Tuesday, 6 February 2018
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed) - Priority Questions
49. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality his views on the drop-off in the number of community gardaí from 1,182 in 2010 to 744 by the end of 2017; and if his Department and An Garda Síochána are committed to implementing the community model of policing. [5751/18]
The national model of community policing was launched in 2009 amid some optimism and a belief that it would represent a significant part of Garda strategy from then on. However, it has been marked since then by a lack of commitment by successive Governments, most visibly seen in the dramatic reductions in the number of community gardaí, which has fallen every year for the past eight years, from 1,182 to 691. This has severely undermined the ability of community gardaí to do their job. I question whether this Government is committed to the community model of policing.
As the Deputy will be aware, and as I have reiterated, the distribution of gardaí is exclusively the statutory responsibility of the Garda Commissioner for the time being. Undoubtedly, the ongoing recruitment process will support all Garda activities and will enhance Garda visibility within our communities and the provision of effective community policing across all Garda divisions.
Community policing is at the heart of An Garda Síochána. It provides a means of recognising that every community, both urban and rural, has its own concerns and expectations. I am assured by the Commissioner that the Garda national model of community policing plays a key part in responding to crime by taking into account and responding to local conditions and needs. Clear objectives are set, such as high visibility in the community, ease of contact by members of the public and enhanced support for crime prevention strategies. In addition, the national community policing office, attached to the Garda community relations bureau, captures best practice in community policing initiatives and disseminates these practices through its communication network. It is of course the case that all gardaí have a role to play in community policing in carrying out their duties, not solely those assigned full-time as community gardaí.
I have previously stated that I welcome the strong emphasis that the Commissioner's Modernisation and Renewal Programme 2016-2021 places on developing and supporting the community policing ethos of the organisation and enhancing the current delivery model so that gardaí spend more time in the community, gaining public confidence and trust and providing a greater sense of security. It will result in the introduction of multi-skilled community policing teams and community policing forums in every district.
In terms of progress on this important initiative, I am informed that a draft community policing framework which outlines the manner in which community policing teams and community safety forums will be established has been completed and is subject to internal review before being approved by the Garda executive for implementation.
The Government is committed to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country in order 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 for an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021 including 15,000 Garda members.
Real, tangible progress has been made towards this goal. Since reopening the Garda College in September 2014, nearly 1,600 new recruits have attested as members of An Garda Síochána and have been assigned to mainstream duties nationwide. Garda numbers, taking account of projected retirements, increased to 13,551 at the end of 2017, a net increase of over 600 since the end of 2016. There were 691 Garda assigned to community policing duties as of 31 December 2017.
I am pleased to say that funding is in place to maintain this high level of investment in the Garda workforce to ensure the vision of an overall workforce of 21,000 by 2021 remains on track. This year a further 800 new Garda recruits will enter the Garda College. Also, 800 Garda trainees are scheduled to attest during the year, which will see Garda numbers reach more than 14,000 by the end of 2018.
Of course Deputies will appreciate that despite these increases, choices have to be made. Containing the challenges of coverage and those presented by gangland crime over the past two years has necessitated investment in the specialist units with 100 extra garda being assigned to the specialist units within special crime operations in 2017. In addition, a dedicated armed support unit for the Dublin metropolitan region was established at the end of 2016 in order to enhance armed support capability in Dublin and to free up the resources of the emergency response unit.
There is no evidence for that. The Minister's response did not address what is obviously a very dramatic fall which is what I want the Minister to address. While, on an individual basis, it is a decision for the Garda Commissioner, it is the Government which makes the policies. If the Government wants community policing to be a priority, it will be a priority for An Garda Síochána and the Commissioner. The Minister outlined objectives regarding visibility. The reduction in Donegal was from 35 to two, a 94% decrease. How are the gardaí to achieve visibility in that context? In Dublin's north inner city, there is a fall from 140 to 90 in only a few years, while there has been a decrease of 70% in the Dublin's south inner city. The GRA has said it is very disappointed and this needs to be reversed.
I raise this matter because I know for a fact that it has worked. I know the difference this has made in Cork and in communities there. I know people who are working, living good, honest lives because of the intervention of good community policing. It is one of the most effective policing interventions that exists. This Government and its predecessors have done nothing to invest in it and the model has been undermined with reductions of up to 94%, with a 40% fall overall. It is a dramatic decrease in numbers. These gardaí cannot be expected to work miracles. The numbers must be there and they need to have the time to dedicate themselves properly to the job.
Will the Minister address this and tell the House how he will ensure this enormous drop in numbers is reversed?
This Government is committed to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country in order to maintain and strengthen community engagement, to provide reassurance to citizens and to deter crime. To make this a reality, we have a plan in place to increase the overall Garda workforce to 21,000 by 2021, including 15,000 sworn members of An Garda Síochána. Real and tangible progress has been made towards this goal. Since the reopening of the Garda College in September 2014 almost 1,600 new recruits have attested as members of An Garda Síochána and have been assigned to mainstream duties across the country.
The Deputy referred to Donegal in his question. In Donegal there are 28 probationer gardaí working in stations across the county. He mentioned the Dublin metropolitan region. In north-central Dublin there are 135 new gardaí, and 141 new gardaí in south-central Dublin. I am pleased that we have 1,600 new recruits attested as members of An Garda Síochána recently. Garda numbers, taking account of projected retirements, increased to over 13,500 at the end of last year, a net increase of over 600 since the end of the previous year. There were 691 garda assigned to community policing duties as of 31 December 2017. I am pleased to say that funding remains in place to continue this high level of investment into this year.
In common with written responses which I had received on this matter, the Minister has failed to address the matter of community policing. He keeps referring to overall policing numbers but he is not making any comment on how he will address that specific issue. I have put down variations on this question, in written or oral questions, and have received three different answers for the number of community gardaí in 2017. The Minister might explain that to me.
At the heart of the community policing model is the dedicated community garda. That is somebody who is in a position to build-up a relationship with communities, families and individuals to gain the trust of communities. That cannot be done overnight, it requires an intense period of work, but it can be absolutely transformative. I know there are community gardaí who have had a transformative impact. The Minister keeps returning to overall Garda numbers, without making any reference to any action he plans to take to ensure or address even remotely the 40% reduction in dedicated community gardaí, which is particularly dramatic in certain districts.
Will the Minister now tell the House how he intends to address this fall off in numbers specifically in community gardaí, not overall Garda numbers?
-----in the manner in which they interact with their communities and for and on behalf of communities. The Garda Commissioner's Modernisation and Renewal Programme 2016-2021 places a strong emphasis on further developing and supporting the community policing ethos of the organisation so that Gardaí spend more time in the community, gaining public confidence and trust, providing a greater sense of security in communities. This plan includes a number of proposed initiatives including the establishment of local policing teams, headed by an inspector, made up of gardaí from a range of areas to work proactively with the local community in order to prevent crime and to detect it, and the establishment of community safety forums in every district which will comprise of local gardaí, communities and key stakeholders which will support the work of the community policing teams in every community.
I am very pleased that this Government is committed to ensuring that we are recruiting to the gardaí in an intense and proactive way, after years of declining numbers. I intend that over the next three years the Government will meet its targets of a Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021, comprising of 15,000 members of An Garda Síochána, 4,000 civilian support staff and an increase in the Garda Reserve to 2,000. Most of those will be community gardaí.