Dáil debates

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Garda Siochana (Functions and Operational Areas) Bill 2021: Second Stage

 

2:50 pm

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to introduce this Bill to the House. The purpose of the Bill is to make some technical changes necessary to facilitate the roll-out of a new Garda operating model. In September 2018, the Report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland was published. The report presents a clear vision for the future of An Garda Síochána. The consultation by the commission led to the development of ten key principles for the future of policing in Ireland and a comprehensive set of recommendations to meet not just current but also future challenges. A plan entitled "A Policing Service for the Future" which sets out the approach to implementation was subsequently published. The many actions set out in the plan include several significant pieces of legislation.

This Bill relates to one part of the "A Policing Service for the Future" plan, that is, the implementation of a new organisational operating model for An Garda Síochána. An earlier report from the Garda Inspectorate, "Changing Policing in Ireland", had also made recommendations for reform. In particular, it underlined the advantages of a smaller number of divisions and regions. The new operating model was announced by the Garda Commissioner in August 2019. The main aim of the model is to introduce structural changes to provide more front-line gardaí, increased Garda visibility and a wider range of policing services for local communities. The new divisional model of policing means that all services will be managed and co-ordinated at divisional level. This allows divisions to be more operationally autonomous and responsive to local needs. The model will also enhance the investigation of crime through the delivery of a greater range of specialised services in local areas, such as the investigation of sexual crime, domestic violence, cybercrime and economic crime.

Moving from a district model to a functional model will allow for specialisation, which means that services can be more effective. Streamlining administration and bureaucracy, alongside the ongoing process of civilianisation, will result in more front-line gardaí. This also involves the deployment of more Garda sergeants and inspectors to the front line, where they can lead and supervise their teams. At present, there are 28 divisions, each divided into districts. Each district is headed by a superintendent. Under the new model, Garda districts will no longer exist and, instead, there will be 19 divisions.

A division will have four functional areas, covering: community engagement, including roads and community policing; crime, including serious crime, security intelligence and immigration; performance assurance, including performance standards, internal discipline and engagement with the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission; and business services, including finance and logistics, human resources and general administration. Superintendents will head up each of the functional areas of community engagement, crime and performance assurance. The business services area will be headed up by a civilian.

The introduction of the operating model is not just a legislative matter. It is being introduced as part of the Commissioner's role under the Garda Síochána Act 2005 for the general management and administration of the Garda organisation, including the deployment of members of An Garda Síochána throughout the State. Work has been under way in An Garda Síochána for some time to prepare for and implement the new organisational structure. There are, however, a number of technical legislative changes that need to be made in order to allow the operating model to be fully rolled out. As I mentioned, the new model will mean that districts will no longer form part of the organisational structure. There are numerous references across the Statute Book to Garda districts. All of these references need to be amended. There were also regulations made in 1924 stating that the organisation is to be divided into districts and divisions. These regulations will need to be revoked. The main purpose of this Bill is to make those changes.

In addition, there are responsibilities assigned in numerous statutes to Garda members at superintendent rank. Given that roles at superintendent level are to be allocated on a functional rather than a geographical basis, some statutory functions assigned to superintendents under the current model would be concentrated in a single superintendent for a division under the new structure. The workload this entails could impact on the delivery of the relevant services. One of the aims behind the Bill is to remove these legislative obstacles so as to enable the operating model to be fully rolled out. The Bill removes references to Garda district from the Statute Book. Most of these references will be replaced with references to Garda division. The Bill will also amend the rank at which certain responsibilities are assigned, to ensure that the delivery of relevant services are not affected by the new structures.

Turning now to the individual provisions of the Bill, section 1 is a standard provision relating to the commencement and Short Title of the Bill. Section 2 provides definitions for terms used in the Bill.

Section 3 provides for the revocation of the Garda Síochána (Designations, Appointments and Discipline) Regulations 1924, which set out that the Garda Síochána is to be divided into districts and divisions. There are saving provisions in this section which will address the fact that the model is to be rolled out on a phased basis for different divisions.

Section 4 provides for the amendment of 32 Acts set out in Schedule 1 and the amendment of seven statutory instruments set out in Schedule 2. References in that legislation to Garda districts will be replaced with references to divisions or other appropriate wording. It will also amend references to the superintendent of a district. In most cases this will be replaced with references to a superintendent in a division. This is necessary under the new model where there will be multiple superintendents in a division. In some cases, as I have said, this will be replaced with reference to an inspector.

This transfer of responsibilities is being made, as I have outlined, to ensure that the new structure does not have an impact on the delivery of the relevant services. The Bill makes this change in relation to gaming and lotteries, in the context of the issue of fitness-and-probity certificates for the purposes of betting licences and for managers and beneficial owners of private members' gaming clubs. Where the function concerned is administrative in nature, for example, where notice of a court application is to be given, the Bill also assigns those functions at inspector level.

While not directly related to the introduction of the new operating model, during the drafting process an issue was identified whereby a number of items of legislation refer to the Dublin metropolitan area. The latter is not used by An Garda Síochána and is not defined in legislation. The Bill, therefore, also makes amendments to clarify that references to the Dublin metropolitan area are to be read as references to the Dublin metropolitan region, which is a region of An Garda Síochána.

I will outline some examples to illustrate the nature of the changes being made. Under section 25 of the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act 1851, warrants in criminal proceedings are to be addressed to the superintendent or an inspector of the Garda district where the person resides or where the warrant was issued. This is being amended in the Schedule to the Bill so that the warrant is to be addressed to: "a superintendent or an inspector in a Garda division where the person resides or where the warrant was issued."

There are amendments to the Betting Act 1931. The amendments to this Act relate to applications for certificates of fitness and probity, which licensed betting operators are required to have. Applications are currently made to the superintendent in the district in which the person resides or carries out business. Under this amendment, applications will be made to an inspector in the division in which the person resides or carries on business.

Section 5 provides for the amendment of miscellaneous provisions listed in Schedule 3 and Schedule 4 to replace the phrase "district or place" with "area or place". There are several provisions across the Statute Book that use this phrase. They generally allow a requirement to be imposed on a person that he or she reside in a particular district or place. This is the case, for example, when a person is released on bail. As the term "district" here could be understood to be a Garda district, it is being replaced with the word "area".

Section 6 provides for the amendment of the Firearms Act 1925 to provide a power for a superintendent to delegate specific functions. Under this section, a superintendent may appoint an inspector to perform certain licensing functions of the superintendent under the Act of 1925. These functions will remain at superintendent level. However, the proposed legislation also facilitates the delegation by a superintendent of those functions - other than revocation functions - to an inspector. As the new Garda divisions will be larger in geographical size and population than they were previously, it is envisaged that the delegation mechanism will be used to avoid the build-up of backlogs under the new operating model.

Section 7 amends the Sex Offenders Act 2001. That Act requires persons to whom the legislation applies to make certain specified notifications at a district or divisional headquarters. There will, of course, no longer be district headquarters. Under this amendment, the Commissioner may designate stations at which notifications can be made instead of district headquarters. The new subsection (8A) will require that any Garda Síochána stations designated shall be in writing and a list of designated stations shall be published.

Section 8 makes a similar amendment to the Criminal Justice Act 2006. That Act requires persons to whom the legislation applies - those convicted of drug trafficking offences - to make certain specified notifications at a district or divisional headquarters.

Section 9 provides a power for the Minister to amend specific references to a Garda district or Garda rank in statutory instruments, and to make certain other amendments, to give effect to a determination of the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána under section 33(1) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. Section 33(1) of that Act provides that the Garda Commissioner shall determine the manner in which the Garda Síochána are to be distributed and stationed throughout the State. The purpose of this section is to allow the Minister to make a statutory instrument to amend other statutory instruments which refer to district. The amendment will be along the same lines as those in the Bill.

Section 10 is a general provision designed to capture any references to Garda districts in the Statute Book that are not amended by the Bill. It clarifies that references to district on the Statute Book can be construed as references to the equivalent division. It also provides that any references to superintendent in the context of a district are to be construed as references to a superintendent of the Garda Síochána in the equivalent division.

Section 11 clarifies the meaning of Garda division in enactments being amended by the Bill and any enactment made after the date the section comes into operation. Garda divisions are not defined in statute currently and this will add clarity.

Section 12 provides for the construction of references to Royal Irish Constabulary or Civic Guard districts as Garda Síochána divisions. There are several references to police districts in legislation dating from before the establishment of An Garda Síochána. This provision makes it clear that they are now to be understood as references to Garda divisions.

Sections 13 to 27, inclusive, are transitional provisions relating to the amendments being made by section 4. The transitional provisions address situations where, for example, court proceedings relating to an Act being amended are ongoing at the time the legislation comes into force.

They will also address situations where an application has been submitted before the date of commencement but has not yet been determined. The purpose of the section is to ensure that court processes or applications will not be adversely affected by the amendments being made to legislation.

Section 13 is a general transitional section.

Sections 14 to 26 each relate to particular legislative measures.

Returning to the examples I gave earlier, section 14 is a transitional provision relating to the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act 1851. If a warrant is issued before the amendment comes into force, it will have been addressed to a superintendent or inspector in a district. This section ensures that it will still be valid after amendment even though the legislation will now state that the warrant must be addressed to a superintendent in a division.

Section 16 is a transitional provision relating to the Betting Act 1931. Applications are currently made to a superintendent. Under the amendment, applications will be made to an inspector. This transitional provision will deal with, for example, applications that have been made to a superintendent before the amendment is made. The application will be deemed to have been made to an inspector instead for the purpose of subsequent provisions of the section.

I note section 27, which is a transitional provision that addresses the fact that the operating model is to be rolled out on a phased basis. Some of the new divisions are due to be created at a later date.

I look forward to the debate on this Bill. It is very technical but will enable a key piece of the policing reform programme, which is something to which the Government is committed. I commend the Bill to the House and look forward to working with Deputies as it progresses.

3:10 pm

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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Next is Deputy Martin Kenny, who I understand is sharing time with Deputies Munster and Quinlivan.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Minister for her detailed opening remarks on this technical Bill, which will impact on a series of legislative measures, many of them dating back to well before the formation of the State, particularly in respect of Garda districts, which will now become part of Garda divisions. All of this is coming from the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland's recommendations on modernising the force and making it more nimble and better able to cope with the demands of modern policing and criminal justice. We will support the Bill. This is not to say that there are not elements that we believe need to be examined more closely, probably on Committee Stage when we see what amendments need to be made.

There are some concerns, of which I am sure the Minister is aware, that the new model will take time to bed in. For members of the Garda, it will take time to adjust to this new set-up. Superintendents will not have geographical areas to look after. Instead, they will have particular sets of duties. It will be like a division of job descriptions rather than territories. There is some merit in that. It has been found in modern organisations that managements work better when they are in such set-ups as opposed to how roles were traditionally divided up in the Garda Síochána.

Much of how progress under this legislation and its outworkings is judged will depend on results on the ground, for example, whether communities feel safer, get better responses and see that the Garda is more reactive and performing better. That is what we all want to happen, but much of it will require more resources and a greater emphasis on community policing in particular. One of the roles of one superintendent in each division will relate to community policing. It is the view of all the people we speak to, be they representatives of victims of crime or of various organisations that deal with people who have been involved in crime in the past and are now trying to get back on a better track in life, that, at the end of the day, it comes down to having the police officer in the community who knows and works with the people and is a part of that community. In fairness, the Minister comes from a rural district and understands how important it is for the community to feel a connection with the police. I am afraid that is not the case in many rural areas at the moment, though. There is a sense of disjointedness and of local gardaí not being as connected as they were in the past but, I hope, will be again in future.

We must ensure that there are units in each area that are concerned with connecting and dealing with people. At a committee hearing, the Commissioner stated that every garda was a community garda. That may be true to an extent, but it does not stand up completely when one thinks about it. In most cases, gardaí are divided into units of expertise, for example, drugs squads, serious crime units and roads policing. Each of them may have an element of dealing with and being part of the community, but if we are to crack the problem we have in many areas and relieve communities that have been blighted by serious crime, we will have to get gardaí on the ground who are part of those communities and designated as community police. I welcome the part of this Bill that will try to make that happen.

The performance assurance element is one of the measures that many would see as a step in the right direction. There has been poor accountability previously. This is not to be critical of anyone in particular, but the system has not delivered the kind of accountability that we would like to see. There are many high-profile examples of this. There are people who come to my office - I am sure people regularly go to the offices of other Deputies - who have had negative experiences that have been magnified by a sense of non-engagement and of no one being held to account, and a feeling that they were talking into a dark cavern that was not whispering anything back. Performance assurance will form part of one of the roles of a superintendent in each division. It may be a way in which this part of the problem can be resolved.

Issues will be different in each area. Many areas, particularly built-up urban ones, have serious problems with drug gangs and the criminality that surrounds all of that. It is a plague on those communities and additional resources need to be invested to deal with it. Every effort needs to be made to ensure that we not only have gardaí on the street and part of the community, but that we also have specialised units that target where those drug gangs are operating and what they are doing to destroy communities. These gangs are not just in built-up urban areas. We might think of Dublin, Drogheda, Dundalk and the like that have clear problems, but these problems arise across the State. There are so-called wannabe gangsters in every small community in the country. We must recognise this and deal with it. Even in the very rural area that I come from, I hear about issues on the grapevine. I speak to local gardaí regularly about all of these issues. They are aware of them and there is a sense that they want to intervene and do something at times, but they sometimes do not have the resources to sit on top of and emphasise the small groups of people on whom they must mount constant surveillance in order to close them down. If additional resources are required in that regard, then I hope the savings that will be made through the new model can be invested in those resources and in delivering real change on the ground.

We all support the civilianisation of the Garda Síochána, which sees civilians doing a large amount of the back office work that does not require a garda. This civilianisation is worthy and a great deal of work is being done in that regard.

However, it is something we all need to consider. I do not think it is any harm that when people attend a Garda station to have a passport signed, make an inquiry or whatever, they meet and deal with a member of An Garda Síochána in that regard because it means they become used to meeting and dealing with gardaí and understand that they are not a group of people that are outside of society or separate from them. It is important to ensure that it remains the case that people can have that type of interaction on an ongoing basis.

As we move forward, we have a great deal of work to do in specific areas. I often hear that crime is a problem in some areas. It is a problem in many areas, but it is not a problem everywhere. In general, we have a society that is obedient of the law. People do their best. That needs to be recognised. At the same time, where the big problems exist, they need to be dealt with and that will require additional resources as well as reorganisation.

I look forward to working on the Bill on Committee Stage and to its eventual enactment. As I said, because it is so technical in nature, there are some aspects that may need to be reviewed and amended.

3:20 pm

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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As stated by my colleague, Deputy Martin Kenny, my party will be supporting this Bill. We do, however, have some significant concerns, especially around the move away from community policing and the fact that some areas, particularly rural areas, will likely lose out on Garda resources.

I will focus on my area of Louth and east Meath. Under the new model, Louth will be amalgamated with Cavan-Monaghan, whereas east Meath will be an entirely separate division. The Minister is aware of all of the problems we have had in Drogheda and the surrounding areas in recent years, particularly that the town was subjected to a vicious feud by drug gangs and with that came violence, intimidation and murder. People were living in fear as drug gangs destroyed communities and the lives of many young people and attacked and intimidated families. The Garda presence was increase and, following hard work on the part of gardaí and the community, the violence related to the feud calmed down somewhat.

We now have the Guerin report, with which the Minister is familiar. It is a roadmap as to how we can improve services and opportunities in the town to avoid something like that happening again. Policing is central to that. Equally central is increased service provision, increased funding for additional supports and increased funding for community supports, sporting projects for our youth and infrastructural projects for the town. That funding has not been ring-fenced, however. During the summer, I attended an initial meeting involving those tasked with setting up the implementation board. At that meeting, it was stated that funding could be an issue in that other groups would be applying for the same funding steams. The Minister stated previously that this is to be prioritised. The question then is why was the funding not ring-fenced. In the context of the funding that was announced for several support network organisations, as of last Friday they have not received that funding. Despite the fanfare around the announcement, those community groups have not received that funding. I ask the Minister to clarify that.

There are also concerns around the loss of resources. Under the new model, the number of Garda superintendents in Louth, Cavan and Monaghan, is to be cut from eight to five. Commissioner Harris has stated that there will be additional inspectors, sergeants and officers. We need to know the detail in that regard. I welcome that Drogheda is expected to be the new divisional headquarters for the new Louth-Cavan-Monaghan division, but the new plan cuts of east Meath completely. I want to engage with the Minister in that regard. I acknowledge that I have seen reports that some parts of Meath currently served by Drogheda Garda station are to be covered by the Louth-Cavan-Monaghan division. That is welcome, but we also need east Meath to be included. Anyone who is familiar with the problems in Drogheda will know that it does not just involve the town, it involves the surrounding villages in east Meath. They were also badly affected. Under this plan, east Meath will continue to be served by Ashbourne Garda station rather than Drogheda Garda station. We know that is completely unworkable. The Garda Commissioner needs to listen to the people on the ground.

In addition, we have the ridiculous situation whereby the Laytown-Bettystown area is policed on a part-time basis despite a significant increase in anti-social behaviour, drug crime and serious unprovoked attacks over the last few months. People in east Meath feel completely abandoned. They are served by a Garda station that is not fit for purpose and only provides a policing service for 20 hours per week. This part-time police presence of the area has been operational since 2008 and since then the population of the area has quadrupled. There are now 22,000 people living in east Meath yet the Garda presence has not increased. People in the area, when frantically looking for help, have to rely on Ashbourne Garda station, which is 33 km away. Who in their right mind could stand over or justify that?

The Commissioner has promised increased Garda visibility and a more localised service. If east Meath remains in a separate division or is dealt with separately to Louth, and it remains under-resourced, as it currently is, the complete opposite will happen. I have contacted the Commissioner about the part-time Garda presence of 20 hours per week in east Meath. He is aware of the situation but he continues to ignore it. I also raised the issue with the Taoiseach earlier this summer and asked him to commit to the inclusion of a full-time Garda station for the Laytown-Bettystown area in the capital plan. His response was that the matter was under review and he would raise it with the Minister for Justice. I am curious to know if the Taoiseach did so. I suspect he did not because I have heard nothing positive back, or certainly no commitment to do so. That is not acceptable. We have an opportunity to solve the existing problems in Louth and east Meath. Unfortunately, this Bill does not address most of them. The Garda Commissioner needs to listen to people on the ground. The Minister and the Government also need to listen to people on the ground and make a start to try to put things right and to do so properly. If east Meath is stuck with a part-time Garda station an increase in population to 22,000 nothing will ever change. All of that needs to be put right.

Photo of Maurice QuinlivanMaurice Quinlivan (Limerick City, Sinn Fein)
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This is an important Bill, one which my party will be supporting. Our regret is in regard to the need to rush it through. Unfortunately, this need arises because the Government has yet again failed to plan. The new divisions are to begin operations at the end of the year and this debate is occurring as we approach the end of September. This is not a good way to be doing our business.

This is a technical Bill that deals with the introduction of a new operational model. There are several technical and terminology changes that are necessary and should be supported. The new Garda operating model requires that some specific commitments that are crucially important are adhered to, that is, an increase in the number of gardaí on front-line duties and the creation of larger divisions that, crucially, have a wider range of specialised policing skills. There are some positive outcomes resulting from the adjustments made in this Bill. It has been championed that the new district model will allow for greater capacity and organisation of operations at local level. This should allow for a speedier allocation of necessary resources in a particular area as a need arises. The reduction of the Garda division from 28 to 19 should allow for the implementation of a more uniform policing model in geographical areas.

As outlined by my colleagues, there are some risks associated with the Bill. The removal of the district model and its replacement with Garda divisions will bring challenges. We must be cognisant of the concerns raised by the GRA about the risk of longer response times and reduced Garda presence in particular areas given their geographical distance from divisional headquarters. I am concerned that there could be a further dilution of the model of community policing in that this Bill is only keeping trend with community policing numbers across the State.

