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Dáil debates

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

7:30 pm

Photo of James LawlessJames Lawless (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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I raise the issue of policing resources in my constituency of Kildare North. While this issue is often aired in this House, I believe my constituency to be more poorly served than others and the census figures bear that out. Kildare North currently has the worst policing figures per head of population in the entire State. This is an historical anomaly that predates the recruitment embargo and other recent difficulties. Currently, Kildare North has one garda for every 751 residents. Based on the 2016 census figures, correcting this would require the hiring of more than 250 additional gardaí immediately but the constituency has only been given an extra 25 gardaí or 10% of what is needed. Kildare does not want to retain the title of the worst policed county in the State.

I wish to draw the Minister of State's attention to some of the difficulties in the county. As well as having the lowest number of gardaí per capita, Kildare also has the second lowest number of Garda stations in the State. This began with the closure of Garda stations in Kill and Ballymore Eustace in 2013 and 2014, along with three stations in west Wicklow which bordered Kildare. The response at the time from the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter, was that mobile garda units would be deployed and Facebook clinics would employed as an alternative method of community policing. The stations closed but there were no increased patrols, no Facebook clinics and there was an increase in burglaries. Added to that, local residents said that when they rang their new nearest Garda station, they were often asked for directions because the gardaí were simply not familiar with the area.

At the other end of the constituency, Celbridge Garda station is said to be the busiest of the five stations in the Leixlip Garda division. However, it is only a part-time station that opens for three hours per day during the week and not at all on a Sunday. The integrated services report produced in conjunction with Kildare County Council, a State body which is not prone to exaggeration or hyperbole, shows that there was a 12.5% decrease in Garda numbers nationally in the period 2008 to 2016, but Celbridge Garda station lost 54% of its personnel. The level of staffing was cut by more than half. I received an e-mail recently from a local businessman who has been subject to 13 armed robberies. At this stage, some of his staff are too frightened to come into work. This is somebody who is trying to run a business and make a living in the town.

I will turn my attention now to Maynooth, which is a university town. The Minister of State and all Members of the House will be aware that there was an horrific attack on a young female student in the town just over a week ago. My own daughter is a first year student in the same university and my heart goes out to the family of Ms Kym Owens. I wish her a speedy recovery. It was an horrific attack and while it could be argued that additional Garda resources may not have prevented such an act of barbarism, the fact remains that Maynooth is a university town whose population doubles from 12,000 to in excess of 24,000 during term time and yet there are no additional Garda resources. In fact, there is not even a full-time Garda station in the town. My party colleague, Councillor Naoise Ó Cearúil, pointed out in theIrish Independenta number of days ago that Maynooth is the only university town in Ireland that does not have a full-time Garda station.

Regarding Carbury in north-west Kildare, last night we saw Mr. Paul Williams do an exposé on TV3 which showed that certain well-known criminal characters are resident in the north-west Kildare area. However, Carbury Garda station has been decimated. The number of Garda stations across north Kildare has been slashed, as has the number of gardaí. Garda resources are at an historical low and are the worst in the country. It is simply not good enough. Direct intervention is required to increase the resources available and address the anomaly. North Kildare has a large urban and rural population. The area is very close to the national motorway network and is being hit repeatedly by opportunist burglars, armed robbers and by horrific acts of sporadic violence like the recent incident in Maynooth. I call on the Minister for Justice and Equality to intervene and address the situation immediately.

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy Lawless for raising this important issue and apologise on behalf of the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality who cannot be in the Chamber to respond to the Deputy directly.

The Government is committed to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country to maintain and strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance to citizens and deter crime. To make this a reality for all, the Government has in place a plan to achieve an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021, comprising 15,000 Garda members, 2,000 reserve members and 4,000 civilians. Funding has been provided for the recruitment of 800 Garda recruits and up to 500 civilians in 2017 to support the wide-ranging reform plan in train in An Garda Síochána, and 300 appointments will also be made to the Garda Reserve.

As the Deputy will appreciate, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the distribution of resources, including personnel, among the various Garda divisions, and the Tánaiste has no direct role in the matter. The Tánaiste is informed by the Garda Commissioner that in regard to the deployment of Garda personnel, a distribution model is used which takes into account all relevant factors, including population, crime trends and the policing needs of each individual Garda division, including the Kildare division, with a view to providing an effective and responsive police service.

As of 31 October 2016, the latest date for which figures are readily available, there were 307 members of An Garda Síochána assigned to the Kildare division, supported by 22 members of the Garda Reserve and 29 civilian staff. When appropriate, the work of local gardaí is supported by a number of Garda national units such as the national bureau of criminal investigation, the Garda national economic crime bureau and the Garda national drugs and organised crime bureau. Local Garda management in Kildare have also implemented additional policing measures in response to recent incidents in the division, including additional Garda foot patrols, checkpoints and patrols by the regional support unit.

