Tuesday, 24 October 2006
I wish to raise the issue of safety on our public transport system, following an incident last week in Tallaght where a young man was thrown out of the top window of a bus. This is the latest in a series of such incidents. Something similar happened a few years ago in Tallaght when buses were stoned. Elected representatives, members of the Garda, the community, the unions and South Dublin County Council met to try to resolve the situation. Unfortunately, these incidents continue to occur.
I have a list of incidents that have occurred recently, which includes passenger abuse, a row on a bus, drug taking on a bus, a child assaulted on a bus, bottles thrown on the upper saloon of a bus, abuse of a driver, spitting at a driver, passengers causing disturbances, a man set on fire, broken windows, stone throwing, syringes found on the upper saloon, anti-social behaviour, fighting on the upper saloon of a bus, youths setting fire to a bus with lighters, youths setting fire to a bus with paper and passengers assaulted. These are just some of the incidents that have been reported to the Garda and to Dublin Bus. What is happening is unacceptable. We need to look at the serious incident that occurred on Friday and come up with new ways of tackling the problem that exists.
The current system that operates in Tallaght is called Operation Saferoute, but I presume it operates elsewhere in the city. These assaults are not just happening in the Tallaght area as it is a general problem. When people use public transport they expect the service to be safe, clean, reliable and to be reasonably priced. Having listened to the list of incidents I have read out, I do not think that anybody would feel safe getting on a bus. We were assured a few years ago that CCTV would be put in every bus. However, that has not happened. The drivers, management, gardaí involved and members of the community all suffer due to these incidents. The community suffers because the buses are withdrawn and because members of the community are often victims on the buses. The drivers suffer because they are terrified of the incidents that happen and of being assaulted. The Garda Síochána is suffering due to the bad publicity involved and Dublin Bus is also suffering because people are less likely to get on the bus. A different response is needed.
We need a higher visibility of gardaí in the area, which will not be a drain on resources. However, we need extra resources as well. In other jurisdictions there are river police, transport police and so on. We need to look at that in the long term. In the short term, we need to provide assurances to the travelling public that the buses will continue to run and that this hooligan element will be removed.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the Ceann Comhairle for facilitating us in this matter. The timing was critical because there has been much adverse publicity in recent days about the Tallaght region. It is very important that we make the point that this is not just about Tallaght. We are very sensitive about the image being created of Tallaght, but these problems need to be addressed. Deputy Crowe and I attended the Dublin Bus community forum in Killinarden Enterprise Centre this morning. The Garda representation was headed by the superintendent and the local inspector. Dublin Bus management and unions and members of the community were also there. We all made the point that action must be taken.
If there are problems on our buses, Dublin Bus has a duty to ensure that the bus service is preserved and protected on behalf of the local community. It is not good enough to take the easy option every time a problem occurs. The people of Tallaght will not tolerate this situation and they want their bus service protected and preserved. We are raising this matter tonight to tell the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to allow the Garda to maintain vigilance and take new actions for our bus service in Tallaght.
I compliment all of my colleagues who attended this morning's meeting. It was tense but we did much good work and I compliment everyone involved, including the Garda, Dublin Bus management and unions and the members of the community. We are all united on this issue. We are fighting to ensure that the bus service is protected. There have been a number of unfortunate incidents in recent weeks. A few weeks ago, the bus services were withdrawn from a point west of the Square because of difficulties. A serious incident occurred last Friday and I am sorry that the young man was identified by some of the media today. His family is anxious to maintain a low profile while he recovers. We send him our best wishes and hope that he makes a good recovery. The incident highlights the difficulties that we are having. Resources must be made available to the Garda to allow it to work with Dublin Bus to ensure the continuation of bus services in Tallaght and to protect the service on behalf of the community.
I thank the Deputies for raising this matter and I am aware of recent media reports on the matter. I am deputising for the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who is unavailable at this time. The Tánaiste shares their concern and that of the public about anti-social behaviour, including the recent serious attack on a young person on a bus. The Tánaiste was appalled to hear of this senseless and potentially fatal attack on the young man. On behalf of the Tánaiste and myself, I wish him a speedy recovery from his injuries.
Strong provisions are already in place to combat anti-social behaviour. The recently enacted Criminal Justice Act 2006 contains further provisions to deal with anti-social behaviour. The provisions allow a senior member of the Garda Síochána to apply to the District Court by way of a civil procedure for an order to prohibit an adult from behaving in an anti-social manner. For children aged 12 to 18 years, specially tailored provisions, fully integrated into the Children Act 2001, allow for a number of steps to be taken. These also culminate in court orders for those engaged in anti-social behaviour.
The relevant provisions of the Act will be commenced following consultations between the Tánaiste's Department, the Office of the Minister for Children and the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána. Section 1(3) of the Act makes specific provision to this effect. The purpose of this is to ensure that these provisions will be commenced only after the Commissioner has had the opportunity to make the necessary internal arrangements to ensure the smooth introduction of these new procedures.
The Tánaiste is informed by the Garda authorities that Garda management within the Dublin metropolitan region has an excellent working relationship with the management of Dublin Bus. Regular contact is maintained and any issues raised are dealt with promptly. The Dublin Bus community forum is in place to address anti-social behaviour on buses and meets regularly. Local Garda management and community leaders from the Tallaght area participate in the forum along with Dublin Bus management and union representatives. Local Garda management met with Dublin Bus management following the incident and this was followed by a meeting of the community forum.
Local Garda management, in conjunction with Dublin Bus, has put Operation Saferoute in place to address public order issues on public transport in the Tallaght area. This involves members of the local community policing unit travelling on Dublin Bus services in the Tallaght area in order to prevent and detect incidents occurring on public transport.
The Tánaiste understands the Garda authorities are actively investigating the incident referred to by both Deputies. Five juveniles were arrested following an examination of CCTV footage from the bus on which the incident took place. It is expected that an investigation file will be submitted to the national juvenile office when these inquiries are completed.
I am informed that the Department of Transport has provided €2.8 million for the provision of new digital CCTV on Dublin Bus buses, through the national development plan. Dublin Bus currently uses CCTV to assist in investigating incidents on board buses as well as assisting in identifying the perpetrators of acts of vandalism. In this way Dublin Bus aims to deal with the threat of anti-social behaviour on board and in the immediate vicinity of the bus.
One of the big advantages of the new technology being used is that the quality of the images is much improved. Up to eight cameras can be fitted to each bus. This allows Dublin Bus to produce much clearer images to the Garda Síochána when pursuing individuals and bringing them to account for their activities. The Garda Síochána and Dublin Bus work very closely in this area and Dublin Bus is very appreciative of the support and assistance provided at local level by the Garda Síochána.
Other security measures taken by Dublin Bus include the fitting of all buses with radios enabling almost instant contact with supervisors and the Garda Síochána. In addition Dublin Bus has fitted security screens to all buses to protect drivers and all buses have alarm sirens fitted.
Garda personnel resources have been significantly increased by the Government. The total strength of Tallaght Garda station at 2 October 2006 was 173, all ranks. By comparison, the total strength of Tallaght Garda station at 31 December 1997 was 133, all ranks. This represents an increase of 40, or 30%, in the number of personnel allocated to Tallaght Garda station since that date.
Local Garda management is satisfied with the measures which are currently in place to combat public disorder and other anti-social behaviour on public transport in the Tallaght area. Garda management is not complacent but will continue to focus the resources available where they are most needed.