I refer to the effect these cuts have had in my own city of Limerick. In 2008, there were 92 community garda in Limerick city. As of July 2020, that number had reduced to 31. This is a huge drop and the effect of it is being felt across Limerick, especially in some its more difficult and troubled areas. Over the past year, we saw the near takeover of one housing estate by criminal drug gangs. The good people of that area needed community support. It was only after much political pressure that a joint Garda and council operation was put in place to curb the activities of the particular gang of criminals. While good work was done, the problems in the area remain. If we had had within that estate the presence of a garda who knew the community, some of those who have been attracted to a criminal lifestyle may have chosen a different path. I am in no doubt that if members of the community had had a better relationship with the community gardaí, the effects of some of these criminal activities might have been mitigated.

While we have seen a steady decline in the number of community gardaí in Limerick, we have also seen a large number of civilian staff employed by the Garda. As of July 2020 there were 68 such staff in Limerick Garda stations. My understanding was the presence of civilian staff would free up gardaí from paperwork and office duties, allowing them more time to be out and about in the community. This does not seem to have taken place. Since 2010 the number of civilian staff has risen by 15, yet we continue to see declining numbers of gardaí on community policing duty. Crime prevention is a fundamental task of An Garda Síochána but we are not deploying members where they can best carry out this function. Early intervention and outreach can save some from crime. Community policing creates an opportunity to identify and engage with young people who may be at risk of going down the wrong road. It also helps strengthen relationships between the Garda and communities by building trust and respect. In essence, we must see gardaí back in their communities.

The north side of Limerick, where I live, has faced numerous challenges over the years, with the local station at Mayorstone not even open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The north side has suffered serious losses. In 2008 there were 104 gardaí stationed on the north side. Now, there are only 50. Three sergeants were lost from Mayorstone in the past year. I believe some of these positions have not yet been filled.

When the Limerick regeneration process was launched, the John Fitzgerald report stated at the time that the regeneration areas alone required an additional 100 gardaí. They never got them. Instead Limerick received 100 extra gardaí, while over the same period 99 people left the police force due to redundancy, giving a net increase of one garda. This is the problem. Gardaí are not being deployed to the areas they are needed in, they are not being sent to the communities that need them and gardaí are reacting to crime rather than preventing it. I talk to people in the city all the time and some of them have given up contacting the Garda. They have no confidence in the Garda to respond to their calls. One resident told me just last night of being told by An Garda Síochána not to call the station but rather to call 999, no matter what the seriousness of the issue, as that was the only way to ensure the call was actually logged.

The members of the Garda in Limerick by and large do a very good job. Generally they are approachable and dedicated servants of the State but there is a fear the trust and confidence of some in them is ebbing away. Remedial action must be taken to ensure trust is not lost. We need more gardaí in the community and greater follow-up in responding to calls.

3:30 pm

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I am very glad to have the opportunity to speak on the legislation before the House. As the Minister has rightly indicated, this is part of a comprehensive reform agenda. It is a technical measure, but is part of a suite of very substantial change. The Minister will know I have been advocating change in An Garda Síochána for a very long time, since my involvement in various inquiries. The Garda itself wants a fundamental shift in its structures and so on. Thus, I very much welcome the establishment of the overall and detailed policing review entailed and reported by the commission.

This particular measure creates a new operational model for An Garda Síochána. The objective, as stated, has been part of the general objective of the reforms, namely, to provide more front-line gardaí who are visible to, and accessible to, the community. If that does not come to pass, the whole reform agenda will not have been successful, because people want to see gardaí in their own areas, in their own communities; they want to be able to recognise them and have frank conversations with them. Co-ordination and management under these proposals is now to be done at the larger divisional level. As we have heard, there are to be no more Garda districts. Like the trawl that my own former Department, that of Public Expenditure and Reform, had to go through, one must go through every statute to find where there is reference to a Garda division. That throws up hundreds of statutes, often going back to Victorian times. That is why the Bill is a little convoluted and technical. Most people are familiar with the old Garda district headed up by the old structure of a local superintendent in charge. It will take a while to have the public understand a different model and an allegedly more sophisticated management structure is now to be put in place. It is a more sophisticated structure for a more sophisticated and indeed more challenging time. Instead of 28 Garda districts we are going to have 19 Garda divisions. Each division, instead of being divided geographically into Garda districts under the charge of a superintendent, will be divided by function.

Four specific functions are set out. Community engagement is the first, along with the vital element of community policing and the more contentious issue of roads policing. In many ways community and roads policing comprise the function that most impacts on people. That is where most normal people who are not criminals interact with An Garda Síochána. As such it is a pivotally important one.

The second area is the one of crime, including criminality, security and intelligence. It struck me as odd that immigration is to be placed in this crime function area. Why is immigration in with crime, as opposed to being in with community engagement? It seems to me that is the wrong place for it. If I may be forgiven for saying so, it indicates a mindset I do not think is particularly positive. The whole issue of immigration should not be a matter of saying these people are potential criminals to be vetted but rather that they are part of a new community to be integrated. We will debate this issue late but it strikes me the issue of immigration would certainly fit more properly into the community subset rather than the crime one.

The third area is performance assurance, which is extremely important. That comprises standards evaluation, internal discipline and engagement with the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, or its successor organisation. Openness to public engagement and explanation is critically important. In my period in this House, I have had numerous cases where there was an unfortunate interaction between a member of the public and An Garda Síochána. I am talking about law-abiding people who had an unfortunate experience. A simple explanation and often, a very simple apology, would have sorted the problem but everybody must become technical about this, if I can put it like that. I can give chapter and verse about a number of instances where law-abiding, respectful people had their confidence in An Garda Síochána fundamentally undermined for want of someone simply acknowledging a mistake and saying: "we shouldn't have done that and we apologise". I hope the performance assurance division will take on board these sort of measures and ensure there is a proper modern face to An Garda Síochána. It is the same for people going into a Garda station. Obviously, in Covid times we now have screens and things but if you go into any modern interaction with business, the whole idea is that you are not behind a screen, that you actually talk to people and you have your privacy respected, and that is not the case currently. That also links to the issue of having proper built infrastructure such that there is private space. Thankfully, in Wexford we now have a brand-new Garda divisional headquarters but we had a miserable one. Thankfully, I was in a position to advocate for it in government. I remember going in and trying to have private conversations while there was a queue of people waiting to talk at the hatch. A sergeant had to be put out of his office so I could go in and talk to a Garda officer. That is crazy stuff and I am afraid such situations still prevail in many stations. Thus the capital investment side must be done in parallel to ensure the performance assurance we are talking about actually comes to pass.

Another element is the area of business services, which I understand is to be headed up by a civilian. It comprises finance, logistics and human resource management. That is a good thing. The notion, either in the Civil Service or in local government, that one gets promoted and becomes a human resource specialist is fanciful in modern times. It is a skill set one must be trained and specialist in. One does not become a HR person or a financial expert simply because one gets promoted. That is daft. There is also an issue we can talk about again, that is, the notion a person must go into An Garda Síochána as a recruit in Templemore.

I have met people who are specialists in other areas who would love to come back to Ireland and join An Garda Síochána but they cannot do so because people must go in at base level to join the force. There is to be change now, whereby people can come in at the most senior levels and I would like to see that pan out.

Change is always difficult, as I know from my time as a Minister for five years charged with public service reform. My experience is that it is not only difficult, it is also very challenging because, by and large, everybody sees how everybody else can change for the better but not themselves, somehow. There is an innate and often undermining resistance to change. There needs to be a determination about this and I am very glad the structure is there to drive this change, headed by the Taoiseach. There have been a few attempts at this reform that have never quite made it to completion. The approach to the ongoing change must also be constantly communicated to everybody in the community. Quite often what we do in here and indeed, what An Garda Síochána and other State agencies do, is debated internally at great length. We talk about it, documentation is circulated, we have updated reports and implementation reviews and we are all very well versed but nobody outside knows anything about it. We need to ensure that we bring communities with us. Most of all, these changes must pay visible dividends. We must ensure that we are not changing for the sake of change but because we have a vision for a better police force in this country. We must be able to give assurances to people about how that will be manifest and visible to them.

Ireland, by international comparison, has a relatively low crime rate but the most debilitating thing for most citizens, both young and old, is the fear of crime. There are many people who actually trade on fear and some do so commercially. We witness occasional outrageous attacks on both young people and old people. It could be a young person walking home from work or from a place of entertainment at night who is viciously attacked, and we have seen cases like that recently, or it could be an old person being attacked in the home. The implication of that, not just for the victims directly involved but for everybody, is very serious. I know how old people live in fear when they read about such incidents; it changes the quality of their life fundamentally. That is something on which we all need to be focused. The very understandable fear of crime does immeasurable damage to people's quality of life and we need to be able to assuage such fear by having contact points and response times. I know the Minister has a lot of responsibility now as she is overseeing more than one Department, but when we hear of 999 calls not being responded to, that is shocking for people and cannot be allowed. I am concerned about the reviews we have had in recent times of what have been classified as "scandals", like the breath-test issue. Whatever came of it? Who is ever accountable? It is shocking. We all do our hand-wringing but who is ever held responsible for these things? If nobody is responsible, then nobody is accountable.

The Bill is described as technical in nature and I have it described it thus myself. It is a really important step towards the change that we need to bring about. The structural change to be implemented is one that I support and welcome. I am obviously glad that the divisional headquarters for my own area of Wexford and Wicklow will be in Wexford town. That is a matter of geography, the fact that there is a very fine, brand new divisional headquarters there and also the fact that there is a very good road system between those particular areas. The proximity of Rosslare Port is also important, now and into the future, as a strategic link with Europe and also because of the dangers that obviously come from that.

On the issue of liaison with local communities, as the Minister knows, joint policing committees were provided for under the 2005 Garda Síochána Act and were a truly important innovation. They are going to be modified now but the work they do addresses some of the concerns I have expressed. The committees allow local communities and their representatives to say what is important to them, what is causing fear among people and to ask what An Garda Síochána is going to do about it. The fact that the committees are public fora and are responded to by An Garda Síochána is extremely important. I hope they will be strengthened in this process and not diluted. I have been contacted by councillors who are fearful that there will be fewer councillors, for example, involved in the new police liaison committees and I would like the assurance of the Minister that this will not be the case. Currently, the district superintendent usually attends meetings of the joint policing committees to explain what is going on in his or her geographical district. Obviously, divisions will now cover a much wider geographical area so there is no geographical superintendent to attend. Who is to attend? Will it be, in every case, the chief superintendent? Probably not, I would think. Is it to be a designated superintendent like, for example, the superintendent involved in community policing for the entire division or is it be a lesser ranked individual? I hope it is not downgraded.

As we make profound changes to modernise An Garda Síochána, I seek assurances from the Minister that we will explain those changes to people in very great detail, that there will be tangible benefits to local policing that people can see on the ground and that local representatives will be able to articulate their particular concerns at a local level to a senior member of An Garda Síochána and have those concerns answered in a public forum. That is really important. How that is to be done is not clear from the documentation that has been circulated to date. I do not think it would be a good thing if a less senior person was simply to attend, pro forma. We need to have people with authority to speak authoritatively on behalf of An Garda Síochána in those discussions.

While I welcome the general changes recommended, there is one change about which I am very concerned. I have signalled this at every opportunity and do so again now. After the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland reported, I met the chairperson, Ms Kathleen O'Toole, to discuss a specific issue. One of the fundamental aspects of the reforms that were carried out in terms of giving confidence to people was to take the system of appointing senior members of the force out of the hands of An Garda Síochána and give it to the Policing Authority. It is now proposed to give it back to An Garda Síochána. Without reference to anybody in An Garda Síochána, which is made up of exemplary men and women, the notion that they would make senior appointments themselves is invidious and wrong. It creates a club wherein people must comply with the rules within the organisation if they want to get promotion. That would be a significant and retrograde step and in terms of that recommendation, I hope the Minister will think again.

I am very supportive of the rest of the recommendations. I do not know whether the Minister will be there to present this but I ask her to convey my view that it is really important this is done by an independent entity. There is some talk about using the Public Appointments Service.

4 o’clock

The process must be completely independent and must not involve the senior echelons of An Garda Síochána making internal senior promotions because that provides a conformity where one either conforms to the rules of the club if one wants promotion or one does not and is excluded from promotion. I look forward to debating with the Minister all of these points and all the other proposals for reform.

Sitting suspended at 4.01 p.m. and resumed at 5 p.m.

3:55 pm

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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5 o’clock

A new Garda operational model is one of the key projects being advanced under A Policing Service for our Future, the implementation plan for the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. It is also a priority in the programme for Government. We all support having a small number of division and regions. People in rural Ireland want An Garda Síochána to respond with increased visibility and effectiveness. They want more front-line gardaí, they want to see gardaí in the community and they want to experience a wide range of policing services in their local area. Under the divisional policing model being introduced of 19 divisions, all services will be managed and co-ordinated at division level to allow greater specialisation and centralised office functions. This will allow gardaí to be released from office functions and means Garda districts will no longer form part of the organisational structure.

Between now and the end of the year, Garda strength will increase by 600 bringing numbers up to 15,000. More than 800 gardaí will be deployed on the front line, with 640 garda already having been deployed to the front line from administrative roles in recent weeks.

Before the summer recess, I spoke about Carlow Garda station. I am concerned that the station is not wheelchair accessible. In 2021, someone in a wheelchair cannot access Carlow Garda station. These issues need to be addressed. I have not heard anything about Carlow Garda station from the Minister but I know the Minister of State will address the issue. It is a huge concern to me that the station is not wheelchair accessible.

Carlow Garda station is short-staffed, which is of great concern to me. I welcome the 19 divisions but the staffing shortage in my area needs to be addressed before the system can work. I want to compliment gardaí in Carlow. I know them and how hard they work. I always attend the joint policing meetings held every few months because part of the role of Deputies is to listen to the concerns of the gardaí who are doing great work in the community.

I now turn to what is probably my biggest concern. Carlow is in the third phase of implementing the new divisions. The division, which always covered counties Carlow and Kilkenny, will now cover counties Waterford, Kilkenny and Carlow. Carlow is on the back foot straight away because the divisional headquarters will move from Kilkenny to Waterford, an hour from Carlow. Are these issues being looked at? Will Carlow be left on the back foot the whole time because we are the smallest of the three counties in the division? I want a guarantee from the Minister of State that this will not happen and that Carlow Garda station will get the gardaí it needs.

I am also concerned about Leighlinbridge Garda station which closed some years ago. Leighlinbridge is a lovely rural community. I have been told for past two or three years that the station will reopen. I am so disappointed that this has not happened yet. I am seeking a commitment that Leighlinbridge Garda station will be reopened very soon. I keep being told it will reopen but it has not happened.

All areas, not only my local area, have seen an increase in domestic violence incidents this year. As I stated previously, 3,000 additional incidents were reported during the pandemic. We need to look at better investigation of crimes of this nature. Another problem in Carlow is that we do not have a women's refuge.

That needs to be addressed. These are issues about which I am very passionate. I always feel that Carlow is being left out. I am a Deputy representing the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency. While I am glad to see that Kilkenny is getting things that Carlow does not have, it is unfair again that the people of Carlow do not have the services they deserve. I ask that the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, would look at this and that she come back to me with some good information on what is going to happen. I ask her to write to me on all of these issues, which are of major concern to me. We have one sergeant in Carlow Garda station when we should have two. There are so many issues that I feel need to be addressed.

It is important for me to say to all gardaí that we know the past 18 months have been very hard. We know that they have been on the front line. I know that they have been doing their best. If a garda is in a station where there is not enough staff, morale can be affected. We must make sure that we look after our gardaí and that every Garda station is properly staffed. I ask, in particular, that the Minister make sure that the Carlow Garda station is made wheelchair accessible, gets the extra staff it needs and that we get the Leighlinbridge station reopened for the community of Carlow. Leighlinbridge is small rural community. We must make sure that we also get a women's refuge. I thank the Minister.

4:00 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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That is an impressive shopping list.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle.

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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This Bill is about the restructuring of divisions and districts, a lot of which flows from the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. While I did not agree with all of the commission's recommendations, by and large the thrust of what was put forward made an awful lot of sense in the context of the reorientation towards community policing. I have previously paid tribute to the fact that when resources were very tight, there was a great effort to try to protect community policing in the Cork city division and in the county. One of the points made to me during the course of some of the promotions to community policing in recent times, as the force as a whole has maybe become more reoriented in that direction, is that where somebody is appointed as a community garda the are typically promoted from the core units. While we have seen additional community gardaí and sergeants appointed, in Cork city and elsewhere, the positions of those gardaí who had been promoted have been left absent and those positions have not been back filled. Consider what this has meant for a standard Garda station. As we have seen, the dynamic in nearly every Garda division is that the staff complement in divisional headquarters has grown as community gardaí and the specialist units have increased, but a lot of the suburban and urban Garda stations have actually seen a decrease in staffing in recent times. This needs to be addressed.

In the little time that I have, I want to flag for the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, an aspect that we need to be very watchful for over the coming time. Some rapidly growing urban areas that not so long ago might have been small villages or towns but have seen rapid growth, are very often profoundly under-resourced in Garda numbers because the town or the suburb has changed so radically in ten, 15 or 20 years. That is something we need of which we need to be aware. There were incidents before in Douglas and Ballincollig, but I want to flag in particular the case of Carrigaline. Within living memory there were fewer than 1,000 people in Carrigaline and now there are almost 20,000 people, which is up by some 8,000 people in the past six or seven years. This presents a number of issues. The Garda station is rarely open. Even when the station is in use, there is an issue in relation to the fact that it does not have a computer-aided dispatch, CAD, system. When a garda in Carrigaline reports an incident over the telephone, he or she must then ring it into the district headquarters. It is absurd for a town of that size to not have a Garda station that is properly equipped. I would say that this situation is replicated in a number of other cases. The station has fewer gardaí than it had a year ago. It also does not have a prisoner transport. These issues are replicated across similar Garda stations. I urge the Minister to consider the thematic issue that we need to monitor places that are growing rapidly, where garda numbers are not keeping pace with that, and where the number of incidents in those locations are not keeping pace with that. When the Garda College in Templemore was closed, a period of time was lost. We are now plugging gaps, usually where demand is greatest, but sometimes this misses places that have experienced rapid growth.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
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Obviously, this new operational model for An Garda Síochána is a very big restructuring and modernisation for the force. Modernisation is sorely needed, and an increased focus on integrated community policing is incredibly welcome. The removal of Garda districts under the divisional model is done with the understanding that it will allow for a more efficient distribution of human resources and will allow for greater specialisation within the force. I have had several experiences of this over my political lifetime so while I am hopeful, I am also sceptical. The Garda administrative boundaries for Kildare have changed a number of times. On one occasion, Kildare was under three different divisions. Then we had the one-county divisional model. Now we are to be amalgamated with Laois and Offaly in a single division. The headquarters for this division will be located in Portlaoise. I want to note for the Official Report that in 2016 the population of Laois was 84,000, the population of Offaly was 77,000 and the population of Kildare was 222,000 and growing rapidly. I would like to know why the larger centre of population was not the location selected for the headquarters building and what criteria were used. It is only natural that people who are further away from the Garda headquarters have concerns over the allocation of resources in their local communities. More than one in five Garda divisions had fewer gardaí at the end of 2020 than they had at the start of the year despite an overall increase in the total numbers in the force. For reflective policing, we need the right amount of resources in the right areas. The allocation of resources within the Garda needs to be done in an evidence-based manner. The Garda Síochána has stated that the allocation of resources is currently based on a number of factors including population, crime trends, operational strategies, and the policing needs of an individual Garda division. The use of crime statistics to allocate resources on the face of it would seem logical, but the CSO puts the Garda PULSE system as "under reservation" because the quality of the data does not meet the standards required for official statistics. This makes it very difficult to compile data on crime trends. It is absolutely essential that this matter is resolved in order that we can be confident in the crime statistics and in how resources are allocated.

Policing plans have been done over the years. I have watched what happened before and after a census. It is a copy-and-paste job. The plans do not change even if there are big shifts in population. I have gone on about this for years, if not decades. Under the operational model, who exactly is responsible for the collection and centralisation of the data? It must be done in a professional manner. IT systems need to be in place everywhere and training needs to be given to ensure that information is inputted promptly and correctly. The days of paper records should be behind us. We must be able to rely on accurate information if there is going to be a fair distribution of resources.

I have carried out an analysis, which I do every few years, in respect of Garda resources. It looks at where community policing is, where other resources are such as cars, and where are other ancillary aspects of resources placed. It was interesting that Deputy Ó Laoghaire had made the same point. Consistently we found that just because an area has a growth in population it does not mean that an area gets the resources to go with that.

It is no surprise that the big growth over the past 20 years has been in an arc around Fingal, Meath and Kildare. It is no big surprise that counties Meath and Kildare are the two lowest in terms of Garda strength. I am very hopeful that the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, who represents one of the constituencies, will take that into account. Indeed, the Minister who is currently in the position, Deputy Humphreys, is from an area that has been growing in recent years. County Meath has the lowest ratio of gardaí to population followed by Kildare. That has consistently been the case. We are getting a growth in population but not a comparable growth in facilities and services. I have been talking about that for decades, a fact of which the Ceann Comhairle will be aware.

Over the past two decades, Ireland's population has grown by more than 31%, primarily within urban centres and commuter areas, and it is forecast to increase to between 5.3 million and 5.8 million by 2036.The growth in population will seriously affect the demand on policing services. It is vital at the Garda Síochána can meet the rising demand for services. In order to do so, it must have the necessary tools to identify and predict demand for services as well as having the appropriate resources, staffing and structures to address the demand.

As it stands, the distribution of gardaí across divisions is extremely unbalanced, particularly in the greater Dublin area, as I have highlighted. I have drawn attention to counties Meath and Kildare, which have experienced the highest rate of population growth over the past 20 years, rising by 78% and 65%, respectively. This growth has been clear and consistent in the CSO data, yet it has not been met with an adequate increase in Garda resources, and, indeed, other resources in terms of the counties now ranking lowest in the number of gardaí per person despite repeated recommendations and reports that there is no evidence-based resource allocation method used by An Garda Síochána. That has been quite obvious to the Policing Authority as well.

This can have a bearing on the under-detection of particular crimes. It can also put gardaí at risk. I have come across gardaí who have been put in harm's way by virtue of the fact that they are so stretched, they respond to an incident on their own. I am certainly aware of situations where they have been lucky not to end up in some difficulty as a consequence of that. There is, therefore, a problem on several levels here.

The Garda Síochána Inspectorate made such a recommendation in 2009 but its 2018 Policing with Local Communities report found that the service is still lacking the ability to determine the staffing and resources needs for each division. It found that due to low staffing levels, there were often insufficient gardaí on duty to deal with the needs of their local communities. This was most prominent in rural communities. The restructuring of the Garda will have many benefits. It is important that it does not infringe on the connection of the gardaí to their local communities, however. While the Garda has committed to the community policing model repeatedly over the years, the community police force has not yet recovered from the crash when we saw the numbers of community policing units slashed. Every organisation and stakeholder involved in Irish policing will stress that community policing must be at the very centre of the ethos of An Garda Síochána. It is vital that the numbers of community police are restored to their 2010 levels as a matter of urgency.

Since 2010, Dublin alone has experienced a 39.4% reduction in community policing levels, dropping from 508 officers in 2010 to 308 in 2021. Of the current 28 divisions, 22 still have not recovered from the staffing levels set in 2010. Ten of these divisions remain at 50% or less of the necessary capacity. Eight of the ten divisions with the lowest numbers of community gardaí are located in the top ten counties for population growth. Meath, Kildare, Wicklow, Wexford, Galway, Westmeath and Laois-Offaly are included in that group of ten counties. This indicates once again a clear lack of evidence-based resourcing of staff, and some of the most populous areas in the country are lacking an adequately resourced community policing unit. To provide effective community-based policing, it is essential that An Garda Síochána matches demand for services with the right skills and resources. Public confidence in policing is essential and this is linked to the viability and accessibility of gardaí.

On a positive note, there is a high degree of trust within the general population for the gardaí. The latest Garda public attitudes survey reported 91% of respondents had medium to high levels of trust in the Garda. The majority reported dissatisfaction with the degree of Garda presence in their local communities, however, and only 39% were aware of Garda patrols in their area. The main reasons provided for dissatisfaction were that the gardaí were seen rarely, if ever, according to 65% of respondents, or that they were only ever seen in their cars. That will all always be the case in some areas. In remote areas one can understand that. This demonstrates a clear need for increased Garda visibility by increasing foot and cycle patrols, and, moreover, for an intelligence-based approach to the overall policing strategy.

It has been stated a number of times in this House but bears repeating that the figures from earlier this year have shown that half of all the Covid-19 fines administered in Dublin were given out in the Ballymun and Blanchardstown districts, compared with much lower numbers in the suburbs or in south Dublin. Community policing goes beyond the number of gardaí in the community. It is a relationship between the two, and this relationship does not and cannot function if the attitude is adversarial. The benefits of the community policing model we are seeking to achieve with this reorganisation fall away completely when the relationship turns sour. It is really important that we pay attention to that.

We will see many front-line gardaí under this new operational model, which is sorely needed and very welcome. Plenty of promotions will be occurring as labour is redirected and superintendents are given more responsibility in their divisions. There have been some contradictory announcements in the press and in the context of the proposed legislation as to what exactly governs and who exactly is managing the promotion of gardaí. The Irish Times published a report which stated that the Public Appointments Service is set to take over the management of promotions to the positions of sergeant and inspector, which is a welcome move towards a more transparent and fair process that will be in line with the rest of the Civil Service. In the general scheme of the policing, security and community safety Bill, however, it is stated that the Garda Commissioner will have direct responsibility for the appointment of superintendents, inspectors and sergeants. Appointments to the rank of superintendent and above currently come under the remit of the Policing Authority. It would be useful if the Minister of State would clarify exactly how that will be managed. Some of these positions are very important. The rank of sergeant is incredibly important. That is the organisational level beyond which, for example, the community gardaí will be assigned work. It is really important in the context of the Bill before us.

With the decentralisation of the force under the new divisional model, it is vital that we ensure the promotion of gardaí is done in a modern, fair and transparent way. Last December, 50 Garda inspectors were appointed without going through the normal competition approach. This was bypassed due to an urgent need for sergeants and inspectors but it cannot become the standard process whenever a need for gardaí of a certain rank becomes apparent. That had been a pent-up process. I kept asking when certain ranks were going to be filled and then we found out that they bypassed the normal route. I know last year was very different and I acknowledge that.

Given the significant role senior officers have in implementing this new operational model, the pay dispute with Garda superintendents and chief superintendents is very concerning. Without the co-operation of senior officers, I find it hard to see how this reform will be possible. The pay dispute relates to a 25% increase in the availability allowances for being available outside of office hours. The senior officers are refusing to work outside of their main duties in protest at the non-payment of this increase.

It is incredibly concerning that the pay dispute is impacting ongoing GSOC investigations, as senior officers are refusing to conduct these investigations, some of which are pretty serious. It is not that there is any case which will not be serious, but some would be put on the higher end. This dispute is ongoing and both sides are engaged in talks with the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC. Can the Minister of State clarify the situation and the impact on the rollout of the new operational model on current GSOC investigations?

Reform of the Garda is vital. Significant legislation is making its way through the Minister's Department on this topic and reform has been the subject of many reports and commissions, over the years. The Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, was appointed as a reforming commissioner. It is therefore concerning to hear the Policing Authority express doubts as to the Garda's ability to reform. The authority identified some serious strategic shortcomings, which meant specialist units were hamstrung in their efforts to respond to cyber and economic crime. We were debating the corporate enforcement authority Bill yesterday, to which gardaí will have to be seconded. I have my doubts about whether that is the right way to go. Gardaí should be embedded there.

The Policing Authority has been waiting on a strategic workforce plan since 2019, which would identify where skills were needed and when those skills would arise. How exactly will we have this major reorganisation of the force without that basic information? I would have thought that would have come first. The authority also identified a lack of capacity, leadership, direction and prioritisation with regard to training, with a long-standing vacancy in the position of learning and development director. Other concerns identified included significant delays in the Garda's response to requests for information, which hampers the Policing Authority and its ability to do its job.

The Policing Authority believes it has built up a good relationship with the Garda's senior members and staff over the past few years and that the gardaí are increasingly accepting the oversight. However, concerns were raised over the authority's relationship with frontline gardaí and middle-management grades. Given that we are about to have many more rank and file gardaí and middle management, under this operational model, this should be concerning for all of us. Oversight of the gardaí is vital and not optional. A good working relationship between the Policing Authority and the gardaí is incredibly important but, according to the Policing Authority's report, there seems to be an endless number of obstacles put in their way. This is really serious, when we all accept there is a need for a reformed force. We need a transparent and accountable culture, at the heart of which is community policing.

I am hopeful, but sceptical, of this delivering a fair distribution of resources. There is not only one metric. Population should not be the only one. Different areas have different challenges, but you cannot ignore population. I cannot see any evidence and it has been accepted at committees, including the Committee of Public Accounts, in front of which the previous Garda Commissioner has been and accepted the arguments I made on the allocation of resources and accepted that parts of the country, including Kildare and Meath, are put at a major disadvantage because of their significant population growth, but do not get the comparable growth when it comes to facilities and services and An Garda Síochána personnel. That is an absolute must. The community policing aspect of this cannot work without the allocation of resources to do so. I hope some serious attention is paid to that aspect.

4:20 pm

Photo of Jennifer Carroll MacNeillJennifer Carroll MacNeill (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I am please to speak on this, as part of the overall of policing in Ireland, which is an important programme of modernisation. My first point is on the geographical challenge and the communications around it. Clearly, the new divisional structure envisaged is different in the Dublin area to the Galway and Mayo areas. I reflect on colleagues working in constituencies such as County Mayo and the sheer size and scale to look after, as a Deputy. An Garda Síochána looking after it on a divisional basis, with the distribution of specific functions across that is interesting, but there is a communications challenge around how that will work. Just as we have seen the importance of communication in the vaccine rollout, we need to be able to explain to people what this means and where they go. If part of it is in Wexford but the crime end is down in Bray and I have a shop in Wexford which has been broken into three times and have to go to Bray to talk to the crime specialist. It may work better and that is fine, but we need to carefully explain how that will work and why it is better. It is very different in Dublin.

With regard to what Deputies Murphy and Murnane O'Connor have said, in my area of Killiney-Shankill-Dún Laoghaire area, a new town is being built beside me. Some 30,000 people are expected to live there, in Cherrywood. It is right beside the M50, on the LUAS line and we are extending the DART line to it. It is an extraordinary piece of infrastructure. It is full of retail. Huge apartments are going up and it is a good project, from a house perspective, but there is absolutely no policing plan for it, which I cannot understand. If any other Deputy came in here and said there was a town of 30,000 in his or her community and there is no policing plan for it or even the identification of a site for a station - I do not see how my constituency is different in what it needs. I have raised it again and again through the joint policing committee. I have spoken with local gardaí about it. I know what their needs are, but there is no plan. I must raise that today and ask the Minister of State to check that out and see what is envisaged.

Look at how this will be done in the future; you have the idea of a Garda Commissioner as a CEO, looking after all of the different assets; you have approximately 19,000 and possibly €2 billion worth of funds going into An Garda Síochána and also has a vast estate management function. It has a huge property estate and how will that be managed? I look around my area for examples of this. Dalkey Garda station was closed down, which is fine, but it is just sitting there and going to rack and ruin. It is not being used for anything. We have a significant administrative pressure in the Dún Laoghaire area. An Garda Síochána needs place for administrative staff, which it is looking at renting in various places.

Dalkey station does not have to be a Garda station, but it could just as easily be a place for administrative work. It is under the aegis of the Office of Public Works and could be used as brownfield housing. The same is happening in the Kill of the Grange station. These stations are going to rack and ruin. Meanwhile, Cabinteely station where I recently was to visit members of An Garda Síochána to see the conditions in which they work. They do great work, but I do not understand how they work out of such a small and insufficient premises, relative to the area they are required to cover. Cabinteely is understood to cover the Cherrywood area. I am highlighting for my area but it points to the challenge and I do not yet understand, from what has been published, how the estate management will work. What is the link between An Garda Síochána, the ownership or otherwise of its assets, the OPW, the planning for policing and converting and using properties? It may be there, but I have not yet seen a good explanation of how that will work.

I have a long-standing interest in the Garda youth diversion office. I declare an interest, in that I used to be a member of the section 44 committee, which oversees the implementation of the Garda youth diversion programme. It is an interesting office because, in a way, it is a centralised office of expertise. It is also a quasi-judicial office, in the sense that with regard to everything related to youth crime or offending, or when young people come into contact with An Garda Síochána - clearly, we try to keep them out of the criminal justice system as much as possible - the director there is making decisions about whether to prosecute. It is already a specialist function. Given its quasi-judicial nature and extraordinary importance in crime prevention and diverting young people from the criminal justice system, it seemed curious to me - more than curious, problematic - and we put it into the annual report year after year, how it seemed to be invisible in the organisational structure of An Garda Síochána.

I recall that one year, I think it was 2015 or 2016, it simply did not feature on the organisational chart of An Garda Síochána. That may have been an oversight but I do not believe it was because we were raising it again and again. That spoke to me about a cultural problem at the time. I think that has been rectified somewhat but the reason I raise it is because it is a centre of excellence. It is what we are talking about, that is, dividing up functions and making it more professional and focused on the various areas. This is already a functional office but I am just not sure how that is replicated around the country. Is that function going to be in every division or in some? Given the level of expertise needed, the judgments needed about whether to prosecute, the already insufficient links it has to Tusla, and the fact that it does not have anybody from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, office to help make prosecution decisions, which lengthens the time needed to make those decisions, I wonder how that is going to work. If a decision is made not to prosecute a child because what that child really needs is a therapeutic intervention, anger management or training in relation to sexual violence or whatever it happens to be, he or she is referred into the Tusla system but there are not sufficient links there for An Garda Síochána, which made that referral, to be sure that the child got that therapy. These are important crime prevention measures. It is already insufficient and this is a centre of excellence. Similarly, the reason I make the DPP point is that when prosecuting a child - or not - time is very important. A child who was in an incident at 14 cannot be prosecuted at 17. All of these things are drawn out. I am using my chance to raise this with the Minister of State. I appreciate that I am out of time but I hope we can get more clarity on that point as the Bill goes through.

4:30 pm

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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We are supporting this Bill but we may bring amendments later on. A new Garda unit was set up in Cork city and as a result there was a 13% increase in drug seizures for sale and supply, as well as success in tackling knife crime and knife seizures. This is only the tip of the iceberg but it goes to show what can be accomplished when resources, like a sergeant and eight gardaí are put into an area. Unfortunately, this is only one good news story when we need many more. I am looking for those types of specialised units to be deployed right across Cork city and in my own constituency of Cork North-Central in particular. My office in Shandon Street is at the heart of Cork city's historic and cultural centre but on a regular, even weekly, basis I and people in my office have to ring the Garda about drug dealing, antisocial behaviour and criminality taking place. If this can happen in Shandon Street, which is one of the main streets in Cork, it must be happening right across Cork city. I am very proud of Cork. It is a beautiful place to work and live, with great businesses, communities and people but when criminals feel they can get away with this, it shows the weakness and the need for more resources for the Garda. We have only 33 community gardaí in Cork city and considering the population and size of the city, it is not enough.

Other Deputies touched on how community gardaí nationally have not been restored to the 2010 levels. We are saying that 32 community gardaí in Cork is not enough to tackle the antisocial behaviour and the criminality. Community gardaí have a very important role to play working with young people to keep them out of trouble, to try to keep them on the straight and narrow. The whole concept of community gardaí is a great idea and we are missing a trick in not supporting it. We have issues with community gardaí not having access to cars, or being taken away and put in different roles. If we are going to treat community gardaí properly and if we want this to work, they must be given the job and kept on it. They need the resources and the manpower because a lot of people do not feel safe in their homes. We are lucky in this State that the vast majority of people trust the Garda, but they do not believe there are enough gardaí and they do not believe they are on the ground where they are needed. With the budget coming up, will the Minister and the Government please ensure that the Garda has the resources and the numbers it needs to carry out the work? That is what we all want.

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for bringing this vitally important legislation to the House and I appreciate the opportunity to briefly contribute to some of the points on Second Stage. Like others, I look forward to coming in on Report and Committee Stages as this is developed further. There is widespread support for this legislation in this House, for very good reasons. This is vitally important to ensuring that the work of An Garda Síochána is completely modernised and restructured in a way that can reflect the modern demands on policing. A lot of the changes we have seen in the approach of An Garda Síochána have been extremely beneficial but they are, quite frankly, only the tip of the iceberg. As regards structuring, the increased role of civilian staff in administrative work within the organisation has huge potential but we have to ensure that those civilian recruits are trained properly, given continued professional development and are genuinely alleviating the administrative burden of members of the Garda, in order to allow gardaí to get back to doing the jobs they are trained to do.

Over recent weeks and months we have, sadly, heard a lot about antisocial behaviour, particularly in Dublin. A colleague of mine in Fine Gael took a walk down O'Connell Street the other evening with his young child and noticed only one garda on duty on the entire street. This is our main thoroughfare in our capital city. I do not think that is acceptable. We need to ensure that the resources, as Deputy Gould said, are put in place to ensure we have that level of high-visibility community guarding, that people are safe and secure and know that the gardaí are deployed on foot and in person, particularly in the city centre of our nation's capital, or other major urban areas such as Cork, Galway, Limerick or elsewhere. That is so important when tackling rising levels of antisocial behaviour, much of which was brought about through the pandemic. We are ensuring that people continue to have that relationship with our gardaí that we are rightly so proud of in this State.

People always say we need to look at other jurisdictions and the work that is going on elsewhere. There are instances around the world where some of the work of policing can be cherry-picked and brought in to enhance the work of An Garda Síochána but we have to be honest. We have an extremely well-trained well-functioning police force in this country, something that we should all be very proud of. We have all had engagement with that, both as public representatives and as ordinary citizens, particularly in the very difficult last 18 months. Looking at the structures of An Garda Síochána and the workload it has, particularly as regards rostering and the changes that were made to accommodate changes in work practice due to Covid-19 to ensure that level of high-visibility policing was there, where changes have worked we must ensure they are maintained. It should not simply be a case of because the pandemic is over we will go back to what was there before. We should ensure that members of An Garda Síochána are operating and working to the best of their abilities, in circumstances and arrangements that suit them. We need to be able to retain that and this legislation provides for all those opportunities. I look forward to speaking on a further Stage. I thank the Minister and again commend this legislation to the House.

Photo of Jim O'CallaghanJim O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay South, Fianna Fail)
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One of the reasons Irish independence succeeded was that we were able to establish an independent police force very quickly after we got independence and that police force secured the support and consent of the Irish public it policed. That was a major achievement of the State. Other countries that gained their independence did not always manage to transfer power to a police force that operated in a non-partisan manner. An Garda Síochána did that. We are now coming towards the centenary of An Garda Síochána. We also need to recognise that when the new force was established, it inherited many of the procedures that were in place in the RIC and the Dublin Metropolitan Police. The old districts were always the form upon which policing was to be carried out. I welcome the fact that the legislation we are discussing today is going to change that because there is no doubt but that the procedures and structures within An Garda Síochána require reform. The Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland recommended a new operating model for An Garda Síochána, and the Garda Inspectorate recommended a new structure for it, and I am pleased to say that back in 2019, the Garda Commissioner recognised that and announced a new operating model.