The Tánaiste recently met a group of local public representatives from Kildare and listened carefully to their concerns about crime and policing. She is happy to highlight particular matters of local concern for attention by the Garda authorities.

Taking account of projected retirements, reaching a strength of 15,000 will require 3,200 new Garda members to be recruited on a phased basis over the next four years in addition to the 1,200 that will have been recruited by the end of this year since the reopening of the Garda College in Templemore in September 2014. Since the reopening of the Garda College, 679 recruits have attested as members of An Garda Síochána, of whom 35 have been assigned to the Kildare division.

The Government’s plan for an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 is complemented by substantial investment in resources across the board for An Garda Síochána. The Deputy will be aware of the significant resources that have been made available to An Garda Síochána under the Government’s capital plan 2016-2021. In particular, some €205 million in additional funding for Garda information and communications technology, ICT, and €46 million for new Garda vehicles has been allocated over the lifetime of the plan. This investment will facilitate the provision of more effective policing services and the Tánaiste expects that the Kildare division, like all other Garda divisions, will benefit from these new resources becoming available.

I refer to the incident that took place in Maynooth on 20 November which the Deputy raised. In recent days, gardaí have renewed their appeal for information on the very serious assault of a university student in Maynooth. They are appealing for witnesses and anyone with information, particularly those who were in the vicinity of Maynooth between 7.30 p.m. and 9.15 p.m. on Sunday, 20 November 2016, to contact the incident room in Leixlip Garda station on 01 666 7800, the Garda confidential telephone line, 1800 666 111, or any Garda station. The Tánaiste recognises that this was a very serious incident and asks that if anyone has any information on it-----

7:40 pm

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister of State will have another two minutes. He has exceeded by a minute.

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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-----they would come forward.

Photo of James LawlessJames Lawless (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for stepping into the breach. With respect, that answer could have been given to any question about policing in the country. My question is specifically about my constituency, north Kildare, and my county, which is the worst served in the country per capita. It is not just me saying that but also the joint policing committee, Kildare County Council, the integrated service providers and every public representative in both north and south constituencies. In fact, in recent years the ratio has worsened. In 2015, the figure suggested a ratio of one garda for every 697 members of the population of County Kildare. In 2016, despite the Minister of State's suggestion of extra resources being deployed, the ratio was actually worse at 1:751. For every 751 residents of the county, there is one garda. That is the worst ratio in the entire State. In terms of Garda stations, the ratio is a little better.

With regard to the 307 gardaí deployed to County Kildare mentioned by the Minister, the census would suggest we need 513. If we include reservists, community and other types of garda, we are almost 270 short of what we need. We got 25, or 10% of what we need. The Minister of State suggested that is an operational matter for the Garda Commissioner. Does he consider the Commissioner is performing satisfactorily when one county has less than 10% of its required additional allocation, a stark difference in ratios, is at the bottom of the league table and up to 250 fewer gardaí than are actually needed?

The increase that has been given is in line with the population in that it is a 4.7% increase for 4.7% of the country's population. The point we need to drive home, however, is that the imbalance is historical. It goes back decades. Is it that Kildare is in the Pale where the people are considered to be better behaved and therefore did not require the same policing as other counties? Those historical anomalies must be addressed and I ask the Tánaiste to do that as a matter of urgency. We have highlighted a particular horrific incident but there have been numerous incidents. There is the shopkeeper whose staff are afraid to go to work. There is the opportunist crime carried out by burglars coming down the motorways. People are being hit every day of the week. People are afraid, be they students in the university town, business keepers or staff going to work. The Tánaiste has to intervene to address what is a shocking anomaly, the worst in the entire State. I ask the Minister of State to take it on board.

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy. As I outlined to him, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the location of Garda deployment where she sees fit. That is done in accordance with population trends and crime figures. I will personally bring the Deputy's concerns to the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality but I encourage him either to send a copy of his transcript to the Garda Commissioner or write personally to her about his concerns. I understand the Tánaiste will be in contact with the Commissioner and the Garda authorities with a view to raising the Deputy's concerns with them but I encourage him to write to the Garda Commissioner stating that he raised this issue in the Dáil and that the reply he got was that the Commissioner is responsible for deploying gardaí in whatever location she sees most needs the resources.

The Deputy will be aware that in the most recent CSO figures for the second quarter of 2016, there were decreases in many crime categories, including a 26% reduction in burglaries. I understand the Deputy's concerns about a huge number of people travelling down the motorways to commit crime. That is happening in my constituency in County Wexford. It is not the local gangs but gangs mainly from the greater Dublin area that are carrying out most burglaries and other crimes. I encourage the Deputy to write to the Garda Commissioner and I will bring his concerns directly to the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality.