Wednesday, 6 October 2021
The National Youth Justice Strategy 2021-2027 and Supporting Community Safety: Statements
I am very happy to have this opportunity to address the House on the progress which is being made within the criminal justice system on interventions and initiatives to divert vulnerable young people away from criminal activity and to assist them with options for a better and more fulfilling life.
I was pleased to be able to publish the Youth Justice Strategy 2021-2027 on 15 April 2021, which is the successor to the Youth Justice Action Plan 2014-2018. I acknowledge the work of the previous Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, for his work in initiating the youth justice strategy. It is often easy to focus our efforts on the immediate, quick-fix solutions and to try to address long-standing socioeconomic issues affecting the most disadvantaged areas of communities and society with short-term programmes. The youth justice strategy is an opportunity to take a broader, more detailed look at these issues and to address the challenges.
Youth justice is not an isolated term. There are complex, interwoven, underlying reasons why children and young people come into contact with the criminal justice system. These reasons are many and varied, from sociological and economic pressures to psychological factors. Recognising that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to these issues is a key aspect of the strategy's methodology.
While we still need to focus attention on children in contact with the justice system, we must also examine more closely why a proportion of young offenders go on to become adult offenders, and how this can be better addressed. Research shows strong links between youth offending and socioeconomic circumstances, as I indicated, as well as child and family welfare issues. Offending behaviour cannot be considered in isolation. A key focus of the youth justice strategy is considering how youth justice policy might be more closely aligned to other child and youth policies and to promotion of community and local development.
Ideally, we should be engaging young people at risk before they enter the justice system. Young people should have the benefit of a no-wrong door experience. If a family or a young person engages any service, there should also be accessible pathways to other services and supports that they might need. We have all heard the saying: "it takes a village to raise a child", and one of the key challenges we face at the moment is the fragmented delivery of services. The general scheme of the landmark policing, security and community safety Bill that the Minister for Justice published recently, recognises that community safety is not just the responsibility of An Garda Síochána alone, but of the wider community itself. This approach is also at the heart of the youth justice strategy, recognising that seeking positive outcomes for young people who interact with the justice system is a whole-of-government, and a whole-of-community responsibility. To complete the jigsaw, all the pieces in the puzzle must fit together. More, better services and better interagency co-operation at local level will deliver better, and more sustained outcomes.
The strategy includes consideration of the full range of issues connected to children and young people at risk of coming into contact with the criminal justice system. They include early intervention and preventative work, family support and diversion from crime, court process and facilities, supervision of offenders, detention, reintegration, and support post release.
The strategy strengthens and expands the role of the Garda youth diversion projects, GYDPs, which are a fundamental support to the operation of the statutory Garda diversion programme and which provide a vital ingredient in enhancing community policing partnerships. The strategy also promotes appropriate linkages and alignment with other community-based initiatives, including those supported by the Probation Service. Bringing the full range of relevant interventions together in a coherent and holistic response to youth crime will support the objective of diverting young people from crime and anti-social behaviour. It expands the remit of the GYDPs to provide a broader range of services for communities, families and children at risk, including family support and early intervention with children aged eight to 12 years, as well as developing enhanced approaches to engaging with children and young people that are harder to reach, who may have more entrenched patterns of offending.
A key priority in the strategy is tackling serious and ingrained patterns of offending. This means engaging more productively with the very small proportion of young people who are habitual offenders. That is complex and painstaking work and will require that we adopt a never-give-up approach to challenge and assist young people to turn their lives around.
There are currently 105 GYDPs nationally and the intention is to further develop this service so that it is available to every child in the State who could benefit from it, through an ongoing expansion of existing services and the foundation of new projects where necessary. Funding for GYDPs has increased every year since 2015. A total of €15.3 million was provided in 2019 and €15.6 million was provided in 2020. Some €18 million in funding has been provided for 2021, with a further allocation of €3 million for the Greentown pilot initiatives and the bail supervision scheme. These are cutting-edge measures to tackle serious offending.
The bail supervision scheme provides nationwide availability of its internationally recognised approach as an innovative programme for engaging with those with entrenched patterns of offending, supported by the research evidence into policy programmes and practice, REPPP, project in partnership with the University of Limerick. The scheme is designed to achieve bail compliance and the service is already being expanded beyond the initial pilot in Dublin to Cork and Limerick.
The Greentown initiative is a broad, community-based programme to support children, families and communities most affected by criminal networks, and its development is strongly supported by An Garda Síochána. The initiative won the European crime prevention award in 2020, having been selected ahead of competing projects from across the European Union. The Greentown report recommended the design of a programme to include interventions with children and their families to help them withstand the influence of criminal networks. The Greentown programme has been designed by the REPPP project team with the input of leading international expertise on crime and criminal networks, together with Irish scientific, policy and practice expertise in child protection and welfare, drugs and community development. Pilot applications of the Greentown programme, developed by the REPPP, commenced in two locations in 2020 and will run for three years. The learning from these pilots will then be incorporated into mainstream GYDP practice.
This specially-designed intervention programme was developed, as I have mentioned, with international expert advice, to tackle coercive control of children by groups which entraps them in offending situations. Funds are already available for the initial pilots from the Dormant Accounts Fund, with a total of €4.2 million allocated over three years. The implementation of the Greentown pilot programme is part of the strategic objectives of the youth justice strategy. This implementation process began with the establishment of the governance and strategy group and the youth justice oversight group. Both groups are chaired by my Department, which will provide oversight arrangements for youth justice initiatives to ensure that there is a cohesive response in practice to the needs of particular cohorts of children and particular communities.
The measures in the strategy are premised on the need to maximise opportunities to promote positive behavioural change and desistance from offending. This will require a sustained commitment to collaborative working between State agencies and community partners, as well as a commitment to prioritise resource allocation to address factors connected to early involvement in criminal activity and more serious offending patterns.
The strategy document, as published on my Department's website, includes a comprehensive implementation statement, laying out the key objectives and actions of the plan, and the lead agency for each deliverable. The strategy commits to the publication of an annual implementation update. However, I can share the following update of actions that are already in progress. Since the launch of the strategy in April, we have established dedicated inter-agency oversight and co-ordination groups at national level, led by my Department. We have established a stakeholder advisory group, which I chair, to ensure that we maintain a strong working relationship with the community sector as we go about implementing the strategy. We will shortly convene a REPPP advisory group, which will engage with the wider research community to inform implementation of the strategy and further development of youth justice policy.
Very shortly, we will open a public consultation process on approaches to diverting young adults in the 18 to 24 age group away from crime, with a view to developing more effective measures that will lead to behaviour change. The aim is to steer young adults away from repeated offending, and towards more positive life choices. Statistically, the 18 to 24 age group accounts for a significant volume of offending, so we need to engage more effectively to promote behaviour change as well as confronting the immediate effects of criminal acts. By the end of the year, we will open a detailed consultation with stakeholder groups on updating the Children Act to ensure that our legislative provisions on youth justice support effective systems based on the best available evidence.
We will not stop there. We protect victims and increase community safety by reducing future offending.
Prevention, early intervention and diversion are key elements of this approach. The youth justice strategy is a medium-term plan to tackle these challenges in a way that will lead to substantial and sustained improvement for both young people at risk of involvement in criminality and, importantly, the victims of crimes.
In line with a commitment in the programme for Government, an expert forum on antisocial behaviour, which I chair, has been established in the Department of Justice. This forum is considering the effectiveness of existing legislation and will seek to propose new ways forward, including new powers for An Garda Síochána, if required, and additional interventions to support parenting of offenders. The group includes representatives of the Department of Justice, An Garda Síochána, the Probation Service and a range of community and other stakeholders. The antisocial behaviour forum has already delivered a community-based approach to tackling the misuse of scramblers and similar vehicles, with almost €200,000 in funding secured. I have formed a subgroup of the forum to comprehensively examine issues surrounding knife crime and knife carrying, the first meeting of which was held on 20 September.
These are the practical responses that I want to encourage. The strength of a community-based response is that it is directly informed by an awareness of the root causes of criminality and antisocial behaviour, and how that manifests in local communities. I view the youth justice strategy as a mandate to lead to early intervention, diversion, family support and a whole range of supports for young people at risk of crime and antisocial behaviour, and to protect victims from crime. As Minister of State, I am determined that the Government will deliver on this. I thank the Ceann Comhairle. I will now hand over to the Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton.
I thank the Minister of State, the Ceann Comhairle and Deputies. Community safety is about people being safe and, importantly, feeling safe in their community. At its heart, community safety is the principle that every community has the right to be and feel safe in order to thrive and flourish. Ireland is generally regarded as a safe country in international terms, with relatively low crime rates and a general feeling of safety and security. However, we recognise that this is not always the case in every community and that people living in disadvantaged areas can experience a different reality.
The Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland report recommended that reform of An Garda Síochána be undertaken to free up experienced trained members of An Garda Síochána for front-line policing duties, where their expertise would be most utilised. The report also recommended that community safety be viewed as a whole-of-government responsibility, and it recognised that simply putting more gardaí on the beat does not address the underlying issues that impact on community safety. This is why, under the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill, we are advancing a number of reforms to policing in the State, but also putting community safety measures and structures on a statutory footing, as well as recognising in law that community safety is not solely the responsibility of An Garda Síochána. It is the State's responsibility as a whole and each State service has a role to play.
The new local community safety partnerships, LCSPs, will, when the Bill is enacted, replace the existing joint policing committee structures. The LCSPs will be supported through a national governance structure and will ensure communities are safer and feel safer by making community safety a whole-of-government responsibility and priority. This structure will ensure that communities are empowered to have a strong say in what actions are prioritised by the services operating in their area, and will also have a key oversight role in ensuring those actions are followed through. This will enable the local community safety partnership to function as a forum for dialogue between the community and service providers, and should strengthen trust in the people providing services. The local community safety partnership will also work to identify specific initiatives where the community can support local services and An Garda Síochána in their community safety work, including outreach programmes.
The Ministers, Deputies Michael McGrath and Helen McEntee, agreed in principle to establish a new community safety innovation fund in April of this year. The scheme, when established, will consider applications to allocate funds to community safety projects and other policy initiatives in the area, including the work of the new local community safety partnerships. This fund will reflect the significant successes of An Garda Síochána and the Criminal Assets Bureau in disrupting criminal activity and seizing proceeds of crime by providing additional funding for investment in community safety projects.
While State services carry out their individual responsibilities, too often their interventions rely on a reactive response to emergency and crisis situations. The aim of community safety is to focus all relevant Government services on prevention and early interventions, and the impact that a shared approach to problem solving can have in ensuring that situations do not develop to the point where they impact on the safety, or feeling of safety, of the community at large. This will mean State services working with each other and the community to ensure there is better co-ordination between services, such as educational and youth work with young people, the availability of local health and mental health services, drug prevention, housing and the built environment, and actions taken to combat alcohol and substance abuse, domestic abuse, youth crime, antisocial behaviour and hate crime. This approach has had positive results, for example, in Northern Ireland, where policing and community safety partnerships bring together members of the community alongside representatives from policing, probation, housing, youth, emergency and education services.
Often, the risk a person poses may be to themselves, but their behaviour can also negatively impact on the sense of safety of those within their community. Ensuring that people in these situations can get the right support at the right time is vital. This means harm prevention and interventions delivered proactively by the service best placed to deliver it, and doing so in a joined-up, integrated way, with other services. This will include addressing individual mental health and addiction needs, services and supports for homeless people, reduction strategies for childhood trauma and ensuring older people and other at-risk groups have access to effective supports and advocates. These are some of the key underlying issues that make communities unsafe or feel unsafe, and dealing with them in an effective way, before they reach the point where an emergency or crisis develops, is central to community safety.
Clearly, this approach goes far beyond the traditional policing response and requires all relevant State bodies and voluntary organisations to work together in a joined-up way in partnership with the local community to prioritise and address issues in their own area. Each community's issues will be different and that requires solutions tailored to the needs of that community. The local community safety partnership will be responsible for developing a tailored and prioritised local community safety plan in conjunction with both community and public services. The intention is to build the capacity of local residents to enable them to engage meaningfully in the local community safety partnership and grow local community leadership and participation. Developing this will be a key aspect of the role of the community safety co-ordinator, whose role is to support the partnership, engage the residents in the community on safety issues and link them in with the work of the partnership.
There are currently three pilot LCSPs - in Dublin's north inner city, Longford and Waterford - working to develop structures and processes to address the issues mentioned. These pilots will run for two years and the lessons learned from them will inform the eventual roll-out of a community safety partnership in every local authority area.
As Deputies will recognise, the Government is committed to improving community safety, not only through increasing the number of gardaí on our streets, but also through giving communities the structures and supports they need to feel safe and be safe. I thank the House for the time to address this issue.
I thank the Ministers of State for their statements. The issue of a youth justice strategy goes to the very core of much of what has been in the media in the past couple of days and the incidents we have seen, particularly in Dublin. We have had many examples of situations where people feel afraid, violated or unable to walk the streets at night, particularly in urban areas and on public transport. A lot of it, although not all, is around young people behaving very badly and threatening and attacking people.
It is an issue we need to focus attention on in terms of how we deal with it. Early intervention is key to diverting young people from crime and that kind of behaviour, as we all recognise and understand. I am glad the Government has accepted that the level of disadvantage does lead to crime and antisocial behaviour, drug use and all of those things.
That disadvantage is something we need to tackle, which means we need to tackle people who live in these communities. The incomes they have to live on are a key issue. Poverty and its impact, not only on the material things that people can buy and how they live their lives but also with regard to the mental pressure it puts on people and its role in the formation of attitudes among young people, is one of the key aspects of all of this. We have to work out how we can resolve that issue.
There is multiple disadvantage across the State. We have children who suffer from trauma in their formative years. This affects their development as they go through life. Disadvantages affects socio-economic status. As for the parental figures in their lives, if children grow up in a family where there is addiction or other serious problems, they will naturally tend to lead a chaotic life. There can be child neglect and emotional abuse. Domestic violence is an issue Deputies regularly come across. Many children grow up with it as part of their lives and then, naturally enough, it takes over. Children may have parents or older siblings who have been through prison and have continuing contact with the Garda and criminal justice system. That also has an impact. All of these areas have to be worked on. They can all be traced back to social disadvantage and where it leaves us.
The failure of the State to do its job for so long is what got us into this situation. For a long time, it has been left to market forces to develop and work out how we will resolve these issues. We need to intervene and the State needs to take a much greater role in respect of that. It is not only an issue for the Garda. I welcome the comments by the Ministers of State that a range of organisations, both State and voluntary, and communities all have a role to play here. Their first task is to build up trust among themselves so that they can work together to deliver.
I welcome the Greentown pilot programme, what it is doing, how that work is progressing and how we can develop it. At the centre of all of this is that we can have all the plans in the world and come up with the correct strategies, but will they be funded and resourced and have sufficient commitment from government and senior management on various projects to deliver? That is a key issue in resolving much of this problem.
Everyone agrees with the need to consider detention as a last resort, up to a point. I have come across the youth diversion programme a number of times. It does excellent work and is very good, but I have also come across its negative side. In one case involving a girl who was the victim of a serious sexual assault the perpetrators were sent down the route of the youth diversion programme. That was not appropriate and caused further harm to the young woman as she could not understand how the people who did this to her were, in her mind, let off. That is how she felt about it. It needs to be understood that a strong and effective deterrent must be in place for serious crime.
We had a reprehensible attack recently on one of our Olympians, Jack Woolley. That incident drew attention to the issue of antisocial behaviour but it did not happen in a vacuum. Antisocial behaviour has been ongoing in many areas, particularly in the inner cities. An incident of antisocial behaviour was shown on "Claire Byrne Live" the other night. Deliveroo cyclists, who deliver food to people, are often attacked. The racial abuse they have to endure also needs to be addressed as part of all of this.
There is a correlation between these types of behaviour and the low presence of front-line gardaí on the streets. When I left Leinster House last night I had to drive to an area in the south inner city and then back to the north inner city. During that drive, which took ten or 15 minutes, I did not see one patrol car or garda, and I was watching out for them because I had this debate in mind. I saw nobody on the streets. That is the experience of the vast majority of ordinary citizens and it is an issue we need to address. The Garda has officially stated it has record numbers of gardaí, it has resources and is responding quickly. That is not what we hear from the general public. I am sure the Ministers of State and every Deputy in the House will be aware of that. Many people, when they are in trouble, telephone An Garda Síochána. They could wait a long time for a reply or response. That is part of the problem because it breaks down trust and we need to build up trust.
We need to deal with these issues in a targeted way. I want to focus on people who are slightly older that 18, those in their late teens and early 20s. We need a programme which recognises that many people do not reach mature adulthood until quite late in life, certainly not before their mid-20s. The focus on a youth diversion programme needs to recognise that as well. The mental capacity and mental health of many of those who are involved in these situations also needs to be borne in mind.
We have an idea of where we need to bring all of this and how this plan can resolve these issues but the plan will only resolve them if it is funded properly and has the right level of commitment from everyone involved. That will only come through leadership by the Government.
I broadly welcome the direction in which we are going. We can deliver if we have commitment. We need to see a commitment from the top, the higher echelons of An Garda Síochána and Department of Justice, and the Ministers of State, to dealing with this issue once and for all.
As Deputy Martin Kenny said, Sinn Féin broadly welcomes this strategy. It takes the right approach and, hopefully, will be backed by investment.
The key is that the strategy mentions the need for contact with vulnerable youth to take place at an earlier stage than when they have offended. Providing supports at that age is all well and good, but it is often too late. The links between socio-economic circumstances, child and welfare issues, and offending are also examined in the report.
The policies of austerity deprived many poorer communities of jobs, resources and capital. It is somewhat ironic that those who implemented those policies are spearheading a strategy in this area that acknowledges how detrimental those wider economic and social policies were. There is no substitute for decent working conditions, fair employment and well-resourced schools. We should not be in a position where interventions are only available once the offending takes place, even though that is the correct approach in isolation. We must also identify and help children who are exposed to trauma at an early age.
On its own merits, the strategy is a good one. The first part of it relates to the focus on diverting young people from the formal youth justice system. if possible, and the use of detention as a last resort. In my years working in the Bridewell courts and Tralee, I saw the good work that was done in keeping people away from the courts and ensuring they did not get a criminal record which would hamstring them for the rest of their working career. Detention is something we should avoid no matter what age the person, if at all possible, but it has a particular effect on minors. Their development may be stunted and their future severely compromised as they struggle to adapt away from wider society and educational opportunities.
The second part deals with restorative justice, which the strategy mentions numerous times. This is welcome but lacks detail. With adult offenders, restorative justice is much underused officially and should be promoted further and institutionalised. Without a solid track record with adult cases, it would be interesting to see how this is implemented for children. The rights and voices of victims are important but it is fair to say that given the nature of most crimes committed by minors and their potential to turn themselves around, many victims would support and accept restorative justice measures. It is a rhetorical sleight of hand to always equate the victim's voice with harsher and more punitive measures. I hope this strategy will undermine that practice somewhat.
The language of the document is largely positive but it will need to be backed by proper intent. For instance, the youth justice oversight group seems good on paper, but why is there not an ambition for a proper youth justice agency such as there is in Scotland? Co-ordination between agencies is fine in principle but in practice budgets, reporting lines and functionality all matter.
A strategy to which all adhere is good, but more of the actual responsibility falling on a specific body would have been progress. The fact that some youth justice functions transferred from the Department of Justice to the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth last year is a case in point, as this strategy presumes greater co-operation while leaving much of the structure untouched. The transfer is also of concern because it could end up with youth justice as an afterthought within adult justice systems, something that a more comprehensive reform would have changed.
Although the strategy is a step in the right direction, we will eagerly await its implementation.
I represent an area of Dublin that gets a significant proportion of the coverage of the criminality and antisocial behaviour that occurs on our streets, that is, the south inner city. The people causing this ongoing trouble need to be tackled and challenged. We talk about rights, and it is important to remember that families have the right to live in their homes without fear. Garda resources need to be increased, particularly the number of community gardaí, who do a fantastic job. In the context of these statements, it is important to remember that the vast majority of people living in the inner city are hard working and many have spent the past 19 months of the pandemic working on the front line.
According to the strategy, research shows links between youth offending and socio-economic circumstances. This has been known for years and there have been many strategies, yet we have not diverted resources to where they are needed. Services are fragmented, as was accepted by the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, in his opening statement. An example of that fragmentation is the division of the north and south inner cities. They are one community - an inner city docklands community - with more in common than separates them. The IFSC came into the north inner city and displaced a large section of the community. Today, high-tech companies like Facebook, Google and TikTok have arrived in the south inner city, displacing large sections of that community. The north inner city has had its challenges and resources have been directed towards its community under the umbrella of the Mulvey report. The south inner city needs and deserves the same process and resources that the Mulvey report secured for the north inner city.
Another example of where services are fragmented is in the delivery of youth services. Talk About Youth is a great youth service covering the Pearse Street area, but it does not have a dedicated youth space. We can have all the plans and strategies we want, but if we do not get the basics right, they will not deliver change for young people in working class communities. We need to ensure that youth services like Talk About Youth have the basics and their own spaces.
The strategy mentions early intervention, but I see little evidence of such intervention in my constituency. I see new parents struggling with parenting. That is where there needs to be intervention. I see children of ten or 11 years of age running drugs in the community. Working with families needs to be a priority. We need to develop assertive youth work teams that tackle and challenge hard-to-reach young people.
This strategy is welcome, but unless we get the basics right, it will do nothing but gather cobwebs.
In addressing the national youth justice strategy, we must do two things as legislators. First, we must recognise how it involves young people who have barely started to live their lives but who are already suffering deep and multiple disadvantages in society - financial, social, educational, emotional and, sadly, sometimes parental disadvantages. Too often, these young people are battling backgrounds of neglect, trauma, violence, addiction, coercive control or having relatives in prison. They desperately need supports that are not there.
Second, we need to tread safely and check our privilege as we consider what these disadvantaged young people are seeing in their own State. This week alone, past and present members of An Garda Síochána are under arrest, suspicion, suspension or investigation for an array of serious offences, from the possession of drugs to passing information to a violent gang or the sexual abuse of their children. Here, where we make the laws that make or break these young lives, the Tánaiste is under active criminal investigation for actions taken while Taoiseach. Gardaí and holders of high public office have immense power, privilege, opportunity and status. By contrast, the boys and girls for whom this strategy has been devised have none. Unlike the makers and upholders of the law, they are at the mercy of a system that has instituted disadvantage, poverty, homelessness, division and uncertainty at a rate and level previously unseen in the history of the State. This is their Dáil, too, so it is important to say this here.
There are some very good aspects to the plan. Of course, whether they will be properly funded and carried through is another matter. As the daughter of a member of An Garda Síochána, I saw at first hand the difference that a known and trusted garda can make to fragile young lives. Early intervention is critical, but there is no commitment to community policing, which is vital to picking up the danger signs for young people and which we need in areas in my constituency, for example, Naas, Clane, Prosperous, Celbridge, Kilcock and Maynooth, and all across the State.
Regarding the strategy's specifics, and as my colleague has mentioned, the detention as a last resort aspect is something that we need to examine. In the case of serious crimes such as murder and manslaughter, detention must be a serious consideration.
It is ironic that the strategy adheres to the best child welfare principles and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, given how it is too often the prolonged failure of these very principles in health, housing and education that necessitates this strategy at all.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the national youth justice strategy. It is my hope that it will enhance criminal justice processes, detention and post-detention measures to discourage repeat offenders. I particularly welcome the strategy's focus on preventative measures for children below 12 years of age who had previously fallen through the cracks owing to the age of criminal responsibility being 12 for most offences.
As Deputy Andrews stated, the strategy document shows strong links between youth offending and socio-economic circumstances as well as child and family welfare issues. These underlying issues need to be addressed if we are serious about addressing youth crime. We also need stronger penalties for adults who take advantage of children when they involve them in crime. We must consider how youth justice policy could be more closely aligned with other child and youth policies and the promotion of community development. As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure, as the Minister of State alluded. There must be a strong emphasis on diverting our youth from offending. Early intervention is a key element of this. We must bring all of the relevant agencies together and provide supports for schools and parents to ensure that we provide an holistic response to the needs of children and young people who are at risk. Garda youth diversion projects across the State are making a big difference, but we need to see more investment in them. While there are 105 in total, there are just two in County Kildare and two in County Laois. Many areas do not have a Garda youth diversion project service. The strategy proposes to achieve full national coverage within two years by extending the operating area of existing projects. This cannot be done properly if we do not significantly increase their budget.
We must ensure that there are enough sports and recreational facilities in our towns for young people. Sports and hobby facilities must be inclusive and for everyone, not just high performers. We cannot just keep building large housing estates without providing infrastructure at the same time. There must be community buildings and municipal sports campuses. If we do not provide these, we are making a rod for our own back. Boredom and disaffection are at the root of many crimes and must be addressed if we are to see improvements in this area.
I strongly welcome the opportunity to speak on the youth justice strategy. I pay tribute to the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, and the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, who addressed the House earlier. I also pay tribute to the early and ground-breaking commitment of Deputy Stanton when he was a Minister of State.
As a former teacher, I know that early intervention is critical for positive outcomes - for education certainly, but equally for other societal outcomes.
It is often said that early childhood teachers can predict the ultimate education outcomes of most of their students such is the effect of socioeconomic and household circumstances on their educational journey. Equally, as this strategy well recognises, the likelihood of young people interacting with the criminal justice system is too often set in train from an early age. A strategy that involves the whole of society, and not simply the criminal justice system or the Department of Justice or An Garda Síochána, is the only one that has any prospect of success. In his foreword to the strategy, the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, sets this out clearly enough. The analysis is well grounded and well done. The evidence is abundant and clear. The real and difficult bit is implementation to ensure the silos that have always existed are broken down and that a truely integrated youth justice strategy is not only devised but resourced and put into effect.
The first important principle, underscored throughout the strategy, is respect and the inclusion of the child. Our attitude to children has evolved remarkably over recent decades. Our historic attitude to children and our record has been shocking. The way we dealt with children in the past, particularly vulnerable children, has been cruel and unacceptable to which a multiplicity of inquiries and reports we have debated in this House bear ample and awful testimony. The voice of the child and young person, therefore, must be heard, as must the voice of advocates for vulnerable children who are not in a position to articulate their own position.
The second critically important issue relates to what I said earlier, namely, the tackling of disadvantage. Poverty, dreadful or no housing, the lack of any community support and lack of access to sports facilities, the arts and even more fundamental and basic services such as proper healthcare, including mental healthcare, are critical. The statistics are shocking. A snapshot of a breakdown of the children detained in Oberstown Detention Centre for the first quarter of 2019, which are the most recent figures I have, shows 19% were members of the Travelling community; 31% had suffered the loss of a parent through either death, imprisonment or no long-term contact; 41% were either in care or had significant involvement with Tusla; 23% had a diagnosed learning disability; 41% had mental health needs with 25% prescribed medication for a mental health concern; 71% were considered to have substance misuse problems; and 57% were not engaged in education prior their detention. If we want a snapshot of the most vulnerable of children, there we have it. Those are the people we have detained. We really must do better. Are we not all shocked and appalled by the litany I have just recited?
Young people who come into conflict with the law must be treated as children first. That is underscored in this document. The truth is their level of maturity and development must be recognised and embraced in planning a way forward that helps them on a positive development path. I note the foreword to the Minister's speech, includes the words - taking a better path - supporting young people and communities to make positive choices for themselves. In truth, what positive choices can those children I have just described make for themselves? It is not as if we are all equal. Some people can say, "I will take this path". If you come from the kind of environment we know populates Oberstown, as I have indicated, those choices do not exist. We as a society have to understand that and intervene in a way that allows that pathway to be different.
None of this implies a Pollyanna approach to youth crime nor does my analysis seek to minimise in any way the harm inflicted by young people who are engaged in crime. We all know the impact on the victims of crime, particularly what is regarded as low level crime, in communities where people are terrorised in their own homes and do not feel free to walk their own streets. The impact on those victims is horrendous. It is life-limiting and sometimes catastrophic for their life expectations. We must give protection to those people. We must also be robust and clear in ensuring they are allowed, as victims of crime, to live a proper and decent life as we would all expect.
I am deeply concerned about a number of issues. We might have a further opportunity to debate this. There has been an increase in the number of racist attacks and in racist graffiti issues that are now appearing in places such as Minerine Park, which is a brand new beautiful park in my own town in which some gobdaw decided to put horrendous, racist graffiti. We need to tackle these issues at source. As I said, I do not have a Pollyanna approach to any of this.
The detailed strategy is broad and comprehensive. It is built on wide foundations, which, if driven properly and appropriately and resourced adequately, can make a real difference. Clearly, not all actions fall on the Department of Justice to make; just like our understanding of policing reform, as the Minister of State will know, it requires a whole of community buy-in and every agency and department of State playing its part. The work to be done by the Governance and Strategy Group, supported by the Youth Justice Advisory Group and Youth Justice Oversight Group, will determine its success or lack of it.
It would be helpful if the Minister of State when replying to the debate could advise who is populating those critical bodies, namely, the Governance and Strategy Group, the Youth Justice Advisory Group and the Youth Justice Oversight Group. How often do they meet and to whom do they report? Do they report to the Minister of State regularly or to the Minister for Justice? Is the implementation of this important strategy an agenda item on the Cabinet sub-committee that monitors justice matters? If it is on the Cabinet subcommittee reporting list, as I believe it should be, then, I believe, we could see action. I know from my time in government that having an agenda item regularly coming before a group of Ministers, including the Taoiseach, with requirements for timeline reporting really makes a difference. I hope that the Minister of State, in her concluding remarks, will say this is a fine strategy but its implementation will determine whether it is worth the paper it is written on. I would like her to address those particular questions to give us all confidence that the strategy will indeed be implemented.
I welcome the opportunity to debate this strategy. I acknowledge the work of the Ministers, Deputies McEntee, and Humphreys and the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, but, as my colleague opposite mentioned, Deputy Stanton also played a significant role in this area both as chairman of the justice committee and as a Minister of State in the Department.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss this strategy focused on taking significant and important steps to tackle anti-social behaviour in our town, villages and cities across the State.
I am sure all Members will have seen numerous videos of antisocial behaviour over the past weeks, months and indeed years. Many people will have witnessed antisocial behaviour themselves. Every week new videos emerge highlighting antisocial behaviour and violence on our streets and our public transport networks. These videos and indeed this experience contribute to a culture of anxiety, particularly for commuters, the elderly and people in their workplaces.
Over the summer in my own constituency we witnessed numerous antisocial behaviour events leading to damage of property and local amenities which in certain cases damaged brand new facilities. Deputy Howlin mentioned this also happened in his constituency. It is particularly galling to those who put such effort into the community to deliver them. It is an intolerable situation and one we should not have to worry about. We should not have to worry about letting our children play in local greens and community spaces and no one should fear taking public transport, especially at night, or indeed even in the evening. No one should have to avoid whole sections of the city due to personal safety fears yet here we are. Our communities and public spaces are there to be enjoyed by everybody, not to be hijacked by a cohort of people who have no respect for the community or indeed general society.
While this kind of behaviour is not the exclusive preserve of young people, nor do the vast majority of young people engage in such behaviour, we must recognise there are a significant number of incidents involving people from this age group and we must restore confidence within the general public that our communities are there for everybody and that they are safe. The strategy is a starting point in our efforts to achieve this goal and I am pleased to see the development of the strategy’s stakeholder engagement agenda was given priority. It is vital for the development of sustainable policies that local communities, gardaí and other groups at the coalface are engaged together because they know where the fault lines are and where solutions can be found to remedy them.
The strategy rightly recognises that to successfully implement this kind of change requires cross-Department co-operation. Importantly the development of an expert-led forum on antisocial behaviour will inform future legislation, including the examination and introduction of powers for the Garda and new interventions and support measures for the parents of offenders. It is also important this forum consider the sources and reasons behind antisocial behaviour, some of which will not be new such as, for example, economic advantage or indeed lack of opportunity. However, more deep-lying issues may be at play, including mental health, and we must explore these avenues appropriately. Only through understanding the problem can we reduce properly the incidence of antisocial behaviour and introduce solutions to solve the problem. There has been progress on the issue in recent months including action on scramblers, which have been the scourge of many communities for many years. We have also seen progress in getting more gardaí out of their offices and onto the beat. This will result in significant improvements and already has done in certain communities, allowing gardaí to carry out their duties and be present in a community rather than being kept behind desks dealing with administrative work. While these are important steps that will make a difference to communities across the country, we must build on these advancements. Combined with an ambition within the national youth justice strategy, particularly with respect to early intervention and family supports, we can begin to turn the tide on antisocial behaviour.
Consideration is also being given it given to criminalising adults who groom children to commit crimes, and this is most welcome. It is a sad reality that adults engaged in criminality in Ireland, especially those in gangs, will attempt to pressurise and force young people to carry out criminal acts on their behalf. Moreover, the examination of increasing the age limit for applications for the youth diversionary programme to 24 years could help expand the net in which we can help and hopefully rehabilitate vulnerable young people, thus breaking the cycle of violence in their lives. I must of course mention organisations such as Youthreach and other service providers who are a link in the chain and a pathway to these diversionary projects, or indeed avoidance of these diversionary projects in the first instance. I urge the Ministers of State to ensure these programmes and initiatives have the resources needed to be successful. This is true too of An Garda Síochána. While I welcome the significant level of funding increases in recent years - totalling approximately €1.9 billion in 2021, which has also allowed for an increase in numbers of gardaí and staff - statistically speaking, when we compare ourselves to our near neighbours, the number of members in AGS is quite low. As society changes the policing model must change with it and that clearly means greater numbers.
I welcome continued investment in this area, as I have done since I joined Dáil Éireann in 2011. These problems will not be solved overnight and require long-term planning and investment to ensure all those who play a part in the justice system are properly resourced. It would be remiss of me not to mention the Courts Service, which is under-resourced per capitawhen compared with other jurisdictions, especially common law ones. That is something that must be addressed as well. I welcome the publication of this strategy. I look forward to assisting in its implementation in whatever way I can. I again express my appreciation to the Ministers and Minsters of State responsible.
I thank the Acting Chairman. I wish him good luck in the new gig. He looks very comfortable in that chair.