For too long there have been situations in Garda districts and stations where superintendents' time is taken up filling out forms or signing documents, or being forced to fulfil statutory obligations placed on them by legislation enacted by the Oireachtas. According to the Schedule to this Bill, the purpose of the legislation we are enacting is to transfer responsibility away from superintendents in districts to inspectors or other superintendents who do not have to be from that district. I welcome that but we need to recognise the purpose of us doing this. What is the reason the Garda Commissioner recommends that we introduce and implement a new Garda operating model? The reason is so we can have more gardaí on the streets. The reason is so that Garda policing can be done in a more efficient and effective way. Obviously, there are a limited number of gardaí we can hire at any particular time. Every Member in this House would like to see much higher numbers in An Garda Síochána. We need to recognise that we have a responsibility to ensure the gardaí we have are used more efficiently. We all recognise and see the importance of community policing and the community garda in our community. In order to see more of that, we need to change the operating model in order that a higher proportion of the force can be on the streets. I represent an inner-city part of Dublin and I would like to see more gardaí on the streets. While the level of crime sometimes can be represented as being higher than it is, there is a problem in Dublin at present with antisocial behaviour and crime. It may be as a consequence of the pandemic and the limitations imposed on people. The public want to see, as do I and every Member of this House, more gardaí on the street engaging with community policing. The presence of gardaí on our streets has a much more effective impact than simply deterring criminals from committing crimes. It also has the impact of making people in society feel safer. That is something which we all wish to ensure occurs in the future.

I welcome the legislation and I hope to play a part in the debate on Committee Stage. This is an important part of the reform process of An Garda Síochána that has been recommended for nearly five years.

4:40 pm

Photo of Johnny MythenJohnny Mythen (Wexford, Sinn Fein)
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Sinn Féin is broadly in favour of this Bill. It includes major changes in the structures of An Garda Síochána and it is complex, to say the least. Moving from districts to divisions is a significant step which will see changes among the rank and file and in respect of some duties, functions and supports in each division. However, I am from County Wexford, as is the Minister of State. It is a county that has a large rural hinterland. I feel there is a shift in the model of community policing, which at present has only 12 community gardaí in the Wexford Garda division to cover a population of almost 150,000. In 2010, the number of community gardaí in Wexford was 24. That amounts to a halving of the number of community gardaí in the county over a ten-year period. There is no doubt that this has the potential to leave rural communities without their community-based policing. How can we expect half the number of personnel to cover the same large area?

I know the gardaí are undermanned. They cannot fight crime without a stronger force or proper funding. People in rural Ireland have seen their credit unions, small bank branches, post offices, small schools and local Garda stations close. We seem to be bent on forcing people from the countryside into large urban areas. The small village is the cornerstone of the community in rural Ireland. Will the Minister of State give a commitment today that a change from districts to divisions will not result in further loss of resources from these rural areas?

I wish to raise one other point. We hear of many reports from front-line workers and NGOs on the increase of domestic violence during the pandemic and as we emerge from it. I urge the Minister of State to remember that this is as much a threat in rural areas as it is in urban areas. Sometimes, the large travel distance to reach a Garda station is a deterrent to report a crime. Community gardaí are often the first or the only opportunity for victims to reach out for help. This needs to be kept in mind when resourcing decisions are being made.

Overall, we welcome this Bill and hope the Minister of State will take on board the concerns we have raised.

Photo of Michael LowryMichael Lowry (Tipperary, Independent)
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The aims of this Bill are to introduce structural changes to provide more front-line gardaí. The plan is to increase Garda visibility and provide a wider range of policing services for local communities. In simple terms, this Bill aims to streamline services. Its objective is to facilitate the roll-out of the new Garda operating model as part of the overall reform of An Garda Síochána. It does nothing to increase the number of gardaí. It merely serves the purpose of altering how they carry out their work. We need deployment of additional gardaí. When speaking about additional gardaí, I speak about places like Roscrea and Templemore in County Tipperary. The stations there have been undermanned, which has created additional problems for the local community as a result of the lack of policing. I ask the Minister of State to speak to the Garda authorities about how this situation can be improved.

The reform of the Garda operating model is welcome. The review of any key service is essential. In cases where the need for improvement is identified, it is necessary to examine them and take appropriate actions to implement them. A review should and must provide an improvement in such an essential public service. Plans to centralise Garda call-outs must be closely examined and trialled and should not be introduced as a permanent change, as has happened unsuccessfully with the National Ambulance Service.

It is not clear in this Bill what the specific plan will be to address the Garda operating in rural areas. Garda stations across rural Ireland have been closed or downgraded in recent years to the detriment of the communities they served. These were not just stations in our small rural villages. They were stations that served busy rural towns where the permanent presence of gardaí is essential. The idea was to replace the stations with mobile policing of rural and isolated areas. The illusion was created that Garda patrol cars were touring areas on the lookout for suspicious activity. In some cases, the gardaí maintained a presence in the station, which usually included just one garda on phone duty. In the event of a call-out, this garda alerted the nearest 24-hour station or contacted the nearest patrol car that would provide assistance if and when it was able to reach the location. This type of policy was music to the ears of the organised criminal gangs, which saw easy pickings in rural towns and villages. It became easier for the criminals to monitor the movements of patrol cars and to calculate how long it took members of the Garda to respond to an incident. Rural areas very quickly became the favoured choice for house break-ins and opportunistic crime.

People in rural areas live in fear, particularly during wintertime. Their only peace of mind comes from community alerts whereby neighbours contact neighbours if anything of concern is noticed. These neighbourhood watch schemes are to be applauded and they have proven to be effective, but they do not replace the peace of mind that having a nearby Garda presence creates. It is no coincidence that there was a considerable fall in the number of reported incidents of a wide variety of offences during the pandemic lockdown. Travelling criminal gangs found it more difficult to get around due to the greatly increased number of Garda checkpoints, particularly in rural areas. In 2020, reported thefts fell by 24%, robberies fell by 23% and assaults and related offences also declined dramatically compared to rates in the previous year. However, as the economic impact of the pandemic bites, concern is growing that rural theft will again escalate significantly and people in rural Ireland will remain ill-equipped to protect themselves.

The ever-growing problem of drug abuse in rural Ireland is yet another stark reality of why gardaí are needed on the ground. Every town, village and crossroad in the country has witnessed a worrying increase in drug dealing and drug use, and the associated tragedies they bring. In my own constituency of Tipperary, at the start of the year, the superintendent in Clonmel - the largest town in our county - was forced to make the decision to temporarily dissolve his community police unit for six months to concentrate resources on targeting the sale and supply of drugs. Problems with drugs are replicated across all our towns and villages. Gardaí are needed on the ground to prevent, detect and, ultimately, help those who find themselves caught up in the dangerous world of drugs.

What is also not highlighted in this or any other Bill is the increasing disrespect and abuse members of the Garda face from members of the public. We ask a lot from the members of An Garda Síochána. They are required to be present at times of tragedy. We demand they keep us, our families, our possessions and the places we live safe.

6 o’clock

We ask them to work with communities to meet myriad needs and requests. We expect them to respond immediately when we fall victim to any form of crime. When they cannot live up to people's excessive expectations by being instantly available and solving whatever problem they may have, the public berates them. We complain about them, report them to their superiors and, in growing numbers, verbally and, on occasion, physically, assault them. Lack of respect for members of the Garda is growing. It grew exponentially throughout the pandemic lockdowns. Gardaí were physically and verbally attacked, taunted, threatened, undermined and sometimes ridiculed, all for simply doing their job.

On the other side of the coin, gardaí are subjected to more internal scrutiny within their workplace than ever before. It stands to reason that they must be held accountable for their actions. This is nothing more than the public expects and gardaí, in general, accept that. As things stand, however, there are no fewer than three agencies tasked with overseeing the work of the Garda. That will change when the policing, security and community safety Bill becomes law. It provides for the most extensive programme of Garda reform in decades, involving a total restructuring of the overseeing of the work of gardaí at all levels. The new policing and community safety authority, unlike its predecessors, will have the power to announce and conduct inspections. It will also have the power to conduct broad-ranging assessments of Garda performance. In theory, this is a welcome development; in practice, it will heap more pressure on the already stressed members of the Garda Síochána as they work to carry out their duties in the ever-changing society in which we live. Every aspect of their work will be microscopically scrutinised.

The Bill will go a stage further. It will bring into force a system under which it will be possible to take complaints from Garda members as well as members of the public. That is hugely important. Once a complaint is made by a garda, it will have to be fully investigated. Once the outcome is decided, the appropriate action will be taken. While the reasoning behind this may be understandable, that will not ease the anxiety it will cause for gardaí. They will constantly feel the need to be looking over their shoulder. A complaint, no matter the outcome, will never be forgotten and will leave the future career of the garda about whom the complaint was made in jeopardy.

Policing the police is necessary. That is an acknowledged fact that few would dispute. However, it must go hand in hand with providing a robust support system to ensure fairness. That system must protect the mental health and morale of those who have chosen to dedicate their lives to being members of An Garda Síochána. In this context, the 2018 Garda Representative Association well-being survey, and the analysis of its findings by the psychologist who carried out the survey among members at that time, makes for stark reading. The report stated that, based on the findings of the survey and given the prevailing institutional context of the organisation for rank-and-file members, it appears that An Garda Síochána is a cauldron for adversity in regard to trauma and well-being.

Gardaí perform a difficult public job. The intense scrutiny of their work by oversight bodies adds yet another layer of pressure to the burden. It is no surprise that the combination of those worries, the constant battering of their worthiness and the need to consistently prove their merit results in a lowering of Garda morale. Gardaí need a support system that focuses solely on their mental health and well-being and guarantees them the support they need when they need it. If the mental health of members of the force is not prioritised, every passing year will see Garda numbers depleted. As it stands, there are gardaí reaching retirement who are ticking off the days until they can leave the force. At the other end of the age spectrum, young gardaí are working for ridiculously low wages that go nowhere near compensating them for the work they are expected to carry out.

Our gardaí are a precious resource. They provide a vital service to the public that allows each of us to live with a sense of security that we often fail to recognise or appreciate. The health, well-being and morale of these individuals must be protected. Our security lies in their strength.

4:50 pm

Photo of Seán CanneySeán Canney (Galway East, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill and make some comments on the situation of the Garda. It is a very serious concern to me that policing in Ireland is changing so much and so fast. It has changed dramatically in recent years. The concept of the garda on the beat or on the street has more or less disappeared. Community policing has been very much scaled back, unnecessarily so. The sight of one or two gardaí walking down the street in a town or village, or out in a patrol car, is long gone. The abandonment of rural Garda barracks over the past ten years was a retrograde step for policing in Ireland. It has left our rural areas devoid of the presence of gardaí, who are our friends, our custodians and the people who knew exactly what was happening, and when and where. This has led to an increase in rural crime, notably robberies of property and animals. Gangs are marauding across the country using the motorways we have built, targeting places to rob. Unfortunately, there is also a huge increase in the presence of drugs, which are now available in every town and village in the country. They are no longer a plague within cities; they are a plague throughout the whole country. This increase in crime coincides with the removal of rural Garda stations.

Many speakers referred to the role of the Garda. Things have really changed for members of the force and that is because there is a greater emphasis now on paperwork and the need to comply with the system. Gardaí spend more time in front of a computer trying to account for what they do rather than being out doing all the things they should be doing. This is not the fault of gardaí. These changes were put in place by management, on the basis of policy, without an understanding of the practicalities of much of that change. Like Deputy Lowry, I have met many gardaí who are longing for the day they have their time served and can get out of the force. That is not right. They still do their job to the best of their ability but they are looking forward to getting out, and "getting out" is what they call it.

When I was a young fellow, my father always used to say that prevention is the best cure. A bullock, for example, would be dosed before it got sick. The key to policing is prevention. When I was young, that prevention was done by the local garda, who knew everybody in the village and to whom they were connected. He knew if you were out late the night before and he knew what time you would be home before you knew it yourself. He knew if you were doing something wrong. He did nothing to us only have a quick word to ask where we were the previous night. That was prevention. You knew you would not get away with things. Now, however, people know they can get away with things because the gardaí are not there.

Another aspect of policing is the sophistication that has crept into crime and the technologies available to criminals. Gardaí must be trained properly to deal with all those technologies. A fully dedicated cybercrime unit is needed, by which I do not mean a room with a door on which there is a nameplate stating "Cybersecurity Office". There must be a team of dedicated gardaí working with international counterparts, with civilian digital specialists working alongside them, to make sure cyberattacks and all that goes with them are detected and policed at the level that is now required, whether we like it or not.

We set up a community alert programme in my village of Belclare and we have more than 350 contacts on the list. Every village in the area has the same type of community text-alert system. It is used to good effect, but it is not policing; it is just a way of making sure people are connected with one another to alert them to what might be going on. It is no substitute for the garda on the beat or policing. The question is what we do. We are introducing a reform Bill and my take on it is that the Bill is fine, but we must be prepared to put the resources into the Garda and to make sure that we have enough gardaí so that the job is an attractive career for people to join. We will not go anywhere by changing the laws.

Over the years, management structures within the Garda were changed. Divisions were changed around to generate more efficiencies. Ultimately, the efficiencies were not achieved because all we were doing was stretching the cord a bit longer and trying to get more out of a garda, who perhaps did not have a squad car to use in order to go and check on something when it went wrong. Gardaí tell us they are frustrated and that it is not like it was previously. The bottom line is that we need more gardaí in every division across the country. It is our duty as legislators to ensure that the Garda are treated with respect. The best way to do that is to make sure they are fully resourced to do their job properly. It is no longer good enough to pay lip service to gardaí.

Over the years, respect for the Garda has dwindled. Gardaí are being attacked and reported, in some cases, rightly so, but we are asking a lot of people. They are good, young people who want to do a service to the State, but we are asking them to do this work without rewarding them and making sure that they are properly protected or that they have the necessary tools to carry out their work in the interests of society. It is important that we deal with the Bill, but it is also important that the funding comes with it, and that we do not again pay lip service to the Garda and say they will be all right. We must do it. If there is ever an economic downturn again, the last thing we should do is cut the resources to the Garda like we did before. That has been a retrograde step. I will finish on that point.

5:00 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Costello is sharing with Deputy Cathal Crowe. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Patrick CostelloPatrick Costello (Dublin South Central, Green Party)
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Like previous speakers, I agree that this is a welcome Bill in terms of its reform of Garda structures. Many Members have spoken about the lack of community gardaí and the lack of gardaí on the ground in general. The Dublin metropolitan region has made a lot of strides over the years towards small-area policing. This needs proper resources and more community gardaí. According to the figures from the Department of Justice, the number of community gardaí in Dublin was at a high of 510 in 2009. The figure currently stands at 332. While in recent years there has been a rise in the total number of community gardaí across the country, the number in Dublin has remained stagnant or is declining. We are setting up an ambition for An Garda Síochána to be more community focused. Many Members have spoken about the benefits of that, which we all understand, but we are not necessarily giving gardaí the resources they need.

Many people in my constituency, Dublin South-Central, have contacted me to complain about crime and antisocial behaviour. Much of it is harassment of people passing and low-level attacks along the canal, some of which have been horrific. The perpetrators are very young and mobile. They move around quickly and gardaí are not necessarily able to respond. We definitely need more gardaí, but as well as a Garda solution, we also need to look at some of the youth work and community-building exercises. Now is the time to talk about extending the age of people referred to Garda youth diversion projects from 18 years to 24. The 18 to 24 cohort comprises 11% of the population, but is responsible for 21% of committals. It would certainly help if we were to extend the scope of Garda youth diversion projects.

One initiative in recent years that I would like to single out for praise is the development of the district protective services units. These are excellent specialist units designed to deal with more sensitive issues such as domestic violence. They provide an excellent way forward for community outreach for the Garda. One point I always make in the context of these units is that we need Tusla social workers seconded into them in order that they can offer a wider range of services. That is an issue with which I have regularly bored the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. Sometimes people need to be asked to dance. We need the Department of Justice to reach out to Tusla and say: "Our services would be better if you were in them, so come on in."

Photo of Cathal CroweCathal Crowe (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I fully support the Garda Síochána (Functions and Operational Areas) Bill 2021. Most people will support it. I hope it will deliver more front-line policing, which everyone wants.

I wish to make a number of points. The Limerick Garda division covers the county and city of Limerick, but a considerable part of it stretches into County Clare and many of the gardaí that are stationed in Limerick live in County Clare also. One could almost call the Limerick Garda division "Salem" because a form of witch trial has been ongoing there for the past two years. Eight members have been suspended, 60 Garda phones have been confiscated and morale has never been lower. Of the eight members on suspension, some have been waiting up to two years to be interviewed by the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation. All of this centres around discretion. I am sure we all have a tendency every so often to go a little bit heavy on the accelerator and when we see a blue light, we pull in. In the moment a garda pulls you over, he or she has the power of discretion. That has been a feature of An Garda Síochána's approach of policing by consent and by discretion. It is taught as part of the curriculum in Templemore, going right back to the foundation of the force in 1922. Discretion is just discretion, it is not defined and therein lies the problem. What has happened in Limerick in the past two years is that gardaí are being told they were wrong to use discretion. They were suspended because they flouted the Road Traffic Act and did not implement it properly. We must move way beyond the model of squaring off a ticket for a monsignor, a politician or a county hurler. Everyone agrees that we must get beyond that, but we do not want a witch trial, which has been happening in Limerick in the past two years. We are talking about putting more gardaí on the streets, but we have taken a lot off the streets. They are sitting at home and morale is low. This has placed stress on and caused anguish for wives, husbands and children because of the shame that it carries. People have not been afforded the opportunity to clear their names.

I have gone a little bit left of centre in my contribution today. I know there is another Member for Limerick in the Chamber and perhaps he will echo some of what I said, as it is familiar to representatives in the mid-west. As stated, 80 phones have been confiscated. Many people have been brought into this net, and that is fundamentally wrong. We have always had policing by consent in Ireland. The type of policing we need is such that if there is a crime in the locality the local gardaí should be able to approach local people, as they have done for decades, glean information and use it to secure prosecutions in the courts. If we are creating bad will, which is what all of this leads to, then policing by consent no longer works.

Drew Harris is a good man, but the model of policing he is seeking to replicate is that which operates in the Six Counties of Northern Ireland. It is quite a different model. The police there drive down roads at night in armoured vehicles and are armed. It is very different to the model of policing we have in Ireland where the gardaí come into schools, are involved in local clubs, and are enmeshed in our communities.

It is a very different model. We are in a rat race and going the wrong way with all of this.

I must conclude but, in my limited time, I will make two final points. There is something wrong with the criminal law in Ireland. It is the body politic, not the current Government or the last Government. The body politic has let down the criminal law for many decades. The reality in Ireland is that if anyone creates a small misdemeanour, they are hauled in and they will be in the District Court in a few months' time. However, we have allowed a system in Ireland since the 1980s where someone can get into small drug dealing and spiral their way up to be the baron of drug dealing in all of Europe, never to be reined in. There is something wrong with the criminal law that we are not reining in these people, who start off like rats in the stairwells of flats and down alleyways, moving from small-time drug dealing to become barons in Ireland and in Europe. There is something fundamentally wrong and it is for the body politic to correct.

I will finish by saying this legislation is going to delete an implied reference to the Royal Irish Constabulary. Let us get a grip. The Garda Síochána is not a legacy force of the Royal Irish Constabulary. It boils my blood every time it is said. It is not, no more than the Irish Army is the legacy force of British forces who were here up to 99 years ago. Let us not always tip the cap like that. We have a good force and we back it with good legislation. We back our gardaí on the street but let us not always tip the cap.

5:10 pm

Photo of Chris AndrewsChris Andrews (Dublin Bay South, Sinn Fein)
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I would like to acknowledge the huge importance of community gardaí. I would also like to acknowledge the work and professionalism of former Superintendent Joe Gannon, who has recently retired from his role in Pearse Street. I also acknowledge the huge good work that community Garda Derek Dempsey has done over 34 years of service in Ringsend, Irishtown and Sandymount. I wish them both well in their retirement.

We all accept that we cannot have a garda standing on every corner. I also feel it is important to acknowledge we will not police our way out of the almost daily and ongoing violence that occurs in areas like Hanover Street East, where a local crèche regularly has to evacuate staff and children from its outdoor areas because of gangs fighting. We need to improve education and job opportunities for young people and we need to invest in assertive youth work. I recently met the Talk About Youth project, which does fantastic work with young people in Pearse Street but does not have a designated youth space. It is pushed from Billy to Jack, never knowing when it will have to move on again. SAYS youth club is in the same boat, having had to move its own youth space and it is now in temporary space, with no certainty.

