particular times and keep an eye on younger groups that are trying to do their best in these difficult times and socialise in a safe way out of doors. The gardaí can let people know they are there and when there are not that many people on our streets every day, it is calming and a reassurance to see gardaí on bicycles, walking down the road or in these new Garda vehicles that are a more softer community response to policing. I hope that as she looks to the future in her own Department and considers the resources she gives to An Garda Síochána, the Minister will continue this highly effective type of policing. The community responds well to it as people like to see it. I hope it can continue and I will support the Minister in those types of initiatives she has brought forward this year.