Tuesday, 12 February 2019
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for selecting this Topical Issue matter for debate. I also thank the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, for coming in to respond to it this evening.
This is an important issue for the Milford, Fanad and Rossguill peninsular areas in the Milford Garda district. It became clear in recent days and this morning that there are plans by the superintendent in the Milford area to pull a number of gardaí who are in stations around the area into the headquarters in Milford. That means the service provided in the stations in Rathmullan, Kerrykeel and Kilmacrennan will not remain as it is, in that no garda will now be based directly in those three stations. That follows on from the situation in recent years whereby no garda is now based in Ramelton station. In addition, Churchill Garda station was also closed by the Government in recent years.
I refer to the Fanad and Rossguill peninsulas, coming across into Kilmacrennan and Churchill. In 2010 Ramelton Garda station had four gardaí added, but now it does not have anyone stationed there permanently. Until a couple of weeks ago Rathmullan had a garda but it does not have one today. Likewise, Kilmacrennan will not have a garda permanently stationed there and neither will Kerrykeel, which had a garda until now, and had several gardaí a number of years ago. Of all the stations in Rathmullan, Ramelton, Kerrykeel, Carrigart, Kilmacrennan and Churchill, only Carrigart will have a full-time garda based in the station. Due to a lack of resources, the superintendent is now pulling all gardaí into the Milford headquarters from where an outlying service will be given in terms of office opening to those other stations. As Councillor Liam Blayney outlined very clearly this morning on local radio, the principle of community policing is that gardaí live and work in an area in which they know the people but that is being pulled back because of the lack of resources. Another local councillor, Michael McBride, mentioned this morning that when his father was a sergeant based in Kilmacrennan in the late 1970s and 1980s three or four additional gardaí were also stationed there, but according to the plans unveiled in recent days there will not be any garda permanently based in Kilmacrennan.
This goes back to the under-resourcing of the Garda force in County Donegal, especially in the Milford district. Despite the fact that recruitment to Templemore recommenced in 2015, the Milford Garda district has not had any new recruits in the intervening period. The impact of that is we are now seeing a superintendent left with little choice but to pull gardaí into the central station when that should not, and cannot, be the case. We need additional resources in the county and in the Milford area, in particular, so that the stations I mentioned can have permanent personnel located in them serving the local community. I hope the Minister of State will address the issue. The situation the Government has overseen is that the Garda force and resources in the county have been depleted to such an extent that the number of Garda personnel has reduced from 466 in 2010 to 404 today. That is simply not enough to do the job of properly policing such a large county. We deserve better.
I acknowledge Deputy McConalogue's interest in and passion for this issue and I thank him for raising it. I apologise for the Minister for Justice and Equality who cannot be here this evening.
I wish to reiterate for the House yet again that the deployment of Garda resources, including personnel, to specific areas, as the Deputy will appreciate, is solely the responsibility of the Garda Commissioner and his management team. The Commissioner has publicly spoken about issues such as protecting our most vulnerable and he has highlighted that his priority is a policing model that will provide the best outcomes for communities.
The distribution of Garda resources is constantly monitored and a distribution model is used that takes into account all relevant factors, including population, crime trends and overall policing needs at local level. It is then a matter for the divisional chief superintendent to determine the optimum distribution of duties among the personnel available to him or her, having regard to the profile of the area and its specific needs. That applies equally in both rural and urban areas.
The Commissioner has informed the Minister that on 31 January 2019, the latest date for which figures are readily available, the strength of the Donegal division was 409, with 63 gardaí assigned to the Milford Garda district. There are also 13 Garda Reserves and 35 civilians attached to the division.
An Garda Síochána has responded to the type of threats that communities face through a robust and determined drive against criminals who seek to prey on vulnerable householders with the implementation of special operations such as Operation Thor, which is active in the Donegal division and focused on burglary and burglary-related crime. Since the beginning of Operation Thor in 2015 up to 15 January 2019, there have been 9,290 arrests, 10,662 charges, 34,720 searches, 273,355 patrols, 177,488 checkpoints and 97,480 intelligence reports.
Since the reopening of the Garda College in September 2014, almost 2,400 recruits have attested as members of An Garda Síochána and have been assigned to mainstream duties nationwide, of whom 55 were assigned to the Donegal division. I am informed by the Commissioner that the Milford Garda district has now been designated as a Garda training district and it is expected that newly attested probationer gardaí will be allocated to the district following the planned attestation of a further 200 probationer gardaí next month.
The Commissioner has also informed the Minister that it is his intention to recruit a total of 600 trainee gardaí in 2019 along with a net 600 Garda staff. The recruitment of the additional Garda staff will allow the Commissioner to redeploy this year a further 500 fully trained gardaí from administrative duties to the front-line duties for which they are trained. The injection of this large number of experienced officers into the field, along with the new recruits, will be really beneficial in terms of protecting communities.
Furthermore, the Commissioner has been provided with an additional €100 million in 2019, bringing his total budget to almost €1.8 billion. This substantial investment will allow the accelerated recruitment programme to continue, in tandem with the deployment of new and leading-edge technology to support front-line gardaí in carrying out their work of delivering a visible, effective and responsive police service to communities across all Garda divisions, including the Donegal division in 2019 and future years.
I thank the Minister of State for his response, but I am afraid the severity and impact of the Government's failure to work with the Garda Commissioner to properly allocate sufficient Garda resources to the county is not accepted or acknowledged by him and I get no sense from the response that he will ensure, in tandem with the Garda Commissioner, that additional resources are supplied to the county.
I outlined to the Minister of State how we have gone from 466 gardaí in the county in 2010 to just 404 today. We acknowledge that there are new trainees coming out of Templemore but, as I pointed out to him, there have not been any new trainees going to the Milford Garda district.
That is why we are seeing pressure on policing, particularly on community policing. The communities of Rathmullan, Kerrykeel, Carrigart, Kilmacrennan and Ramelton deserve to have Garda members based in the area and working in the stations there. Unfortunately, we have seen from the Government the closure of Churchill Garda station, the reduction of Ramelton Garda station's complement from four to zero and proposals today to pull gardaí from Kilmacrennan, Kerrykeel and Rathmullan to central headquarters. Working with the Garda Commissioner, the Minister of State must look at this issue very seriously and address it. This must be done by putting additional resources into the county and ensuring that Donegal has enough uniformed personnel on the ground. Members of the Garda based in those stations, whose presence in the community is valued so much, must not be pulled away from them because of the Government's inaction.
As it probably was not heard the first time, I wish to stress again that the deployment of Garda resources, including personnel, to specific areas is solely the responsibility of the Garda Commissioner and his management team. It is very important that colleagues understand this. The Minister has no role whatsoever in interfering with that. As already alluded to, community policing is at the heart of An Garda Síochána, as it is recognised that every community, urban or rural, has its own concerns and expectations. All members of the Garda have a role to play in community policing while carrying out their duties. This is particularly true in rural areas such as Milford, where local gardaí are strongly connected to the community. Over the past few years unprecedented resources have been made available to the Commissioner. They are now coming on stream across all Garda divisions, including the Donegal division and Milford district. To conclude, I assure the Deputy that the Government is committed to ensuring that the Commissioner and his management team have the resources necessary to deliver a modern policing service to communities throughout the country, including Milford Garda district. I repeat, they and not the Minister are responsible for the allocation of resources. I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue this evening and bringing it to the attention of the House.