This can be resolved if there is genuine determination. I am inundated with messages from residents who are fearful for their children's safety and their own safety. Bride Street and Ross Road are like a sweet shop for drug dealers. Garda Shane Griffin from Kevin Street Garda station is doing great work, but he cannot do it on his own and he needs resources. Older people are afraid to leave their homes. Hanover Street, which I mentioned, is regularly like a fight zone. Dublin City Council and the Garda need to work together to tackle this.

What we need is gardaí who are visible on a very regular basis but, again, this needs resources. The Mulvey report suggested a solution could be found to alleviate the issues in the inner city. It identified serious challenges in the north inner-city and the State has assigned resources to tackle these ongoing issues. What we need is a Mulvey-style response to the challenges in the south inner-city so that hard-to-engage youths are targeted and the systemic issues can be deconstructed, addressed and resolved for the betterment of all.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Andrews mentioned the retirement of Superintendent Joe Gannon. It should be acknowledged here on the floor of the House that in his role in Pearse Street, he was of inordinate assistance and help to us over his period of service there. The House has reason to be grateful to him.

Photo of Chris AndrewsChris Andrews (Dublin Bay South, Sinn Fein)
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We might send him a letter to acknowledge that.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We will.

Photo of Chris AndrewsChris Andrews (Dublin Bay South, Sinn Fein)
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Thank you.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We move to the Rural Independent Group. I call Deputy Mattie McGrath.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I too want to be associated with the comments on that retirement. I thank all the staff who look after us here on both sides of the building and around the building. They have always been more than helpful and courteous.

I am a big supporter of An Garda Síochána and community alert, and a big believer given my own village of Caisleán Nua na Súire had the second community alert group that was set up in this country. In that vein, I want to pay tribute to deceased Garda Sergeant Niall O'Halloran, who fought a huge battle with cancer and succumbed to it. His colleagues in the Garda and community groups are holding a fundraiser for the Limerick Hospice on Saturday, 2 October in honour of his name, and it might be an annual event. Niall was the essence of a community garda. He stood in people's kitchens and had the confidence of the people. To his wife Sandra, his son Richard and his family, some of whom are also in the Garda, and his dad was a former chief superintendent, we acknowledge it is a huge loss that we are struggling to fill.

Superintendent Denis Whelan left us yesterday to return to Enniscorthy in Wexford. He is a good Wicklow man, who did tremendous work in Cahir and Cashel in the last number of years. He has appointed Sergeant Ray Moloney, a Limerick man and an excellent community garda, to come into Ardfinnan and the Garda stations of Clogheen, Ballyporeen and that area, with some of his team, Garda Noel Glavin, Garda Judy Davern and Garda Jenny Gough. The community police came into their own during the lockdown. They really came into their own with their high visibility, and I had some days out with them, as did many councillors and others, visiting the people, who got to know the gardaí. We cannot buy that, and any money or PR would not buy that. People have confidence, they know them, they like to see the yellow jacket and so on. That old name that we used to have of informers should be long gone. I am glad that the link with the Royal Irish Constabulary is finished.

We need a community policing unit. This has proven its worth in Cahir. Thanks to Superintendent Whelan, we now have a roster for the times gardaí will be in the Garda barracks in Tigh na nDaoine in Newcastle and in the Garda barracks at Ardfinnan, Clogheen and Ballyporeen. After long negotiations, a decision has now been taken not to transfer Garda Philip Ryan and Garda Kieran O'Donovan out of Clogheen and Ballyporeen. The people are at ease with that and want to thank them for that. We cannot beat interaction.

I am not fully happy with this legislation because it diminishes Tipperary's status and diminishes the chief superintendent from Tipperary. Indeed, we probably have our last superintendent in Superintendent Derek Smart, and a good man he is, but the chief is now going to be based in County Clare. It is just madness. To go from Carrick-on-Suir right up to Clare means going through the division of Limerick to get to Clare. I do not think it is workable. I am not happy that the Garda Commissioner has not listened to us or engaged with us.

With regard to numbers, the community policing unit has been stood down in Clonmel because of the shortage of gardaí. Superintendent Leahy in Clonmel is chronically short of gardaí in what is the second biggest inland town in the country. There are huge issues with drug gangs. We have issues with Drogheda, Mullingar and other places, and we are going to have the same in Clonmel. Certain families are dealing in drugs and it is out of control. The bullying and intimidation of families when young people get into those drug issues is frightening. We have had suicides and families intimidated. We need support for our units there. We need more community gardaí and more in the drugs squad. The stations in Cahir and Cashel have diminished in numbers and probably 30 members have gone from there in the last number of years and were not replaced. We cannot police without those physical numbers but we also need to tackle these vagabonds and criminals who are destroying lives. There is no replacement for the Garda on the beat. There is no point being in an office and they must be out there on the roads.

I want to also pay tribute to a former colleague of mine, Councillor Martin Lonergan, who was national secretary of Muintir na Tíre and who, in that vein, was hugely supportive of community alert, given that all the activities of community alert and the Garda Síochána are linked intrinsically with Muintir na Tíre. I know Eddie Mason, Seán Byrne in Newcastle, Catherine Moran and all the others on the group in that area, including the Grange people, miss him because Martin did huge work for community alert, for his community and with the text alert. The text alert is great but, as someone said earlier, it is not a replacement for visible gardaí. We need that visibility.

In fairness to the gardaí in Clonmel, they are waiting for a Garda station. I think Seán Treacy, the former Deputy, raised it here 60 years ago. Now, we have the site, we have the planning permission and we have a wonderful design. They need that new building but this is bundled into a package with other places, and some have fallen off the list and some have not. The Garda station in Clonmel is in a Dickensian condition.

It is not fit for human habitation. There are issues with every kind of rodent and everything else in it. It is not fit for public use. We cannot wait to get that Garda station over the line. As I said, we must get it over the line.

I would like to be able to support this Bill, but with limited and proper amendments. Each county division should have its own chief superintendent. I am also very uneasy about the lack of superintendents going forward. There is a lot of work being delegated to inspectors. I do not have anything against inspectors but it is important for morale in the Garda to keep the superintendent rank.

There are issues in Limerick but there is no point in suspending gardaí for such a long time. Justice delayed is justice denied. As the Acting Chairperson, Deputy Cathal Crowe, said, what is going on in Limerick needs to be sorted out rather than have gardaí suspended when they are so scarce in our areas. If they are to be charged or investigated, that should be done swiftly. It is not fair to gardaí who are trying to give a service or their families.

5:20 pm

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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I, too, have great reservations about the new divisional structures. I need to see that they will not dilute services on the ground to the people of west Cork who have seen a dilution of services in recent years.

Some years ago, we had the closure of many Garda stations under the then Fine Gael-led Government. This led to the decimation of rural Ireland and started a flood of closures of local businesses, post offices and so on. The local Garda station at the time, whether it was in Goleen, Ballinacarrig or Adrigole, or Ballinspittle, was hugely important to local communities. We won the battle to reopen Ballinspittle Garda station to the people of that town and of Kilbrittain, Kinsale and Ballinadee after a huge fight but we should not be left in that situation. This plan could roll us down the road of taking decisions away from the local community. I have been involved in community alert down through the years and I have seen the benefits of the scheme but community alert and text alert cannot replace the local garda working on the ground.

I must commend many gardaí. I could spend a lot of time talking about good, honest, hard-working gardaí who have given of their time, not alone their hours of work during the day but their commitment to their community, sometimes during the night, free of charge. Unfortunately, this was a given long ago by An Garda Síochána but we moved away from that. Unfortunately, many gardaí do not reside where they work. We are lucky to have Garda Jonathan McCarthy in Ballydehob. He is the most south-westerly permanent resident garda in Ireland. While we have a Garda station west of Ballydehob in Schull, none of the gardaí in the station lives in Schull and they come and go. However, Garda McCarthy and his family have resided there. There should be very serious consideration given to a garda in that situation to be made permanent for the local town and surrounding areas. While Garda McCarthy is being shared with another local area, Ballydehob deserves to have a full-time garda given that he has made a decision to move with his family into Ballydehob Garda station. I would give full support to that. The former Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, visited once and there was hope he might do something, but nothing happened afterwards.

I would like to give some credence to community gardaí who work so hard. I often mention Garda Damian White in the Dáil because he was one of the most outstanding community gardaí in my time growing up, as was Garda Brigid Hartnett as well. Garda James O'Mahony in Kinsale, who retired recently, and Garda Martin Hegarty of Castletownbere were two brilliant community gardaí. They also gave their time, both day and night, outside of duty times to help people, and set up the Garda youth awards. These were super awards that were needed to commend young people instead of maybe always giving out about them. That was a great initiative that was spearheaded by James O'Mahony, although Garda Martin Hegarty had other gardaí were also involved in it. I commend them on that.

Bodies such as joint policing committees cannot take on the work of the garda in the local community. I listened to the report of the joint policing committee and an independent councillor, Councillor Ben Dalton O'Sullivan, made a good point that despite serving more than 20,000 people, Carrigaline Garda station does not have a guaranteed opening time. Imagine not being able to guarantee times when the Garda station will open in Carrigaline, which has the fourth lowest garda numbers in the country for a town of 1,000 people. There is something wrong here. That is what we need to be concentrating on. Councillor Dalton O'Sullivan, an independent councillor, has gone to great lengths to try to resolve that but, unfortunately, that has not happened. We need to focus strongly on these issues going forward.

The Minister visited west Cork during the summer on the Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil road show. She forgot that other Oireachtas Members would have liked to have met her and raised with her other issues of importance in west Cork at the time. I know it was a political stunt but the Minister was appointed for the country, not Fine Gael. She must remember that going forward. We are all working hard here to represent our communities. I would have treated the Minister with the utmost respect if I had met her. She did not contact me or other representatives for the area. It is quite shameful because we have huge issues in west Cork that need to be addressed. It is no good announcing projects that have been funded for the past three or four years. We need to look at new ideas that west Cork deserves. The Minister was there and she failed to contact us.

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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I welcome this legislation, which will reduce bureaucracy and enable Garda to be more robust and agile when dealing with crime. I understand the Bill proposes to free up gardaí so that we will have more front-line staff. I also welcome the leaner management structure.

Newcastle West is the largest county town in Limerick yet its Garda headquarters is in two areas. Administration is handled in Askeaton 20 km away and all phone calls from members of the public are diverted to the control room at Henry Street from 9 p.m. to 7.30 a.m. Despite covering an area of more than 40 square miles, we do not have a Garda station. The whole thing is all over the shop. This is not satisfactory. The Newcastle West district extends from Croom to Abbeyfeale and everything in between but it is not open on a 24-7 basis.

When will the new Garda station project in Newcastle West commence and, more important, when will the station open? Will we have a Garda station by 2025? Can the Minister put a time limit on it so that the people of Limerick and the surrounding areas will have a Garda station of excellence that will work for them? In the meantime, can we have a more suitable building in Newcastle West that would serve the people of east and west Limerick?

A point I would like to raise, one which was also raised by Deputy Cathal Crowe, is the number of investigations ongoing in the Garda in Limerick. We have eight gardaí suspended for two and a half or three years. Not one of them has been replaced so Limerick is down the eight gardaí who are under investigation. As Deputy Crowe correctly stated, over 60 phones have been confiscated and 160 investigations are pending in Limerick.

The Minister might be able to answer the following question. When the gardaí were trained in Templemore, were they informed that they could use an "L7" or "a square" in exceptional circumstances and show discretion in hardship cases? Every garda whom I have spoken to in and outside the Limerick division has been trained and taught to use discretion. The terms used for this discretion when they were being trained were "an L7" and "a square".

Is that no longer the case? Do gardaí have discretion in hardship cases any more? Three years have been wasted on investigations of misdemeanours that gardaí were actually trained to do at Templemore. We are now prosecuting gardaí for doing the job they were trained to do. I am not condoning any garda breaking the law outside of that context. Any garda who does so must be prosecuted, but I am not in favour of wasting taxpayers' money and spending years upon years without gardaí on our streets in our towns and villages just because a garda did the job the way he or she was trained to. Surely the crimes that are being committed on our streets are more important. Antisocial behaviour, racist abuse and drug-related crimes are at an absolute high. Suspensions in the Garda should be dealt with effectively and promptly, not after two or two and a half years.

Recently, I cycled with Little Blue Heroes. We had with us Garda Superintendent Aileen Magnier of the Newcastle West district. We were there to raise money for Little Blue Heroes. It was a Garda community project. Everyone was there - gardaí, the fire service, the crime response unit and even the Garda band. It was to help a charity for children in need. We can get things right. Gardaí work with people in the community and they should have discretion. They should not be penalised. It needs to come to an end this year.

We have new legislation and are working on the situation. We should draw a line in respect of people who were trained previously and move forward. When it comes to regulations for building or the NCT, we work forward from the day they are implemented. We do not penalise someone for something that was not against the regulations at the time. Let us get this situation sorted out, get our gardaí back on the streets and stop making them suffer for doing something they were taught to do.

5:30 pm

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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The policing of County Kerry is an enormous task, from Valentia Island to Tarbert and from Gneeveguilla and Scartaglin to Ventry. It is a large area and significant operation, and I thank rank and file gardaí as well as those in the senior ranks for the job they are doing with the resources they have been given.

Past Ministers for Justice visited County Kerry and met local representatives, including me, to hear what was happening on the ground. That was beneficial. I would have expected that a person of the Minister of State's calibre would have informed other Deputies of an official visit, but perhaps that might happen the next time, as we are all working for the people and trying to do our best.

I compliment and thank in an ordinary and humble way gardaí of the past, present and future for putting themselves in harm's way to protect the people for whom they work. Sometimes, a garda's job is particularly horrible when he or she has to attend accidents or call to houses to inform people of bad news. Those are horrific events in any person's life, but gardaí have to experience them numerous times during their careers. For that, I thank them.

I have reservations about what is proposed in this Bill. When I think of places like the Iveragh Peninsula and how far, for instance, Cahersiveen is from Killarney, it is important that we manage the Garda's resources properly.

Something is of great concern to me and should be dealt with quickly. I ask that the Acting Chairman allow me this indulgence, after which I will finish. I am referring to people using mobile phones. When a person is being dealt with by a member of the Garda Síochána and the garda has the threat held over him or her of the phone filming the garda doing that work, it is an outrage that the recording can be put up on YouTube two seconds later. If the Minister of State and the Minister could deal with this, they would be doing a great service for rank and file members of An Garda Síochána.

Photo of Cathal CroweCathal Crowe (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy McGuinness is sharing time with Deputy Alan Farrell.

Photo of John McGuinnessJohn McGuinness (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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This legislation is a nod in the right direction in the context of reforming the administration of the Garda Síochána. If we want to learn something about the reform that is required, though, one need look no further than the case of the death of Shane O'Farrell. The courts, the Garda and the Director of Public Prosecution's office were at fault. There is nothing in this Bill that will correct that fault and ensure that what happened to Shane O'Farrell does not happen again. Consider the case of Maurice McCabe and, in that regard, ask whether this Bill will change anything for the future. The answer is "No".

Today, the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach met whistleblowers, one of them being John Wilson. He made it clear to us that what happened in the Garda down through the years while he was a member of it was still happening now. How can we stand by and let it happen? How can we ignore the voices that tell us something is wrong? In the context of this Bill, perhaps we should reflect on introducing another Bill to reform the Garda and ensure that legacy issues such as those of Maurice McCabe and John Wilson are addressed. There are many more gardaí who have made complaints and are waiting for results and whose lives are being destroyed, yet their cases are not being dealt with.

If one looks at the complaints made by citizens of this country about the treatment that some gardaí have meted out to them, one will see that those complaints spend years tied up in a system that does not deliver any conclusion and allows the matters to sit on the fence without being dealt with even while people's lives are being destroyed. Gardaí who have been injured at work have been treated badly by their own system. They have not been paid, are dragged back to work and are not given the dignity they deserve. When one sees that, one must wonder about the management of the Garda Síochána and ask why such situations are allowed to happen. Management should come to our committee and convince us, or it should convince us by its actions, that change has been made and such cases will never be heard of again.

I have mentioned Shane O'Farrell, John Wilson and Maurice McCabe. The House listened as the then Minister told us that John Barrett was being suspended. That was years ago, but there has still been no conclusion to it. We do not know why that is or what has happened to date. Simply because it was brought before the House, I call on the Minister of State to intervene and find out what is happening in the case of John Barrett.

In the minutes remaining to me, let me make a case for every garda on duty. I hope that this Bill does not spread the administration too thin and that it puts in place the number of gardaí needed at community level to support the communities they are policing. My fear is that we do not have enough gardaí. From north Kilkenny to south Kilkenny and Kilkenny city, there are not enough gardaí. Stations have been closed in rural areas with populations that should have Garda stations, yet they are not being reviewed.

This legislation can be passed and the Garda can be asked to implement it, but if the Garda does not get substantially more funding, it will not be in a position to deliver the type of policing that has been described in the House today. I urge the Minister of State to examine the funding for policing and this legislation.

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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I appreciate the opportunity to contribute on the Bill.

I want first to congratulate the Minister, Deputy Harris, and his wife, Caoimhe, on the arrival of their son, Cillian Harris, who arrived a little earlier today. The House will, no doubt, join me in congratulating them.

This Bill facilitates a new operational model for An Garda Síochána. Given its 2015 origin and the Policing Authority's contribution to it, is a good measure. Much has been made in the last two minutes by some of the Members opposite in regard to Garda station closures. In that regard, I reiterate what I have said previously, that is, Garda stations and divisional structures are based on Victorian infrastructure, a completely different type of policing model. The Acting Chairman, Deputy Cathal Crowe, mentioned the origins of the Garda Commissioner and said that we are changing our model to replicate that which operates in the Six Counties. That is untrue, yet it follows a theme regarding matters raised by Members opposite with regard to discretion and other manifestations of clientelism not just in An Garda Síochána but across the board, where individuals such as those mentioned, that is, the monsignor and the football captain, had penalty points erased. That happens when we have local stations because gardaí and people know one another. An Garda Síochána are men and women and they will make mistakes. These issues have been given a lengthy airing in this House in the past.

Changing the model of policing from one with the lowest numbers of police officers per head of population in Europe on the basis of that Victorian model infrastructure, with divisional changes which have not taken place to any large degree in decades, is the reason we have some issues, again across the board and not just focused in An Garda Síochána. There have been many opportunities in the recent past to change the way in which policing is carried out in this country. We have done some change, but not all of it. In terms of access to justice and issues such as delays in our courts system outside of Covid, we do not have enough staff or professionals in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Chief State Solicitor's office, the Courts Service or the courts, the Judiciary and An Garda Síochána. Is it any wonder we have difficulties with access to justice?

I welcome this Bill. As a former member of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Defence for six years, I recognise that this will be a long process and that these changes will give An Garda Síochána the capability and authority to carry out local operations, which has to happen on a more widespread basis. I will close by thanking members of An Garda Síochána for the extraordinary work they did in the past 18 months. I thank them for their professionalism and kindness for the things they did in the first lockdown, in particular for older people, which went above and beyond their station.

5:40 pm

Photo of Réada CroninRéada Cronin (Kildare North, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I have a natural interest in it because my father was a proud member of An Garda Síochána. Minding the community, young and old, and building up that community was everything to him.

While Sinn Féin is supporting this Bill, the potential dilution of community policing worries me. It worries me particularly because community must be central to how we live, especially as we deal with the impacts and effects of climate change, known and unknown. If the 20th century was the era of the individual, the 21st century must be the era of the collective and of the community. It makes sense for our gardaí to be deeply in and, more importantly, of the communities they serve. People in my constituency of Kildare North, Maynooth, Celbridge, Kilcock and Clane, need to be able to go to their local Garda station and for it to be open to them when they need it. This is not just local politicking. This is where the Garda and communities build up familiarity, trust and a sense of shared responsibility, mutual endeavour, for the public good.

I am equally concerned about the resourcing of An Garda Síochána. In my constituency, Kildare North, local gardaí surpassed themselves in their response to the Covid crisis. I take this opportunity to commend them in the Dáil for their outstanding work during the ongoing pandemic. An Garda Síochána needs to be better resourced, not only in monetary terms, but in terms of the official mass we have on them because mass matters when it comes to our gardaí. Too often it is missing, particularly when one thinks about what we have to deal with now with the rise of the far right who, when they are not spreading disinformation on Covid-19 and causing criminal damage, are ranting racism and homophobia.

