Tuesday, 18 November 2014
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
91. To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality her views on the continuing anti-social behaviour on the streets of Dublin; the actions she has taken to address the current challenges in this area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43958/14]
I introduce this question because there is a degree of denial within the Government in respect of anti-social behaviour, particularly in Dublin city centre and emanating into the broader Dublin region. This issue was raised with the Tánaiste during Leaders' Questions a number of weeks ago by my colleague Deputy Cowen. The Tánaiste was in complete denial about the situation in Dublin. It has been brought to our attention by all stakeholders. In particular, the report of the Garda Inspectorate backs up many of the criticisms and issues we have been raising with regard to crime and reclassification. It is in that context that I put this question.
The Deputy did not ask about the issue of classification, but I will address some of the points he raised in respect of it.
I do, of course, appreciate the concerns that the Deputy has raised, and I am conscious of the perspectives of business and community interests with regard to the effects of certain types of crime and anti-social behaviour on the overall environment for all who live and work in and visit our capital city. It is an absolute priority that we get that environment right. It is widely acknowledged, and I think the Deputy would acknowledge, that these challenges have their origin in a range of social phenomena, including drug dependency and homelessness - challenges which are long-standing and go well beyond the capacity of criminal justice agencies to address on their own. Dealing with these matters requires a very co-ordinated approach from State agencies involved in social, housing, health and drug treatment services, as well as partnership with business, community and voluntary groups. An Garda Síochána already partners many of these groups in a range of local consultative and representative structures in Dublin and elsewhere. I will bring a recent initiative to the Deputy's attention. This is a new high-level group involving Dublin City Council, An Garda Síochána, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive and the HSE, the aim of which is to oversee strategic and coherent responses in the city centre area. This is absolutely essential. I will meet the group, as well as Dublin city businesses, with a view to identifying how the ongoing efforts to enhance public safety and the overall environment in the city centre can be further supported and strengthened.
Since June 2013 the Garda has had a city centre policing plan, which it is working to. There are high-visibility Garda patrols in key commercial and public thoroughfares. The question of where these patrols take place is an operational matter, and the Garda monitors this on an ongoing basis. Obviously, there are focused resources in specific areas, a few of which I will mention in the brief time remaining. Operation Pier concentrates on the south quays and Temple Bar.
There are two other operations, one of which is Operation Spire. According to provisional statistics for the Garda Síochána analysis service for the first nine months of the year, the total number of drug searches is up by 5% in the north central area around Store Street and by 24% in the south central Pearse Street division.
Outside of members of the public with whom we deal every day of the week, other stakeholders such as hoteliers, publicans, retailers and restaurateurs are very concerned about this matter. On the number of gardaí employed in stations across the Dublin north central metropolitan region, the Bridewell, Fitzgibbon Street, Mountjoy and Store Street stations have experienced decreases in the numbers of gardaí working out of them. Similarly on the southside, Donnybrook, Irishtown, Kevin Street, Kilmainham and Pearse Street statinos have also experienced reductions. Is the Minister satisfied with the current crime figures, particularly in Dublin city centre, and if not, does she have plans to deal with crime in the city centre outside of the operations to which she referred? Given the aforementioned decreases in garda numbers across stations on the north side and south side of Dublin, what does she envisage as the optimum number of members of the force?
I could respond to the Deputy in a number of ways. When one examines exactly what is happening in policing in the Dublin area, one will see that the number of public order offences is down by 7% in the south central, Pearse Street, area and 19% in the Store Street area. I see these figures as reflecting a broad positive trend. We do not want to alarm people unnecessarily, but we want to make the appropriate policing and operational decisions in respect of the points the Deputy raised. I have discussed these issues with the acting Garda Commissioner and I am confident these decisions are being taken on an ongoing basis.
Given the investment the Government has made, I would describe budget 2015 as a breakthrough budget for the justice sector because it provides for the first year-on-year budget increase since 2008. It is important to acknowledge that we have put money into policing. We have 300 new recruits, the first since 2008. In the period 2012 to 2014 we have allocated €414 million more than the Deputy's party in its national recovery plan. These resources will make a difference in giving the acting Garda Commissioner the opportunity to deploy more gardaí, as appropriate. I am confident that she will do this as the new recruits become ready for duty.
The four year plan has expired and the troika has gone. The Government is in a new space in which it can make decisions on these issues. I ask the Minister to outline her view on what she thinks the strength of the force should be. Should it be 13,000, as at present, or higher? My party's budget document factored in an increase of 500 gardaí who are particularly needed in parts of Dublin city centre. My party has also proposed to establish a dedicated public order unit which could deal with anti-social behaviour in Dublin city centre. During the years we have seen the benefits of dedicated Garda units, for example, the armed response unit, in getting to grips with gangland crime in my native city of Limerick, and the dedicated drugs units. Stakeholders in our capital city see merit in having a dedicated public order unit for Dublin city centre and the metropolitan region. It would be available on a 24-7 basis to deal with the anti-social behaviour that affects public and businesses alike. I ask the Minister for her views on these issues.
The Deputy asked about a dedicated public order unit in Dublin city centre. That unit is already in place and is put into operation when the need arises. The members of the unit are highly skilled and trained to deal with public order incidents of all gravity, up to and including riots, and are located throughout the Dublin metropolitan region. A dedicated public order patrol van is deployed from Pearse Street and Bridewell Garda stations every Friday and Saturday night to deal with public order issues in the city centre.
As I said, we now have 300 extra Garda recruits, the first such intake since 2008. I will monitor Garda staffing levels during 2015 with a view to agreeing further intakes to the Garda College as required. The Deputy mentioned the Garda Inspectorate report. That report recommended a number of initiatives in regard to further civilianisation, which will free up additional gardaí. Part and parcel of getting the numbers right is reform in the range of areas to which the Garda Inspectorate referred in its lengthy 500-page document. These include short, medium and longer-term actions to deliver a police force that is fit for the 21st century.