Thursday, 8 July 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
An Garda Síochána
95. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she will report on the progress being made on the implementation of A Policing Service for the Future plan with reference to County Limerick; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36514/21]
I raise the question of the implementation of the plan, A Policing Service for the Future, in Limerick city and county. It is a matter I have raised in the past both with Garda Commissioner Drew Harris before the justice committee and at joint policing committees as well. My concern is about the redeployment of gardaí from non-front line duties like court or patrol duties to front-line community policing. It is where gardaí would be better deployed and they do a fantastic job on the ground. Will the Minister give an update on the advancement of the redeployment programme, which is a priority under the plan?
I thank the Deputy for raising the matter. As he is aware, in December 2018 the Government published A Policing Service for the Future, which is a detailed four-year plan to implement the landmark report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. The plan was developed in co-operation with stakeholders from across the public service including, in particular, An Garda Síochána.
The policing reform implementation programme office is based in the Department of the Taoiseach and works closely with my Department to monitor progress by all stakeholders on the actions contained in A Policing Service for the Future. This supports the work of the implementation group on policing reform and keeps the high-level steering board on policing reform and the Government apprised of the progress being made.
While progress on some actions has been impacted by the many demands on An Garda Síochána during the Covid-19 pandemic, a key milestone in the plan was reached in April with the publication by the Minister, Deputy McEntee, of the general scheme of the policing, security and community safety Bill. The Bill provides for wide-ranging and coherent reform of policing by improving the performance and accountability of our policing and security services, and supporting the human rights of all people throughout Ireland to be and feel safe in their communities. A key and novel aspect of the Bill is the establishment of local community safety partnerships, to support a whole-of-Government approach to keeping communities safe and which will build upon and replace the existing joint policing committees.
Turning specifically to Limerick, the Deputy will be aware that Limerick is one of the first five divisions chosen by Garda management for the implementation of the new Garda operating model. This new structure was identified by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland as a core action necessary to streamline and strengthen administration and to provide a more visible, responsive policing service tailored to the local needs of communities nationwide. The Deputy will also be interested to know that a crisis intervention team is to be piloted in the Limerick Garda division, again following a recommendation from the commission. This pilot project is being developed to support appropriate mental health interventions and is being designed by local management in close collaboration with colleagues in the HSE.
I thank the Minister for that update. I am aware of the operating model and the other crisis intervention measures. This is a specific issue. We need as many gardaí, and very much community gardaí, on the ground as possible. Under the future of policing strategy, the redeployment of gardaí from tasks such as courthouse duties in Mulgrave Street and at other courthouses in Limerick city to front-line duties is a priority. I ask the Minister to take it up with the Garda Commissioner, within her overall review brief, in order that this particular issue would be advanced. It is a proactive measure. It would take time but the public and the ordinary person in Limerick likes to see, and is reassured by seeing, their community gardaí walking the beat, either in the city centre or in the suburbs, the towns and villages. One of the elements of that is the redeployment of gardaí from non-front line duties to specific community front-line duties.
I acknowledge that the Deputy has pursued this issue for a considerable time now. I am informed by the Garda authorities that as of 31 May last, 797 Garda members have been reassigned to operational roles and their previous roles assigned to Garda civilian staff. This includes 51 so far this year, and I am informed that the targeted number of garda reassignments for this year stands at 400. I am further informed that there will be a focus this year on the reassignment potential from the public office roles in Garda stations, the dispatch function in the regional control rooms and the provision of administrative support to the divisional protective services units throughout the State.
I very much welcome that. I ask that the Minister would follow up on the specific issue of court duties. The in-house security duties at the courts in Dublin are carried out by private security firms. That is not the case in places like Limerick. While the gardaí carry out a phenomenal role in the courts, for me and for many people the gardaí provide an exponentially better function to the public by community policing in Limerick. While I welcome the other measures, which are very important, I am referring to one specific feature. I ask that the Minister would follow up on this with the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, and provide me with an update when a response comes to the Minister.
I agree with the Deputy that there are certain duties, such as security in the Courts Service, that could be carried out by a private company rather than using the valuable time of gardaí. As of 31 May there were 81 Garda staff assigned to the Limerick division. This represents an increase of more than 58% since December 2015 when there were 51 Garda staff members assigned to the division. An Garda Síochána has been allocated an unprecedented budget of €1.952 billion for 2021. This level of funding is enabling sustained, ongoing recruitment of Garda members and staff. As a result, Garda numbers are approximately 14,500 Garda members, and more than 3,000 Garda staff nationwide. I will raise with the Garda Commissioner the matter raised by the Deputy.