On specifics, the duties of some of the ranks of An Garda Síochána will change. As workers, they will have to be properly remunerated in that regard. Equally, there must not be any delays to the legislation, which must be in place for the pilot divisions to begin before year's end. I am glad that Sinn Féin is supporting this Bill. While I do have some concerns about it, I hope they can be ironed out on Committee Stage.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Fáiltím roimh an deis, mar is gnáth, páirt a ghlacadh sa díospóireacht seo. Is Bille maith agus dearfach é seo ach tagann sé tar éis a lán tuarascálacha agus a lán rudaí nach raibh ceart. Tá an iomarca ama caite roimh na leasuithe atá á chur chun críche os comhair na Dála laistigh den Bhille seo. Tá mé chun tús a chur leis an bpróiseas inniu leis an tuarascáil ón iar-bhreitheamh Charleton. Tá neart le rá aige ó thaobh an Gharda de, rudaí maithe agus rudaí nach bhfuil chomh maith nó chomh dearfach sin. Tosóidh mé leis an mBille é féin. Rachaidh mé timpeall leis an tuarascáil Charleton agus tiocfaidh mé ar ais ag an mBille.

I welcome the opportunity, as always, to take part. Democracy is about taking part and scrutinising legislation. This Bill is welcome and its proposed restructuring is very good, but it comes on the back of a number of reports which I will speak to as quickly as I can. I have a Charleton report open in front of me. The tribunal of inquiry was established in 2017. It is still sitting, but Mr. Justice Charleton produced an interim report in 2018. I will come back to that.

The Bill is a practical one as far as I can see. Galway is to get its own division, which I understand is already in place following the rolling out of that division in a pilot project. It would be helpful to know the result of the pilot project, in respect of which Galway was just one of the areas, such that we know if there were positive or questionable things that needed to be changed or not changed. It would be helpful if we had that information. We will have four Garda regions and 19 divisions covering community engagement, including roads and community policing, crime, performance assurance and business services. The Bill, as I said, is based on a number of things. Let us remind ourselves of the context of where this reform has come from, echoing some of the issues raised by Deputy McGuinness.

Looking first at the third interim report from Mr. Justice Charleton, page 292, the tribunal has been about calling the police force to account. The Charleton tribunal is about holding the Garda to account. The Morris tribunal was about the same issue. I remind the House that the Morris tribunal was about what happened in Donegal. The foolish mistake was in thinking that the behaviour was just happening in Donegal and not in any other county. The Morris tribunal cost over €70 million. We then had the Commission of Investigation by Mr. Justice Kevin O'Higgins. I was first elected in February 2016. Shortly after that, I remember reading that report in detail and I could not believe that I had only 30 minutes in the Dáil to go through it. I used those 30 minutes. That was a very moderate report by Mr. Justice O'Higgins. The honesty of Sergeant McCabe jumped off the page. We also had a number of other reports from Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill and Seán Guerin, senior counsel. They are only some of the reports that have led to this reform.

To be positive, I have the greatest respect for the gardaí on the ground.

7 o’clock

We should have more gardaí and they should be more visible, although the Policing Authority draws our attention to that and says while it is really important they are visible, that ignores the good work done behind the scenes and the under-resourcing of special units on cybercrime, sexual abuse, and so on. Thus, in pushing the visibility of the Garda, I am acutely aware of the work done behind the scenes, which is under-resourced, under-praised and not visible.

We can look at Mr. Justice Charleton's third interim report, which states: "Our police force is a resource of brilliant men and women." Indeed, the sentiment that ordinary gardaí are the greatest resource is echoed in the policing plan. Mr. Justice Charleton adds:

How dispiriting it must be for them that all of what is detailed in this report happened. They are crying out for leadership.

This is from 2018, which is not too long ago. The report states:

Regrettably, the Tribunal has sat through a year of evidence and read thousands of documents and, as a result, has come to the conclusion that An Garda Síochána is losing its character as a disciplined force.

This is from a judge not given to exaggeration. The report continues: "Furthermore, it would be foolish to imagine that the problems were isolated to the Cavan/Monaghan Division." That is a point I have repeatedly made and one we should have learned from the Morris tribunal on events in County Donegal. The report also states:

Central to ... [the] issues [highlighted] is a mentality problem. Where a problem occurs, strongly self-identifying organisations can have a self-protective tendency. That, regrettably, also describes An Garda Síochána. It is beyond a pity that it took independent inquiries to identify obvious problems with what Maurice McCabe was reporting. To ask the right question, ... [he quotes Chekhov] is to go far in answering it.

The judge adds, "A cultural shift requiring respect for the truth is needed."

I turn now to some of the obligations of Garda members. I preface those comments by saying they apply to all of us, be that to myself as a Deputy, to the institution of the Dáil, and to many other institutions. In this case it is the obligations of members of An Garda Síochána which are under the spotlight. Imagine we needed the Charleton tribunal, at great cost, for this, though the cost is a minor one compared to that of the Morris tribunal. I will tell the House what Charleton says about those obligations. I have highlighted all seven. He first states the "obligation of gardaí is to take pride in their work and in their uniform". More detail on that is then supplied. The second obligation is to be honest. That applies to all of us, of course. The third obligation is to be visible. The fourth one is to be polite. We needed the Charleton tribunal to tell us this, with respect to the Garda. The fifth obligation is to serve the people of Ireland. They must serve, just as Teachtaí Dála, including myself, are supposed to serve. The sixth obligation on the Garda is to the organisation as a whole. Charleton states:

The organisation must treat their obligation to the public as superior to any false sense that individual policemen and policewomen should stick up for each other.

The seventh obligation is self-analysis. A repeated theme here is the failure by the Garda to have self-analysis. Again, we can all put ourselves under that spotlight. It should not be necessary to have a Morris tribunal for six years nor an O'Higgins Commission for a year and a half. It should not be necessary to have a disclosures tribunal, now reporting over a year and a half after being set up. Charleton observes:

What has been missing in the past is the command structure of An Garda Síochána calling itself to account. [...] Public relations speak as a substitute for plain speaking is an affront to the duty of our police force to be accountable. The correct approach for an organisation is to enable those who are expert on a subject to speak on its behalf.

Under the heading "Uncovering the truth", he remarks:

In relation to the matters at issue in these reports, it has been a dreadful struggle to attempt to uncover what may have gone on behind closed doors. That should not happen. A court, or a tribunal or other investigative body appointed on behalf of the people of Ireland, is the place where public servants are obligated to the truth and not to any group adhesion.

Charleton later states:

What has been unnerving about more than 100 days of hearings in this tribunal is that a person who stood up for better standards in our national police force, Sergeant Maurice McCabe, and who exemplified hard work in his own calling, was repulsively denigrated for being no more than a good citizen and police officer. [...] The question has to be asked as to why what is best, what demands hard work, is not the calling of every single person who takes on the job of service to Ireland. Worse still is the question of how it is that decent people, of whom Maurice McCabe emerges as a paradigm, are so shamefully treated when rightly they demand that we do better.

I will put Charleton aside now but it is important to give context to the reform before us.

In addition to the reports I have mentioned, we have had the setting up of various oversight bodies, including the Policing Authority, the Garda Inspectorate and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. On top of that we have had the various reports: A Policing Service for the Future, the plan arising under that, the Garda operating plan, and so on. I realise there has been some discontent from the Garda Representative Association and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, so if the Minister were in a position to update us on their concerns and whether they have been put to bed, that would also be very helpful.

I have read all the Policing Authority's reports on policing behaviour during Covid. It has been overwhelmingly fulsome in its praise for the gardaí on the ground during the pandemic. We had a specific Policing Authority report on policing performance in July. Again, it is a balanced report and praises the Garda when it deserves praise. The authority highlights the conditions under which gardaí work. What jumped out at me was its reference to "the growing evidence of driving under the influence of drugs as being an increasingly common feature of contemporary life". Gardaí work in a very difficult environment and deserve our support and respect. In order to get that, there must be good management that inspires trust, so we can trust them.

Like many other people, I have called for more and more gardaí on the streets of Galway to walk and cycle through the people. They were particularly absent when the Government gave the thumbs-up to drinking on our streets. We gave out a message that ignored all the policies, including our healthy cities policy and the Barcelona declaration, which committed us to universal access for all our residents. Instead of that the Government gave the message that people should go out and drink. It told the businesses - and I fully support businesses - they should extend onto the pathways. The Barcelona declaration was thrown to the side. That declaration was signed by Galway almost 20 years ago and committed the city to universal access, so we would stop the discrimination between people who are able and those who are not so able. The declaration to stop this arbitrary discrimination was thrown to the wind. We have by-laws which say people cannot drink on the street. The gardaí had to ignore these because the policy from the Government was that people should go out, drink and be merry. While I love a drink and love to be merry - outside the Dáil - it must be balanced with other people's rights. The gardaí in Galway were left in a very awkward position in relation to how they were going to implement the by-laws and the various regulations coming from the Government. That has left us a quandary in Galway where community policing is concerned, as we want much more but we want a balancing of rights between our citizens and our residents who we encourage to live in the city, yet we give free rein on the other hand, taking away the peaceful and quiet enjoyment of resident's lives. That is a huge challenge in Galway. I am sure it is repeated in the other cities.

The Policing Authority assessment report is an excellent document. It talks about the visibility of police being very important. However, as I said, it is also quite nuanced in mentioning the other work going on behind the scenes which is not visible.

It points out three major gaps or issues, namely, finance, ICT and human resources. Considerable progress has been made in respect of ICT and a new executive director of finance has recently taken up the job. However, significant work remains to be done in all three areas and the report goes on to outline the consequences of that. It points to the absence of a strategic workplace plan and to a long-standing vacancy for a learning and development director which leaves management without a clear sense of direction, prioritisation and planning. This is specifically spelled out. Information that the Authority has asked for repeatedly has not been forthcoming from An Garda Síochána, notwithstanding the commitment to reform.

As part of its statutory functions the Policing Authority is required, under various sections, to provide advice to the Minister for Justice before each financial year with regard to the resources that are likely to be required. On page 16 of the Policing Authority's Assessment of Policing report we read that "Since the establishment of the Authority, this function has been largely frustrated and action against it undermined by a lack of sufficient financial information and insight from the Garda Síochána". A budget of approximately €2 billion annually covers current and capital expenditure. At present, notwithstanding that amount of money, the organisation does not have the ability to cost the policing plan or the projects within it. This lack of overall budgetary planning results in resources not being in place when they are needed. While it is difficult to identify the projects or targets that are most directly impacted by this, or the extent to which they are, "the reliance on HR, IT, training and estates means that the lack of proper financial costing and planning...results in ongoing challenges and delays.". I have skipped through the report in the interests of brevity but it is all laid out here in black and white. The report states that the Authority will "continue to support and challenge the Commissioner and his senior management team to enhance its strategic financial planning capacity".

I welcome the reform although I am sure it may present problems on the ground, as has been brought to our attention by the two organisations I have mentioned. I welcome the emphasis on community policing but would like to know if the concerns have been or will be addressed and how they will be addressed. I would like to come back to the essence of An Garda Síochána. Gardaí are there to protect us and we must appreciate that. However, in doing that, there must be proper training and an ability to analyse and understand where they are going wrong and a willingness to put their hands up. That did not happen in the recent debacle of the cancelled calls. I understand that investigation is still ongoing. The Policing Authority has been critical of the delay in alerting it to the cancellation of very serious calls, including calls from victims of domestic violence. I understand that an independent person has been appointed to look into it. However, one would have thought that with a new direction and a new commitment, An Garda Síochána would have been proactive and that it would not have taken the Policing Authority to drag out the information as to what happened and the nature of same. One would not have thought that gardaí would be minimising what happened rather than putting their hands up. I do not wish to preach; it is up to all of us in our lives to learn but the focus tonight is on the Garda Síochána.

In addition to the cancelled calls investigation which is ongoing, it should be noted that the CSO still publishes crime statistics under caveat. That has been going on for quite some time - as far back as 2004 as I understand it. It would be helpful to know when that caveat will be lifted. I do not want a response to the effect that the CSO is independent. What I would like to hear from the Minister for Justice is when gardaí will be ready to give fulsome information to the CSO so that the caveat can be removed. When will we have the strategic workplace plan? At the moment there seems to be a complete disconnect between the need for it and the consequences on the ground.

6:00 pm

Photo of Jackie CahillJackie Cahill (Tipperary, Fianna Fail)
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I want to put on record my appreciation of the tremendous work done by An Garda Síochána at all levels including gardaí, sergeants, inspectors, superintendents, chief superintendents and commissioners. In modern society they have an extremely difficult job to do and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

This review of reform is welcome and while there are lots of good points in it, I have one major problem with it, which I will elaborate on later. The first thing that struck me when I read the review is that the objective of reform is to significantly increase the number of gardaí on the beat, which is very welcome. I would like to see a serious focus on drugs and the sale of drugs in our society. This Parliament is not focusing enough on this issue, which is the greatest challenge and the greatest scourge facing society. In many cases mental health issues, suicide and financial ruin are predicated on drug use. I watched "Prime Time Investigates" a number of weeks ago wherein drug dealers were filmed selling drugs openly in broad daylight. There was constant business going on in a suburb of Dublin. If the "Prime Time Investigates" team could film that, why were these people not being arrested? Some might say that they were not the big fish or the big players but they were still selling drugs to young people and doing serious damage.

There was a time when drugs were only a problem in large urban areas or in socially deprived areas but that is no longer the case. Drugs are a huge problem in every sector of Irish society, from the wealthiest to the poorest, from large urban centres to small rural settings. Unfortunately drugs have taken a foothold in every part of our society. As parliamentarians, we need to focus on this problem and put more resources into dealing with it. If we do not do so, the consequences for our children and grandchildren will be immense. Unfortunately suicide is becoming a more regular occurrence and while it is not true in all cases, the misuses of illegal substances has a part to play in a large proportion of such deaths.

This reform will result in extra gardaí on the beat and I urge the Minister to use her influence to make sure that some of those resources are used to tackle the drugs issue. I met my own local superintendent about two months ago. He highlighted to me the amount of drugs that were seized in the previous 12 months in his catchment area. I fully accept that good work is being done but unfortunately, an awful lot more needs to be done. I urge the Minister to make it a top priority in her Department to put more resources into tackling drug barons. This is absolutely essential. Whether it is the small dealers or the large operators, there is only one place for them and that is in custody and off our streets.

I wish to raise the issue of the amalgamation of areas.

Some of these probably make sense but I represent a constituency which is a very large geographical county. We have had a chief superintendent based in our county, I would say, since the foundation of An Garda Síochána. That chief superintendent was based in Thurles in the middle of the county. From Carrick-on-Suir to Portumna is a huge area. It had five superintendents operating under the chief superintendent. I cannot for the life of me understand how it will improve the deployment of resources or the efficient policing of Tipperary to amalgamate us with Clare. Geographically we border Clare but it is a nonsensical arrangement. Ennis is now to be the centre for this division. It makes no sense geographically and I am worried my county will lose resources because of it. I was reading a report with the reasons put forward, the number of gardaí in the area, and that it only warrants one division. That does not take away from the fact this is nonsensical. To travel from Carrick-on-Suir to Ennis would be a day's work. It sits very uneasily with the people in my constituency.

I urge that the Garda Commissioner look at the nonsensical geographic imbalance in this. My county is 130 km long from top to bottom. We are not asking too much that it be treated as it always was, as one geographical division with a chief superintendent in the centre in Thurles. I know the decision has been made but I earnestly ask that it would be looked at again, that there would be a common-sense review of that decision, and that Tipperary would be left as the one geographical division it always was.

6:10 pm

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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Between 2006 and 2007, joint policing committees were established. At that time we had urban district councils. There were five in my constituency: Midleton, Youghal, Cobh, Fermoy and one other in the county, so I found myself on six joint policing committees at the time. I found them very useful and informative because they brought policing right down to the ground. The people in the community, the public representatives from county councils, Deputies and community leaders all came together with the Garda and the local authority officials to discuss the issues that were pertinent in that close local area. Those local authorities changed and we had municipal districts. Now in County Cork we have one joint policing committee for the whole county. Whatever about Deputy Cahill's example of Tipperary, Cork is a lot bigger. It was not ideal because the rural areas were not represented, just the towns.

The Future of Policing in Ireland report states:

We regard district policing as the backbone of police work and the police mission. In our new district policing model, all police service personnel at district level, sworn and non-sworn, should be considered to be community police.

I ask the Minister to look at establishing joint policing committees in the municipal districts. I know it is up to the Garda Commissioner, and he has a major role here, but it would be very beneficial if that happened and it would fit in very well with what is going on here. This is a technical Bill and it is understandable that we are changing the operating model of the Garda, that the divisions are becoming paramount and the districts per se as legal entities are being taken out, but I am concerned with what is to replace them at that local level. The ideal entity to replace them would be the municipal districts. If some form of municipal Garda district or organisation was linked in with the municipal district, that would make a lot of sense. You could also tie in education and health as well. That is something the Minister, the Department and the Commissioner might take on board.

The Future of Policing report also says "The current network of Joint Policing Committees (JPCs) received mixed reviews in our consultation process", but it also says the local policing forums are examples that have worked well, which reiterates what I have been saying. It mentions one in Dublin's north inner city. That is the kind of idea I am putting forward and the kind of model I am suggesting we might look at replicating throughout the country.

Moving to another area of concern around districts, the Garda and what the report on the Future of Policing is saying about organisation, I want to raise the role of the Garda Reserve. In 2013 there were 664 members of the Garda Reserve. In response to a parliamentary question I was told there are now 447, a reduction of almost a third. The Future of Policing recommends that recruitment to the Garda Reserve should be paused pending the outcome of a comprehensive strategic review. I understand that review is over and it is incumbent on us to start looking at that very valuable resource again. The Future of Policing report includes a very interesting note which refers to volunteer programmes. It mentions a Police Explorer initiative that is run through local policing services across the United States. It provides young people aged between 14 and 21 years who are interested in a career in law enforcement an opportunity to undertake training and practical hands-on experience in working with their local police service. That would be really worthwhile. It is worth exploring and thinking about. It would get young adults involved at that level as cadets or volunteers. We should also look at how we can use the Garda Reserve. Many people joined the reserve and then applied to join An Garda Síochána proper and were taken on because they knew what they were getting into and had a certain amount of experience.

Local knowledge is very important. Again and again, people have mentioned the importance of having gardaí on the beat, for them to be out and about on the streets, in the shops, meeting people, discussing with them what their issues are, and getting to know people and the locality. They cannot do that when they are stuck behind desks. I have been told by some gardaí that they find themselves stuck behind computers filling in reports and that if they do not do that, they are in trouble. Red tape and bureaucracy have taken over a lot of their time and that needs to be looked at.

There is the matter of different agencies working together and collaborating at local level. I am particularly interested in two responses. One is the joint agency response to crime, JARC. That is where all the agencies work together to focus on serial offenders. It has been highly successful in deterring people and actually turning people away from crime. In my time in the Department, we established a youth joint agency response to crime, Y-JARC, initiative, which is a pilot multi-agency approach to manage and address the prolific offending and criminal behaviour of young people aged between 16 and 21 years. Two pilot projects were launched in July 2017, one in Gurranabraher in Cork and one in Blanchardstown in Dublin. These have been very successful. A kind of outside-the-box thinking is required if we are to make inroads into what is happening in our society.

I agree with Deputy Cahill. When we change these models, we must ensure gardaí get closer to the people, not further away. That is why we need very local structures so that communication, both formal and informal, is there. We also need to ensure gardaí are on the beat and in touch with the people.

I refer to the youth justice strategy which was launched by the Minister quite recently. We should have a debate in the House on that. Many people do not know about it and do not even know it exists but it is very important in impacting young people who are in danger of getting involved in crime though antisocial behaviour, being pulled into the gangs and so on.

