Thursday, 10 September 2020
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
6. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the amount of funding allocated to implementing the national drugs strategy in County Louth; and if there is scope to increase funding following the outcome of the recommendations presented in the Drogheda scoping exercise. [22994/20]
23. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the status of the scoping exercise for Drogheda, County Louth, announced on 21 August 2020; the date of commencement and other relevant details on the matter; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22869/20]
What amount of funding has been allocated to implementing the national drugs strategy in County Louth? I am also asking about the level of resources required and whether there is scope to increase funding following the outcome of the recommendations presented in the Drogheda scoping exercise. I have made a request that the exercise be escalated to involve major towns such as Dundalk in County Louth, which have huge problems in this particular regard.
In view of the Minister's interest in fighting criminality in County Louth, particularly in Drogheda with her attendance at the protest following the barbarous murder of one of our citizens, the petrol bombing of homes and the intimidation of people, will she give us more detail on a very welcome scoping report for Drogheda to look at all of the issues with regard to criminality, crime, youth crime, youth supports, recreation and amenity and support for community organisations, exactly as happened in the north inner city of Dublin?
I propose to take Questions Nos. 6, 23 and 173 together.
I thank the Deputies for raising this issue. It is obviously very close to both Deputies, who have worked extremely hard in their communities and with local resources and authorities to try to address this.
As the Deputies are aware, on Friday 21 August 2020, I appointed the former director of the Probation Service, Vivian Geiran, to carry out a scoping exercise to assess the impact that criminal activity in Drogheda is having on the community and make recommendations for action. I am pleased that Mr. Geiran is available to carry out this scoping exercise, which will make recommendations on what action we need to take in Drogheda in light of the impact of the criminal activity there. The scoping exercise will gather and assess information relating to the ongoing challenges and needs experienced by communities in Drogheda, and identify opportunities to connect, support and strengthen services in the area, including in particular those for young people. The exercise will look at the areas of community safety, policing, the impact of substance abuse, and drug debt intimidation but also at community development needs, the existing service landscape, including facilities for families and children's services, the physical environment of the town, and education and employment opportunities.
I met Mr. Geiran last week to discuss his work and to assure him of my absolute support as Minister and my commitment to this project as somebody who is not from Drogheda but who lives in the neighbouring village of Slane in County Meath. I have seen how this problem has seeped out of the town of Drogheda into the surrounding areas, not just to Dundalk but also to Laytown, Bettystown and Duleek. It is something I want to see addressed.
The work, which will take between six and ten weeks to complete, includes gathering information and assessing the scale and nature of the problem in order to map the services available and identify any gaps. Mr. Geiran will engage with residents, service providers, including An Garda Síochána, businesses and other members of the community, and draw on their local knowledge and understanding of the problems to identify key opportunities for action.
I am aware a body of work had been started by the chief executive of Louth County Council and the intention is to continue to work with the local council, councillors, local representatives and Deputies and Senators in the area, and I am sure Mr. Geiran will engage with all representatives.
As I have mentioned, the issue in Drogheda has spilled into neighbouring areas and, where relevant to the scoping exercise, this will be taken into account. It is a matter I discussed with Mr. Geiran. It will take into account that this problem does not just have an impact on the people of Drogheda, although it is the main focus. We have seen how it seeped into other communities, towns, villages and rural areas. I have asked Mr. Geiran to ensure there is no limit if he feels he needs to go further than the town.
As the Deputies are aware, the national drugs strategy is under the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Health and, therefore, is a matter for that Department. With regard to the funding, while I have asked Mr. Geiran not to hold back on what he feels is needed, it should not just be about additional funding. There are, of course, services and supports. We heard very clearly from many people at the march earlier this year that some of the organisations need additional support, help and funding. However, there needs to be a particular focus on where we can better connect and better integrate the services that are already in place, where we can link people in a better way and understand what each one is doing and where they can understand themselves in order that they can support people and provide a greater wraparound service.
We are also considering that the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland very much focus on community policing, and this will be a particular priority here. Whatever we do, and whatever recommendations come out of this, they will feed into the overall work being done by An Garda Síochána.
I welcome the Minister's response. The scoping exercise is absolutely necessary. She spoke about how this problem in Drogheda has seeped into other areas, including County Meath. Criminality is interconnected and any scoping exercise must at least look at the entire county and beyond, particularly where there are major connections to organised crime between Dundalk and Drogheda. We are dealing with a very dangerous quotient of criminals. I welcome the Minister's mention of drug debt intimidation. I accept that the national drug strategy does not fall under her remit but I have had this conversation with the Minister previously. We need somebody at the Cabinet who has full responsibility for dealing with the entire drugs problem, which encompasses health, justice, education and children. We need this to happen as quickly as possible.
