Thursday, 5 July 2018
In light of recent figures which show that burglaries in Meath increased significantly in 2017 compared with 2016, is the Minister satisfied with Garda resources in the county? The Garda district of Ashbourne has the same population as County Westmeath but has less than half - the figure is closer to one third in fact - the number of gardaí County Westmeath has.
As the Deputy will be well aware, the distribution of Garda personnel is exclusively the statutory responsibility of the Garda Commissioner. In this regard, Garda management keeps the distribution of resources under continual review in the context of crime trends and policing priorities so as to ensure that the optimum use is made of these resources. By way of assistance to Deputy Byrne, I am informed by the Commissioner that the strength of the Meath division is 310. There are also 16 Garda reservists and 30 Garda civilian staff attached to the division. 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 armed support units, the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau.
As I have told Deputy Byrne on other occasions, the Government is committed to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country to maintain and strengthen community engagement, to provide reassurance to citizens and to deter crime in County Meath and throughout the country. To make this a reality, the Government has in place a plan for an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021. This will include 15,000 Garda members. I am informed by the Commissioner that since the reopening of the Garda training college in September 2014, almost 2,000 recruits have attested as members of An Garda Síochána and have been assigned to mainstream duties nationwide. Of this number, 64 members have been assigned to the Meath division. Garda numbers, taking account of retirements, increased to 13,551 at the end of 2017, a net increase of more than 600 since the end of 2016. As Deputy Byrne will be aware, the increase in Garda numbers last year represented the first significant increase since numbers started falling in 2009. This has driven the level of recruitment that has seen the number of gardaí assigned to the Meath division increase from 281 to 310, an increase of 29 or 10% as of 31 May as compared to the end of 2014.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
Funding is in place to ensure that the 2021 vision of an overall workforce of 21,000 remains on track. This year a further 800 new Garda recruits will enter the Garda training college, some 400 of whom have already done so. In total, 800 Garda trainees are scheduled to attest during 2018, 400 of whom have attested to date. Furthermore, Garda numbers, taking account of projected retirements, are on track to reach 14,000 by the end of 2018. Undoubtedly, the investment in resources and the ongoing recruitment process will support all Garda activities and enable the Commissioner to provide additional resources to all Garda divisions, including the Meath division, in the coming years.
County Meath needs significantly more resources because we are vastly under-resourced in terms of Garda man and woman power when compared with other areas that are very close to us. In particular, I refer to County Westmeath which has a similar profile to Meath. It has a much lower population and a similar number of gardaí, which is not fair. There are also other issues with Garda resources. For example, I have heard that the Garda van in the Laytown sub-district, which includes Stamullen, was moved to Tullamore. There are very difficult procedures for gardaí in the district if they want to make arrests in certain cases. That is proving very difficult for them. The lack of a sufficiently suitable Garda headquarters in Meath is also making crime detection more difficult. People on the ground notice the lack of gardaí and resources, the increase in crime and the general absence of a feeling of safety. Another issue arises, which I will raise in my supplementary question.
Regrettably, despite considerable progress, it will take some time to recover from the legacy of the decision to close the college in 2010. I am pleased to inform the House that funding is in place to ensure the 2021 vision of an overall workforce of 21,000 remains firmly on track. This year, a further 800 new Garda recruits will enter the Garda training college, some 400 of whom have already done so. In total, 800 Garda trainees are scheduled to attest during this year, 400 of whom have already attested. Taking account of projected retirements, Garda numbers are on track to reach 14,000 by the end of 2018. I assure Deputy Byrne that many of these gardaí will be posted to stations in County Meath.
I did not ask this question as an opportunity to take a political potshot at the Government. I asked it as an advocate for, and representative of, my constituency. It does not serve the case well for the Minister to respond by taking a potshot at me. What I will say is that the confidence and supply agreement ensures that this Government, which has been in power since 2011, will increase Garda numbers. That is a key point in the agreement. This is not simply about increasing Garda numbers but about making a decision in Garda headquarters, influenced by the Minister for Justice and Equality although I know has no direct role in the matter, to ensure gardaí are allocated on a proportionate basis to the places they are needed around the country.
An issue particular to County Meath is the significant number of large towns on our doorstep which have Garda stations that do not have any jurisdiction in our county. I refer specifically to Drogheda, Balbriggan, Maynooth, Kilcock and Kingscourt. Some of these are smaller stations and some are larger, but none has jurisdiction within County Meath. That issue will have to be addressed because the county boundary solution was not always available for Garda services and policing.
It is causing a problem, particularly in my county.
As I said earlier, it is a matter for the Garda Commissioner to distribute the resources available to him, both in terms of personnel and equipment. I am pleased, however, to record unprecedented funding for An Garda Síochána, in excess of €1.6 billion. I am also pleased the recruitment programme is firmly on track. I recently had the privilege of attending Templemore Garda Training College to see almost 200 new, ambitious, energetic, well-trained and well educated gardaí attest and graduate. All of them were posted to their stations, some to County Meath, within two weeks following their attestation from Templemore.
It is my intention to ensure we will proceed with another recruitment programme to ensure that by the end of 2021 my target and the Government's ambition of having an overall Garda workforce of 15,000 sworn gardaí, who will be ably assisted and backed up by 4,000 civilian members and 2,000 members of the Garda Reserve, a total of 21,000 personnel, will be achieved.