It works with the Garda youth diversion programme, youth agencies and youth clubs, and with the youth workers to target young people and reach out to them on the ground to support and help them, to divert them away from crime. That strategy is something we should all read and work on. We should have a debate on this in the House to see how it is working to make sure the resources are put into it. If we can deter young people from getting involved in crime in the first place, it will be a win-win. I have been in communities where a great deal of very good work is being done, but it is up against the tsunami of other issues these agencies are fighting against. They can be successful. I have come across young people who, because of their involvement with youth justice agencies and the good work that they are doing out there, decided not to get involved in antisocial behaviour and in crime. They decided to get involved in youth work themselves and act as leaders in their own peer group to deter other young people from getting involved in crime. This is the kind of thing we should do.

I am also concerned about the reports, such as the Greentown research project and others, that show us families and gangs use young people and children in crime. The key here is local, local, local. I am hopeful for all of the changes that we have here. I am encouraged by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland report which states that it regards district policing as:

... the backbone of police work and the police mission [...] all should see themselves as part of a single district policing team working to keep their communities safe. All should see their overarching collective function as solving problems affecting community safety in the district. District police should be competent, empowered, and resourced to handle most day to day policing demands themselves.

This is crucially important and is a turning point.

I am aware that some colleagues are concerned. On the one hand the Bill takes away some of red tape and bureaucracy and the layers of decision-making that are there at the moment, which is part of it, while, on the other, it brings the gardaí closer to the people, it frees them up and takes them away from duties could be done by civilians. We need to do more of that. A lot has been done to date but we need to do more. We need to identify areas where civilians can do the work that gardaí are doing now who should be out there doing real police work.

I welcome this initiative. I am aware that it has to be done for all kinds of legal reasons. It is technical legislation and must be covered like that. We face significant challenges at the moment in respect of antisocial behaviour. If one walks around this city any night, one can see that it is getting more and more prevalent for all kinds of reasons. One of the reasons is that we need more police visibility on the street engaging with people at all levels, being seen and not being in cars. The gardaí may be on bicycles to get around but certainly they can walk. The yellow jackets being seen on the street is a great support and a great help to people. It is a great encouragement for those people for whom the fear of crime can sometimes be more devastating than the crime itself, as Deputy Howlin said earlier.

6:20 pm

Photo of Patricia RyanPatricia Ryan (Kildare South, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. It is very much a technical Bill, which is necessary to implement a new Garda operational model. The Bill will replace Garda districts with divisions in any relevant legislation and will also change the rank at which some functions or duties can be carried out. One criticism I have of this Bill is the short time that we have been given to consider it. Given the urgency to pass the Bill before the new divisional model goes live in the near future, we need more time to consider the consequences of these changes.

From a worker's point of view, the duties of certain Garda ranks will change and there should be appropriate remuneration for this. There needs to be proper consultation with representative groups. We cannot have the same dissatisfaction that followed the publication of the Changing Policing in Ireland report. The GRA and the AGSI, just like any other representative groups or unions, must have their views listened to. This Government and its predecessor, which is identical in make-up except for the green mudguard, have ridden roughshod over workers' rights. A Government that would not stand up for Debenhams' workers will certainly not stand up for the ordinary men and women of An Garda Síochána.

Aside from workers' rights, I am also concerned that districts will be amalgamated into divisions whereby some rural areas will lose out on Garda resources they may previously have had. These are resources needed now more than ever, particularly in the rural areas I represent of south Kildare and north Laois. The Government is leaving rural Ireland behind and this needs to change.

We all read the results of the Newstalk survey this week that shows almost nine out of ten women are afraid to walk our streets at night. I was interviewed as part of the survey and from personal experience I know what it is like to feel unsafe, even on well-lit or busy streets. Anyone who takes the Luas, as I do most days coming here to Leinster House, will also have experienced this fear. Sinn Féin has continuously highlighted the need for a more community-based policing model. Gardaí who are known in their community will, naturally, be more approachable. Garda visibility is known as a deterrent against crime but this Bill does little to help us with this. We need more community gardaí and more investment in the community policing model. It is not just a Garda visibility problem. We have a Garda availability problem. The gardaí themselves are not to blame. The Government must provide proper manpower and resources. It has consistently failed to do this. Sinn Féin in government will increase Garda numbers. We will increase the numbers of civilian workers to free up gardaí for front-line duties and we will ensure that there is a proper investment programme put in place to ensure that the gardaí have enough resources to keep the community safe. Other Deputies have also spoken about how this needs to happen.

I had two reports this week of residents in Monasterevin and Portarlington being unable to get an answer when they called the Garda station there despite the fact that the phone is supposed to be diverted to Kildare town and Portlaoise Garda stations, respectively, when the station is unattended. This leaves residents vulnerable. Not only does it leave residents in Monasterevin and Portarlington and the surrounding areas very vulnerable, it also leaves us and the criminals knowing when the Garda stations are unmanned. It is simply not good enough. I have also had a report of a Garda car being shared between Kildare town and Athy stations.

It is no wonder that we have a drugs epidemic in our communities. Gardaí were searching a house recently for drugs and they accidentally discovered a grow house next door when they smelled cannabis being smoked in the neighbouring house. We need to equip the gardaí to use thermal imaging, energy usage and intelligence to search for grow houses. It should not just be left to chance. Drugs are ravaging our communities and families. Drugs ravage our young people and rob them of their futures. If this Government will not act, it should put somebody in here who will.

Photo of Mark WardMark Ward (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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This technical Bill implements the new Garda operational model and it removes the district model replacing it with Garda divisions. The problem is that the Bill could move An Garda Síochána further away from the model of community policing than ever before. Sinn Féin consistently highlights the need for more community-based policing. We have seen the numbers of community gardaí decimated under successive Governments, particularly in Dublin. For example, community gardaí in Dublin have seen their numbers decrease from 508 in 2010 to 278 in 2020. The community gardaí themselves are frustrated and feel that they cannot carry out their duties due to these cutbacks. In parts of my constituency there has been an increase in antisocial behaviour and criminality recently. We need to increase community police numbers and have gardaí on the beat. As my colleagues and Members on all sides of the House have said, visibility of gardaí in an area makes people feel safer and more secure and it improves people's quality-of-life.

I will turn to the issue of Operation Tombola. The Minister will be aware that the operation is designed to prevent and detect the sale, supply and possession of fireworks and to address antisocial behaviour in our communities in the lead-up to Hallowe'en. A press release from the Minister, available on gov.ie, states that Operation Tombola began in August. I would have welcomed this intervention as it is something that Sinn Féin called for last year. At last Friday's South Dublin County Council public meeting of the joint policing committee, which I attended, we were informed that Operation Tombola will begin on 1 October 2021 to put in place the appropriate measures in the lead-up to Hallowe'en.

Not only did Operation Tombola not begin in my area earlier this year; it has not in fact begun yet. Is this the case across all areas or is this just in my area of Dublin Mid-West?

Last year, Sinn Féin tabled a very realistic motion on community safety and fireworks that the Government amended into meaningless words. This would have made a huge difference to our communities. I am afraid that because of this, our communities are paying the price again this year. The misuse of fireworks has again been plaguing our communities. People in my community feel abandoned by the Government as a lack of visible policing is leading to a state of lawlessness. Over the past month, I have seen a rise in antisocial behaviour and more criminality, and the illegal use of fireworks has increased in my area.

The gardaí run Operation Tombola each year in the run-up to Hallowe'en to deal with the illegal use of fireworks and antisocial behaviour. Last year, after intense pressure from Sinn Féin, Operation Tombola was brought forward by one month to begin on 4 September. That was really welcome. During the debate I had last year with the previous Minister for Justice, she conceded that there may be a need to start Operation Tombola even earlier.

Going back to what I was saying, the Minister can imagine my anger and frustration on finding out during the recent meeting of the Joint Policing Committee at South Dublin County Council that Operation Tombola has not even commenced yet, and is not due to start until 1 October. Instead of bring Operation Tombola forward, it is now starting more than a month later than last year. This is simply not good enough and has left our communities feeling abandoned.

I want to refer to a statement the Minister made today on gov.ie, which I will read verbatim.

Operation Tombola began in August of this year in the Dublin Metropolitan Region in response to concerns about unlicensed fireworks and their early use in the run-up to Hallowe'en.

This statement is not backed by the information I have received from the Joint Policing Committee. I also received a response to the following parliamentary question, which I will again read verbatim. The question I tabled was:

To ask the Minister for Justice the status of Operation Tombola 2021; the additional resources allocated to the operation; the commencement date of the operation; if a comparison will be made to same during Operation Tombola in 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

I received quite a lengthy statement, which I have with me, comprising three pages containing a lot of really good information and many welcome initiatives in Operation Tombola. I did not receive what I asked for, however, which was the commencement date. In fact, the response I received stated:

I understand that each chief superintendent in the DMR is in the process of engaging with relevant stakeholders including the local authorities to identify, co-ordinate and implement an appropriate multi-agency strategy for the Hallowe'en period.

In September when I got this answer, the chief superintendent was only processing Operation Tombola yet we are saying that it started in August. If Operation Tombola began in August, why did I not get this answer in September? Why are the gardaí in Dublin Mid-West not commencing it until 1 October? I submitted more parliamentary questions today on this matter. I have also tabled a Topical Issue matter because it is something that needs to be addressed. I thank the Minister for taking the time to be here today.

6:30 pm

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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We are here to discuss what is obviously a technical Bill. When I heard about the reorganisation and division, and the fact that County Louth was going to be connected with counties Cavan and Monaghan, I had a fear of losing senior gardaí and losing the focus that is needed, particularly in the huge urban settings of Dundalk and Drogheda. Anybody who has watched the news in recent years realises the difficulties we are dealing with there.

I accept that there is a certain logic to the streamlining of services. I accept that there is complete logic to taking the likes of human resources and disciplinary issues away from other gardaí, who will become focused thematically on the vital parts of crime-fighting that are absolutely necessary. None of this will really matter, however, unless we are talking about resources.

I spoke recently to the superintendent in Dundalk and the chief superintendent for County Louth. They spoke about the issue that still relates to the lack of supervision and the need for more sergeants, and how this is holding up operationality in the Garda. This is, therefore, something that will need to be dealt with. It is all well and good and we can have reports and reorganisation but if we do not have the capacity to do business then we will not be doing business.

I will bring the discussion back to what one of the previous Deputies spoke about. A recent "Prime Time" episode on crack cocaine dealing showed one particular estate. The Deputy asked why the gardaí were not taking action in respect of this estate. I imagine parts of Dublin are like parts of my town of Dundalk, where that is hardly the only drug dealing that was going down that day. I imagine there are lots of places where one can find this happening. The reality is that we would need an incredible amount of resources to tackle every incidence of drug dealing.

With regard to that particular estate, I think we need to actually introduce a level of logic with regard to planning. The term that would have come to mind for any other person who has acted as a councillor for any period and who watched that show was "permeability". That is the idea; it sounds great and allows for access and there is no obstacle in a person's way in relation to being able to live an active lifestyle and be able to walk wherever he or she needs to be. The reality in certain working-class estates is that permeability, which is forced upon developers and planners, ends up creating rat runs and areas that are open to drug dealing and antisocial behaviour. The issue then is that an awful lot of councillors in Dundalk and in other areas spend their time trying to get council officials to close them off at a later stage. We need to look at this when we are talking about holistic planning.

This is the reality, however. I was told that the Minister was looking at a relatively serious sized State-level drug dealer - a major operator - and that it takes approximately 28 gardaí to put an operation in place that will probably take a year to get a prosecution. The idea is that if the Minister is putting in those sorts of resources, we will have action. That needs to be followed up by court resources and such.

Let us assume that we are talking about the likes of Dundalk or Drogheda. Obviously, Drogheda had a particular set of resources thrown at it due to the situation that arose there with the vicious feud. We would have to consider that on a localised basis, we are still talking about numbers of at least ten to 20 gardaí, who, to a significant extent, would have to be focused on putting away a major player. Some of these major players, even on a localised level, unfortunately, have become quite clever in how they operate. They use people who are vulnerable. They have an number of cut-outs between themselves and the actual crime and they are usually able to insulate themselves. The Minister is talking about a huge amount of resources, however. We have to have a reality check and look at the entire situation.

The Government has proposed a number of things in relation to citizens’ assemblies. I believe there is general support for that across this House. We really need to get the show on the road, however, if we are talking about the issue of organised crime and the dysfunction we have with regard to the drugs problem. I welcome that there is to be a citizens' assembly regarding drugs but we need to actually see it happen. We need a timeline. We need to take the conversation out of this place and have a real discussion about best practice across the world, whether that is in Portugal, Amsterdam or anywhere else. We need to take a look at what works.

I would also make the argument that this State and this country is incredibly small. If we are looking at changes, we might need to have a wider conversation about the European Union, and, obviously, with Britain as unfortunately, at this point, there are still two jurisdictions on this island. Hopefully, that is something that will be altered in the near future but it is something we must deal at this point.

The Minister visited Drogheda for the launch of the Drogheda Implementation Board. I am quite hopeful that could possibly provide a template for best practice and ensure that with those services out there - for example, the entire family support services, the HSE, the addiction services, as they currently exist and much of the NGO sector - we will be able to cut through some of the red tape, provide funding and make the best of what we have.

A major part of the work will be to point out that there will still be a necessity to fill in gaps, even if we do the absolute best and the promises on prioritisation and Government funding actually occur, because we need huge family supports and a huge level of addiction services and family addiction services. We still have an issue in County Louth and beyond, in counties Meath, Cavan and Monaghan, in that the family addiction support network, based in Dundalk, is still awaiting funding. The promise of funding has been promised, in the sense that the HSE has supposedly been given €70,000, which was promised a significant period of time ago, but it has not made its way down to CHO 8 with criteria and whatever else is needed. Nobody knows whether this will be a continual or retrospective payment. You are dealing with an organisation the gardaí use to provide a resource to families under severe pressure. It is also one of the bodies people approach. Sometimes people who are uncomfortable going directly to the gardaí will point out where drug-debt intimidation is occurring.

We welcome the work being done by the gardaí at a State level and locally, especially in taking on organised crime and criminality and drugs criminals who are ripping apart our communities, but we have to be absolutely realistic about this. Sometimes there can be an oversimplification. Some of the discussion that occurred earlier on that "Prime Time" show asked why those people were not arrested. The fact is we have seen the likes of the drugs squad in Dundalk having a huge impact. We saw a huge number of seizures, especially at the very beginning of the pandemic and that leads to huge debts in the criminal underground, and the pressure goes downward and we have had a huge increase in drug-debt intimidation, and that is of mothers, grandmothers, fathers, uncles, brothers and sisters. They get the knock on the door, the window is smashed and they get the threat that what is coming next will be a hell of a lot more serious and they have seen it happen. I am fed up of WhatsApp messages or videos of houses on fire, acts of antisocial behaviour related to drugs and the damage it does and I absolutely hate looking at messages at this point in time. We need to get incredibly serious on this.

I welcome what was said earlier. There are positive things about the youth justice strategy and some positives about this reorganisation, but if are to be serious, we need to have a holistic multi-agency solution, which means we have to have a real conversation on how we will deal with this. Like I said, we need to have a wider solution, because it is not just about the gardaí, but it is about a health-led strategy and one that works. The gardaí will tell you they are fed up that they cannot access the addiction services required. We basically have a system that does not work. We need to get real and we are nowhere next to being real about this.

6:40 pm

Photo of Aindrias MoynihanAindrias Moynihan (Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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Ar an gcéad dul síos, fáiltím roimh an deis labhairt faoin mBille seo. Is Bille é a bhaineann le feidhmeanna agus réigiúin na ngardaí. I acknowledge the huge work so many gardaí at every level are doing throughout the country, day in, day out, serving their communities. A huge debt is owed to so many of the gardaí who go out, roll up their sleeves and take on such a role everyday. Gabhaim buíochas leo.

The Bill relates to the layout, functions and regions of the Garda. In my county of Cork, it is proposed that there would be one large division covering the whole county, which is one eighth of the Republic. There is, without doubt, concern that it would be a very large area to cover and would be challenging.

One of the aspects of that large division is that the headquarters would be stationed in Macroom. A great deal of work has been done on Macroom Garda station, although it was stalled for a good while. There was a great effort in the past year to get things going again. Planning has been approved for the new station. It is hugely important to maintain that momentum, to press ahead, put it out to tender and get on with the construction of those new headquarters for the new Garda division in Cork in order that the gardaí have the resources and facilities available to them to conduct their business. I ask that the Minister would intervene and engage with the Office of Public Works, OPW, the National Development Finance Agency, NDFA, and the various different agencies to ensure Macroom Garda station is put out to tender and that we get on with construction without any further delay. We need to maintain the momentum we have seen recently in respect of Macroom.

For many years gardaí have been dealing with a range of mental health issues and, of course, the pandemic has added to this. Unfortunately, the gardaí are finding themselves being called out to deal with a range of different situations. While they have training in mental health supports, when they find themselves in these situations, specialist support might be needed to deal with it. Often, the only option available to the garda is to effect an arrest, if it is possible, and bring the person to the services. Often it may not be the appropriate way of dealing with it. Having someone at the scene, to be able to provide support, would be so much more beneficial to everybody.

The Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland recommended crisis intervention teams, that is, a team that would be available with a social worker, psychologist and specialists that could be called to a situation, as needed. It is proposed to pilot such a crisis intervention team in Limerick sometime next year. It should be done in a number of different Garda divisions such as in Cork as well as Limerick. More of those pilots should be rolled out sooner in order that people and gardaí have support when they find themselves in a situation. It would be hugely beneficial to many people.

Baineann an Bille seo le feidhmeanna na ngardaí chomh maith agus is é ceann d'fheidhmeanna na ngardaí ná chun freastal ar gach duine sa tír, na Gaeilgeoirí ina measc. Tá bearna ann le fada an lá agus tá dúshlán mór ann chun dóthain gardaí a bheith ar fáil chun a ngnó a dhéanamh agus chun freastal ar phobal na Gaolainne. Tá sé seo pléite go mion leis an gCoimisinéir agus ag an gcoiste Gaolainne. Tá gá tabhairt faoi seo go práinneach. Tá an Coimisinéir i bhfeighil ceann de na coistí anois agus ag treorú laistigh de na gardaí ach chaithfí a chinntiú go mbeadh na gardaí ábalta freastal ar phobal na Gaolainne. Tuigim go bhfuil dea-thoil ann ach anois caithfear beart de réir briathar a dhéanamh, agus na gardaí sin a chur ar fáil sna ceantair éagsúla, amhail an stáisiún i mBaile Bhuirne, atá ag feitheamh le sáirsint ó Mhárta 2019, na folúntais sin a líonadh agus freastal ar phobal na Gaolainne.

Baineann an Bille seo leis an tslí a mbíonn an leagan amach ar na ceantair.

8 o’clock

Tá Corcaigh - an contae ar fad - chun a bheith mar cheantar amháin iomlán, agus is mór an ceantar é sin. Tá an cheanncheathrú le bheith i Maigh Chromtha agus tá sé fíorthábhachtach go mbeadh na huirlisí, na foirgnimh agus gach rud cuí curtha ar fáil do na gardaí ann. Ar feadh i bhfad, bhí moill ar stáisiún nua a thógáil i gcomhair Maigh Chromtha ach tá dul chun cinn ann le déanaí agus is maith é sin. Iarraim ar an Aire an móiminteam sin a choimeád, brú ar aghaidh agus cur ina luí ar an OPW agus na heagrais éagsúla eile gur chóir dóibh an tendering a dhéanamh i gcomhair stáisiún Garda nua Mhaigh Chromtha agus é a thógáil chun go mbeadh ceanncheathrú oiriúnach ann don réigiún nua Maigh Chromtha agus ceantar Chorcaí. Tá sé práinneach agus iarraim ar an Aire gach rud a dhéanamh chun é sin a chur i gcrích.