We also need to ensure we have all of the wraparound services. Gardaí would be the first to tell us we do not have, even through NGOs or the State itself, the additional services required. They end up chasing their tails.
I welcome the Minister's statement and, as I said earlier, her commitment to Drogheda and the surrounding area. I agree with her that there is a drug problem and criminality in east Meath in towns such as Laytown, Bettystown, Mornington, Donacarney and even Duleek. This is the real change in our society in Drogheda. This is the first time the Minister holding the justice portfolio has cared and the first time the Government will act and significantly invest in the social infrastructure there, supporting areas that suffer from economic loss and lack of employment.
In addition, the Garda is doing a fantastic job. I welcome the increased number of gardaí and the determination of Chief Superintendent Christy Mangan to win this battle for the people and to make sure all these criminals are put behind bars.
The other side of this is to support, nurture and improve the facilities, particularly on our working-class estates, which suffer from a deficit of appropriate and proper recreation facilities and other amenities. Working together, as the Minister wants to do, and across Departments, which must be involved in this, we will make Drogheda just like the north inner city of Dublin is, a changed area where the many, not the few criminals, are winning.
I again thank both Deputies for their commitment to this. The implementation of these recommendations will only work, if all agencies, including the various Departments, whether Justice and Equality, Health, Education and Skills or Employment Affairs and Social Protection, come together. This mirrors the work we intend to do through the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, in respect of which we are bringing together all the various agencies. It was alluded to, that in many cases, particularly at weekends and where services are closed or otherwise not available to people, gardaí are the front-line service that people call. They are there for health reasons, housing reasons and many other reasons. What we need is for them to be on the ground tackling criminality and working with our communities. They can only do that with the support of all the various agencies. That is why I hope with the recommendations from Mr. Geiran that we can set about this work specifically in the town of Drogheda. I accept there are other surrounding areas in the county and other counties that would like to be included, but this is a specific ask from the people of Drogheda, given the very serious crimes that have happened there in recent years. I have asked Mr. Geiran to expand that if he needs to do so.
I welcome what the Minister said. In that scoping exercise, they will need to look above and beyond just Drogheda and will have to take into account wider facets. There is a necessity for an audit of all services and the capacity and capability of the gardaí, who are doing brilliant work tackling these crimes. We are, however, starting from behind. I have recently been in houses in major urban areas in Dundalk that have been firebombed. I have also been out in north County Louth, where houses have been attacked in cases of attempted drug debt intimidation, putting pressure on parents to pay their children's debts. This is happening across the board. It is becoming absolutely normal for many people. We need to make sure that along with dealing with the health aspects of this and ensuring that all sectors have sufficient funding, we deal with the backlog in courts and serious criminals by putting them where they need to be put. I commend the Red Door Project, Turas and Family Addiction Support Network in Dundalk
I believe this initiative will be transformational in our county, particularly in our town and surrounding area. I look at the young people growing up and the opportunities they need and which they have been deprived of in the past because Government policy has not invested adequately in employment locally. I welcome Amazon's building of a data centre in Drogheda, and there are good signs of increased investment in our community. Young people need to be shown the way, and they are willing to grasp the opportunities. The youth organisations and sports organisations are very anxious to be involved in this. Similarly, on our estates we have a number of community and voluntary bodies. I welcome again the inclusiveness of the Minister's proposal and the short period - ten weeks is just about right - to get everybody together and get the plan together. As she says, we will not be hesitant in putting forward proposals for investment in our community or pointing out that the option of drugs is negative in its totality for families. Opportunity, education, good health, a good future for young people and, most of all, the happiness of all the people will be determined by this initiative.
Deputy O'Dowd raised the issue of the timeline. I asked Mr. Geiran whether ten weeks would be enough and he absolutely assured me it would be. The sooner we can get the recommendations, the sooner we can start to act on them. In the meantime, there are still concerns about criminal activity in Drogheda and the surroundings area in counties Louth and Meath.
Regarding the changes over the past year or two, there are currently 152 gardaí assigned to the Drogheda district. This represents an increase of 46% compared with the end of 2015, so there has been a massive increase in the number of gardaí on the ground. There are also now 18 garda staff within the Drogheda district, an increase of 64% on the previous figure. While the focus of this scoping exercise is not that we have more gardaí but that we have a wraparound service and support for the community, it is important to note, given the serious crime and serious incidents that have been happening and the very tragic murder of a young man, that there is an increased Garda presence on the ground, and they are doing everything they can to support the community in the interim.