Tá an-chuid brú ann i gcónaí ó thaobh sláinte aigne agus is baolach a bhíonn gardaí go minic mar is iad siúd a bhíonn amuigh ag plé le han-chuid de na deacrachtaí sin nuair a ghlaoitear amach iad chuig situation éigin. Cé go bhfuil traenáil acu chuige, go minic bíonn duine le traenáil speisialta riachtanach agus tá an Coimisiún um Thodhchaí na Póilíneachta in Éirinn cheana féin tar éis fiafraí go mbeadh foirne intervention ann chun freastal orthu agus teacht chuig situations má tá gá leo. Bheidís ábalta rudaí a bhogadh síos agus a réiteach ansin gan an duine a thabhairt isteach. Mar sin, in ainneoin go bhfuil plean ann go mbeadh Luimneach mar cheann de na háiteanna go dtosófaí é seo, braithim gur chóir go mbeadh níos mó áiteanna mar sin ann. Iarraim ar an Aire é sin a leathnú amach chun go bhféadfaí a leithéid d’fhoireann a bheith ar fáil do na gardaí, do phobal Chorcaí agus ceantair eile ar fud na tíre chomh luath agus chomh tapa agus go bhféadfaí. Tá an-chuid sa Bhille seo. There is a great deal in the Bill but those are the two or three areas that I want to focus on. I commend the Bill.

6:50 pm

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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I am happy to attend and contribute to the debate on this Bill, which intends to facilitate the implementation of the new Garda Síochána operating model. It proposes certain amendments to legislation to facilitate the introduction of specific changes to the structure of An Garda Síochána. As the Minister knows, the new model is structured around Garda divisions. Under the divisional policing model being introduced, all services, it appears, will be managed and co-ordinated at divisional level. This will hopefully allow greater specialisation and release gardaí from back office functions, which many colleagues have already spoken about. Garda districts will no longer form part of the organisational structure and the division is now to be the primary operational unit, acting as a fundamental building block for delivering day-to-day policing, with enough capabilities and autonomy to effectively run local operations but within a corporate framework to ensure consistency and quality of service. I wonder about that last line. I am not so sure I like the sound of a corporate framework in terms of additional public bodies and public scrutiny. Each division will be headed by a chief superintendent, as is currently the case, and superintendents will now have divisional responsibilities and will no longer be heads of local districts.

The new division in the south east, located in Waterford, now encompasses Waterford, Kilkenny and Carlow. This division does not have the present built capacity to fully accommodate the new personnel coming into the station. However, there is ample room on the present site to accommodate expansion and the extension of the existing building. This must be a priority within the new policing plan. In addition, this building expansion must be accepted by the Government and reflected in the revised development plan. There is absolutely no sense in nominating Waterford as the new divisional headquarters if we cannot have the facilities and headcount required in order to carry out the role of a divisional headquarters.

Waterford is the capital of the south east, reflecting a census population of almost 60,000 people. This number does not take into account the student population within the city, which numbers close to 12,000, or the more than 12,000 people who commute in and out of the city each day for employment. Waterford needs increased policing capability in terms of additional policing numbers. At present, our headcount is probably 16 officers lower than it was two years ago. It is hard to understand how that is the case, given that the division is supposed to be increasing.

The site houses the division of the armed response unit in Waterford and is also the control room and support base for all 999 calls for the ten counties of the eastern region. I took the opportunity some weeks ago to visit the barracks in Waterford and I have seen first-hand the lack of space. Duty members do not even have lockers in which to store their clothes or personal items as they don their uniforms. I have seen the control room where controllers sit cheek by jowl in a room with a lack of space and ventilation. It is hard to believe, given how this facility is currently structured, that it can provide adequately for such an important function within the new divisional headquarters. We may be proposing a new policing model but without resourcing nothing will change. This is true too of the Garda stations in Tramore and Dungarvan, where new sergeant positions are yet to be activated, and the divisional headquarters in Waterford is short at least 16 full-time officers.

I have spoken to gardaí on the beat about present policing policy. One garda told me that there are huge issues with staffing and lack of manpower. Another said that there has been no recruitment drive in over three years and there is not even a sign of one on the horizon. Another claimed that there are no opportunities for rank-and-file gardaí to benefit from promotion in the present stagnant situation. Another said that promotions that have been approved are taking between two and four years to implement. How can this be, when Garda officers are retiring at the same time? Another garda told me that lots of gardaí have been taken off the beat because they have to attend local District Court sitting where sergeant positions as court presenters that were promised have yet to be activated. This is a significant problem throughout the courts in the country, as I am sure the Minister is well aware. Rank-and-file gardaí are turning up every week at the District Court to give a few minutes of evidence and may have their whole day taken up when cases are deferred or delayed.

What is the future of community policing if An Garda Síochána cannot engage with and remain close to the public at large? That has been covered by a number of Deputies this evening. In the past, the basis of a community garda was always someone living in the region who knew the people he or she was dealing with, who knew what levels of crime were going on and who largely knew exactly who was involved in criminality and antisocial behaviour. There was a lot of comfort in that. That is something we have gone away from and we need to rediscover it.

What is the future development of roads policing? This is something that I as a Deputy struggle with all the time. I see speed cameras placed in areas such as the Dunmore Road in Waterford. There is habitually a speed camera placed there, in an area of 30 km/h where we have not had an injury or a fatality in over 20 years. It is purely a money-raising and points-getting exercise that has nothing to do with road safety. When gardaí and police operate that type of policy all they do is P- off people in all areas because people see this as an attack on ordinary, decent, law-abiding citizens. What discretion is allowed to gardaí anymore? My understanding is they have very little now. When a garda stops someone he or she has no discretion, whereas in the past that discretion engendered a good community spirit. That is gone and that needs to be looked at as well.

The main issues raised by my constituents are community policing and having gardaí on the beat, visible and available in short response times and not tied up in the District Court providing court narratives for low-level crimes that will largely be dealt with by low-level fines and suspended custodial sentences. That is the truth of it at present. We need serious crime responses and active and responsive detective units with liaison officers so that prosecution and potential court actions can be updated and communicated to the victims of crime in a timely manner. As crime adapts and changes, policing needs to change also. I was glad to hear news today of a specific operation targeting the scourge that is bogus tradespeople preying on vulnerable elderly people and bullying them into engaging work that is not required on their houses. They are then extorted and victimised for it.

This is not a low-level crime. This is an issue for which those in policing reform should be calling for longer sentencing.

The Minister is probably aware that rural crime is conducted with the use of drone technology to survey rural houses, farms, outbuildings, livestock and machinery areas. This is a significant problem for rural dwellers, and technology officers in An Garda Síochána need to be innovative to combat this. What is the strategy around that? I am not sure there is one. I would like to hear it communicated.

On technology and cybercrime, what is the plan to resource these departments considering the innovation, the scale and the level of cybercrime which is growing exponentially? We have major issues with cybercrime from abroad which is impacting us. What legislation is there to cover that?

I pay tribute to the Garda fraud office. We had a situation in Waterford some months ago where a significant amount of money was paid by a Waterford company. Thanks to the diligence and activity of the Garda fraud office, that money was recovered. That is probably the exception rather than the rule. This is a matter we need to look at.

Other Members have discussed our drugs strategy. It is hard to know where we are going with the drugs situation in this country. I accept there are many societal and cultural issues that drive the drugs trade, but education is key to this issue and so is community policy. This is an issue that has to be looked at and resourced seriously. Without adequate resourcing in terms of human capital, this strategy is unlikely to flourish and consequentially the public at large is unlikely to notice any improvement in policing activity.

In the Waterford division, the lack of human and built capital means, to a large extent, the aspiration of this Bill cannot be implemented on the ground. I am sure that is not the intention of the Minister. I look forward to engaging with her and local policing on how we can best meet the needs of An Garda Síochána, regionally and nationally, and local community and commercial concerns with regard to this administrative change.

7:00 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I call Deputy Harkin of the Independent Group.

Photo of Marian HarkinMarian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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As the Minister said earlier, this is a technical Bill and its purpose is to facilitate the introduction of changes to the structures in An Garda Síochána. This is to ensure the implementation of the new operating model. Of course, it is the impact of these changes on the ground that matter - the impact on communities, policing services and the police force itself.

The first issue I want to raise refers to the last point. It specifically relates to the issue of Sligo Garda station and the decision to pull the plug on the advanced plans to build a new Garda station in Sligo. I wish to make it clear that I have no issue with any decisions made by the Garda Commissioner in regard to administrative and operational matters. I fully understand his role in reorganising the operational model under which An Garda Síochána will operate. In fact, I support his objectives. However, the reorganisation of An Garda Síochána is constantly being linked to the U-turn on the building of a new Garda station in Sligo. There is no connection and I will explain the situation.

The Garda station in Sligo dates back to the 1840s. The need for a new station has long been established. In 2016-2017, there was a walkout due to the completely unacceptable working conditions. That in itself gives an indication of how bad things were. In 2019, the Office of Public Works, OPW, stated Sligo Garda station was not fit for purpose. A commitment was given to build a new station on a site outside Sligo town. A site was purchased by the OPW at a cost of €1.3 million. Money was allocated in the Government capital plan 2016-2021 and there was a five- to six-year timeline. A commitment was given to upgrade the existing station for use until the new building was ready.

In early 2020, to the complete disbelief of everybody concerned, an announcement was made that there would not be a new station and that the current nearly 200-year-old station would be refurbished. The current station is overcrowded. It does not have a disability access certificate. Some of its offices have no natural lighting or ventilation. There are no parking facilities; there are 20 spaces for 120 staff. Staff retention, particularly administrative, is a real issue because of the unacceptable working conditions. The plumbing, lighting and electrical systems need a complete upgrade. In addition, energy efficiency is not really a possibility.

Sligo management submitted a brief of the requirements for the refurbishment of the station. The response received so far has fallen short in approximately 40% of the requirements. Put simply, the footprint of the current station is far too small to accommodate the needs of those working there and the people it serves.

One might ask, after that long spiel, what the connection is between this legislation we are discussing and the Government U-turn on providing a new Garda station in Sligo. The connection could not be clearer. More than a year ago, the Minister for Justice at the time, Deputy Helen McEntee, stated in a written reply to a Dáil question, "In relation to a comparative assessment on refurbishing the existing Station [in Sligo] relative to the provision of a new Garda Station, I have been informed that the rationale for the decision not to proceed with a new Station in Sligo was based on the changed status of Sligo under the new Garda Operating Model." By the looks of it, the Bill we are debating is the rationale for the fact that we will continue to have a Garda station in Sligo that is "not fit for purpose", to quote the OPW.

Let us look at some of the changes proposed under this new operating model. Sligo is to be a functional area for performance assurance. This new role will require 30 extra staff. Under the restructuring Sligo Garda station will lose approximately ten staff members. The changes being made will mean that Sligo Garda station will have approximately 20 extra staff - not fewer staff- and they will all have to be squeezed into a station that is currently not fit for the number of people who work there. There is something wrong here. The Minister for Justice at the time, Deputy McEntee, said the reason for that change was because of the restructuring, but there is something wrong. I do not know who made the decision to pull the plug on the new station but there is no reason to support that decision. In fact, the opposite should have happened because there will be more staff employed in the station. Was it a political decision? Sligo was one of three stations which was part of a public private partnership bundle. The other two stations, Clonmel and Macroom, will go ahead. I wish them good luck. Those areas need their Garda stations.

However, what happened to the money earmarked for Sligo? What black hole has it fallen into? Why do we keep getting answers and responses that do not make sense when we ask the legitimate question: has a cost-benefit analysis been carried out, in accordance with the public spending code, on the refurbishment of Sligo Garda station vis-à-visthe construction of a new station on a greenfield site at Caltragh, County Sligo? I had submitted that very question, as a priority question, to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform for tomorrow morning but it has been disallowed and I accept that. My question to the Minister is: who has the answer to this? Who made the decision and on what basis was that made?

Of course, there may be other reasons for that decision. There might be plans, of which we are currently unaware, for a diminution of policing services in Sligo. I have been asked to raise the question of whether we will keep our response services, the scenes of crime unit and the divisional protection unit, which investigates sexual crimes. We need guarantees on those issues. There is something wrong when we are being told we do not need a new station because of the changed status of Sligo, brought about by the legislation we are discussing, when, in fact, the provisions of the Bill mean there will be an increase in staff numbers. Any explanation the Minister can give me in this regard would be helpful. I see she is writing furiously. I hope it is information on that point, which I am interested to hear.

As I said, I am most interested in her response to the issues I have raised. Aside from that, however, the Bill has many positive aspects. One of the positive aspects is that these provisions will release gardaí from back-office functions and return them into communities. Community policing is hugely important because gardaí are part of the community and their visibility and availability within a community is crucial. The Bill can provide a supporting framework in that regard. As we all know, however, it is action that really matters. It is the commitment from the Garda and support from the community that will help to ensure meaningful community policing.

As a member of the Sligo joint policing committee, I have had the opportunity to see up close some of the really valuable work under way in Sligo-Leitrim on diversity, equality, inclusion and transparency. The Garda division has a new strategy that has community engagement at its centre. Part of this strategy is to identify how gardaí can become more accessible to persons with disabilities, minority groups, hard-to-reach groups, Traveller communities, LGBT+ communities, ethnic minority groups and direct provision centres, just to give some examples. Gardaí have promoted the Little Blue Heroes Foundation and worked with disability groups, support groups, active age groups, schools and IT Sligo. Liaison gardaí were appointed to assist the blind during the Covid-19 crisis. They have worked with children with autism, held information talks on coercive control and fully engaged in a week of action to create awareness, promote diversity and support the LGBT+ community during Pride week. At a recent meeting of the JPC, I said that local gardaí were breaking the mould and the initiatives they are leading on deserve national recognition and should be replicated across the country. Their efforts shows that commitment at local level works.

I said at the beginning of my contribution that I support the objective of the Garda Commissioner to deliver more efficient day-to-day policing within a framework of divisions that have the capabilities and autonomy to run local operations effectively. However, some lopsided divisions have been created, as many Deputies have mentioned. In my part of the country, we are soon to have a new Sligo-Leitrim-Donegal division, which will cover an area 140% greater than in the existing division. It will be approximately 8,300 sq. km in size compared with an area of 3,400 sq. km under the original division. That is a massive increase in area. It is worth noting that the GRA and the AGSI were critical of the implementation of the restructuring plans in 2019. They raised concerns that a reduction in the number of divisions could lead to longer response times and reduced police presence due to larger distances from headquarters to certain areas within their remit. I echo those concerns in the context of the Sligo-Leitrim-Donegal division. However, I am prepared to see how the new structures operate, provided there will be a flexible response if changes are needed.

7:10 pm

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputies for their contributions and for their support for this Bill. I would like to mention a number of amendments I intend to introduce on Committee Stage. They relate to the drug testing of members of An Garda Síochána, as well as trainees, civilian staff, reserve members and applicants. The amendments were recommended by the Garda Inspectorate in its report from last year, Countering the Threat of Internal Corruption, which states that the proposed changes would bring An Garda Síochána into line with international best practice.

I turn now to some of the points raised by Deputies in this debate. Reference was made to the Drogheda implementation plan. My Department issued a statement on 8 July on local co-ordination and further implementation of the Drogheda scoping report, which can be read on the Department's website. As well as publishing the scoping report, the Department has identified a number of actions for early implementation, which can be progressed in line with the finalisation of the implementation plan. They include providing funding to the Red Door Project. The latter has submitted grant proposals and funding was provided this month. The Government agreed to publish the Drogheda implementation plan in July 2021 and to implement the actions contained in the report. Those actions will be reviewed quarterly and a progress report will be published twice yearly. The Department will lead national oversight to ensure the delivery of the implementation plan. As I announced on 8 July, Martin O'Brien, chief executive of the Louth and Meath Education and Training Board, ETB, has committed to hosting new structures to deliver services in Drogheda. The ETB will be a core driver and co-ordinator of activity at local level. I also announced that Michael Keogh, a former senior official in the Department of Education, will chair the Drogheda implementation board. Work to finalise the membership of, and supports for, the board is almost complete and I expect the first meeting to be held in the next few weeks.

Many Deputies raised the need for increased community engagement. Under the Department's new community safety policy, local community safety partnerships, LCSPs, will be set up in every local authority. Three pilot partnerships have been established, in Dublin's north inner city, Longford and Waterford, and will run for the next two years ahead of a nationwide roll-out. Each LCSP will have an independent chairperson and will develop a local community safety plan. Deputy Stanton raised the question of whether the partnerships might be aligned with the municipal districts, and we will look at that. The plan, however, is that the partnerships will be set up in every local authority. They will bring together statutory services, the voluntary and community sector, local councillors and community members to work together to identify and tackle community safety issues locally. As the pilots progress, they will be carefully evaluated and any necessary changes made to ensure the partnerships work as effectively as possible for the communities involved. The pilots will inform the further development of the policing, security and community safety Bill, which will facilitate the roll-out of LCSPs in every local authority area.

It is important to bear in mind that community policing is at the heart of the work of An Garda Síochána. All gardaí have a role to play in community policing in the carrying out of their duties. Indeed, this is fundamental to the new Garda operating model recommended by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland and currently being rolled out under A Policing Service for the Future, the Government's implementation plan for the commission's recommendations.

The issue of whether the Garda Commissioner will be a true CEO and questions about senior appointments were raised.

Proposals for changes to the process for appointments to the ranks of assistant commissioner and chief superintendent are contained in the policing, security and community safety Bill. The general provision is that the appointments might be made by the Commissioner, subject to the approval of the Garda Síochána board which is proposed to be set up under the same legislation. This reflects the recommendation in the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland that the Commissioner should have the power to appoint members of his or her own senior leadership team.

It is part of the process of empowering the Garda Commissioner as a true CEO, as it were, in a similar manner to other public sector bodies, to lead the organisation and drive change while also ensuring he or she is supported and held to account by a non-executive statutory board, a corporate governance standard across the public and private sector. Appointments to the rank of deputy commissioner and Commissioner are to remain the responsibility of the Government, with a consultative role for the board. As I understand it, the legislation will be brought forward and implemented over 2021 and 2022. It is a major piece of work. This legislation will also address many of the issues raised by Deputies regarding accountability and transparency in An Garda Síochána.

There was also other important information on the policing, security and community safety Bill, which will be brought through the House in due course. The intention of this legislation is to provide for the most wide-ranging and coherent reform of policing in a generation by improving the performance and accountability of policing and security services and supporting the human rights of all people throughout Ireland to be safe and to feel safe in their communities. Significant organisational reform, including institutional change, culture and work practices, is always challenging, but the aim is to strengthen external oversight of An Garda Síochána and internal governance within the organisation.

Earlier this year the Government approved the drafting of the policing, security and community safety Bill and referred it to the Oireachtas justice committee for pre-legislative scrutiny, which is an important part of the legislative process and will provide an opportunity for all views to be considered in a wider forum. The Bill has been developed on the basis of the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, which reported in 2018, having comprehensively examined all aspects of policing, including all functions carried out by An Garda Síochána and the totality of the oversight arrangements. The implementation of the commission's recommendations and the introduction of the policing, security and community safety Bill are key commitments in the programme for Government. You did raise a number of those issues, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, so I hope I have addressed some of those in my response.

A number of Deputies raised the issue of funding for An Garda Síochána. The total gross allocation for the Garda Vote in 2021 was a record €1.952 billion, which is almost €2 billion in funding. As part of that allocation, there is €34 million for the capital building and refurbishment programme. Deputy Harkin raised the matter of Sligo Garda station. I will get a response directly to her on the specific issues she raised.

Several Deputies queried how the new model will affect their local area. The management of An Garda Síochána is primarily a matter for the Garda Commissioner. However, the Government believes these reforms, together with the range of measures being undertaken as part of A Policing Service for the Future, will ultimately benefit local communities by allowing local policing services to be more responsive to local needs, providing specialised services at a local and not just a national level and releasing more gardaí to the front line.

Deputies raised a number of issues. I assure them that the reforms have already begun within An Garda Síochána. I thank the men and women of An Garda Síochána for their dedication and continued commitment to the work they do. I commend them in particular on the wonderful work they did engaging with communities during Covid. It is fair to say that many of them went above and beyond the call of duty. Their job is not an easy one. As Minister for Justice, I am very proud to support them in the work they do. I thank Deputies for their contributions this evening. I may not have answered every question that was raised, but I assure them that all of the issues they raised with me will be taken on board.

Question put and agreed to.