I welcome the debate on the strategy. I commend the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, on the huge work he has put into the strategy. I join others in commending Deputy Stanton. Way back, we were both on the justice committee and I know he has taken an interest in this. I say well done to my colleague, Deputy McAuliffe, who has led the way on scrambler legislation. I was listening to Deputy Howlin's speech and I fear the strategy will get lost in the silos our civil servants love, so as to avoid action and radical change. We cannot let that happen on this occasion because by avoiding action and radical change, lives will be wasted. Opportunities will not be taken. Communities will be wasted. There are so many linkages here. It is with the Department of Justice but this must link into an apprenticeship strategy, education strategy and to school completion; it must look at the serious challenge of addiction, the completely underestimated and misunderstood scale of the drugs challenge facing every single community on this island and every single member of those communities, but especially young people. There are the issues around social media and the impact that is having on our young people. I too commend An Garda Síochána on its work on the youth diversion programme and the youth awards. However, they need far greater support. There must be far greater co-ordination and cohesion. There are so many Departments which keep washing their hands of this challenge. Now the strategy is there it must be driven hard. Deputy Howlin is right in saying there must be a Cabinet committee driving this on because otherwise this will not happen, no matter how good our intentions are in the House this evening.
We also must be realistic about integrating our new communities and the new Irish communities into this strategy and ensure they have the same opportunities. How does somebody who is in direct provision get the kind of opportunities we envisage for all our citizens with respect to education and healthcare? We must be proactive and aggressive in presenting the opportunities to those communities as well. In the last number of months, there has been a far greater focus and concentration on antisocial behaviour as we come out of the pandemic. We must wake up to that before something serious happens. Right around this country people are being injured on a nightly basis. However, it is not just the preserve of young people. There are older people involved too but young people seem to get branded with this tag at all times. Unless this strategy is driven and driven hard I am afraid another Dáil will be here again in ten years, discussing the same problems, which will by then be deeper; there will be the same lack of opportunities, which may be worse, and the same challenges facing our country. This must be driven on a cross-departmental basis. No Department and no agency can hide.
This is one of the first debates I have had the opportunity to sit and listen to given the restrictions we have had since I was elected. I acknowledge all the contributions and particularly the commitment of the two Ministers of State, Deputies James Browne and Naughton. I welcome the publication of the strategy. I do so because many of the communities we discussed in this report are ones I represent in this House. They are proud communities. They hate the stigma that much of this brings on them but they know that within those communities lives a scourge. Deputy Howlin's warning is important because we must be cognisant of the scale of that problem.
The largest economic generator in my community is probably the drugs industry. When people in the community see it, they do not see the industry itself because it is hidden. Instead, they see the physical evidence of the people who are impacted by it. They see people who have an addiction injecting, defecating or urinating at school gates as children go in and out. They see aggressive begging at shops and open drug dealing or as one resident called it, the "supermarket". They see children being used as drug mules in exchange for a curry tray or a pair of runners. They see businesses operating in plain sight that clearly have links to that drugs industry. We have to know the scale of the problem because that is the industry that our young people are being subjected to and targeted by. It is as much a threat to the security of the State as paramilitaries, Covid-19 or Brexit and we must look at it in those terms. It is too easy to demonise the people who are impacted by the drugs industry, those with an addiction but those people who we do not see being impacted by it, particularly young people, are also a threat.
I welcome the strategy and the fact that we have already started to see implementation. I particularly welcome the antisocial behaviour forum which is really important in terms of project managing solutions. I also welcome the action on scrambler bikes, the implementation of the so-called Fagan's law to stop children from being exploited by criminals and the community safety partnerships. I welcome in particular the community safety fund which seeks to reflect the seizures that are happening in communities in terms of the funding made available to those communities.
In terms of the community safety partnerships, we need to move very quickly from the pilot phase to implementation and I will make no bones about the fact that Ballymun and Finglas will be first in the queue to avail of those partnerships. However, the HSE and Tusla must also be involved. For too long when partnerships were established by previous governments, the HSE and Tusla were absent which is why they have not been able to respond appropriately. I am very worried that the UBU, Your Space, Your Place contract, which is the responsibility of the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, is not doing enough to target disadvantage, unlike previously under the Young People's Facilities and Services Fund. Finally, on the issue of commitment, the Taoiseach sat down with me for an hour this week to review the Ballymun - A Brighter Future report and I appreciate the time he gave to that. Senior leadership is needed to tackle this in every community that is impacted by it.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the National Youth Justice Strategy this afternoon. Youth justice responses have always been seen as a reaction to young people involved in crime. As communities, we need to come together to find ways to assist our young people, guide them away from a life of crime and enable them to meet their full potential. Detention must be seen as a last resort. I welcome the fact that this strategy seems to be more proactive and acknowledges the reality of our young people's lives. Expanding the youth justice programmes and funding them properly can only have a positive impact on our communities. Garda youth diversion projects had their funding slashed over the years of austerity and have not come close to full recovery. We need to see a serious investment in this area. Community policing is an issue have raised in this House many times because it is really important when it comes to engaging with young people. The football street leagues, for example, have had a lot of success in certain areas in Dublin. Good community gardaí can make a real difference and we need to see more of them.
This strategy does not just fall to the Department of Justice. A number of State agencies need to up their game. I hope we can see an improvement in how agencies interact with each other when it comes to making timely and important interventions in young people's lives. We need everybody working with young people to do so in a co-ordinated way to make sure that the best interests of our young people are front and centre.
While I welcome much of what has been said today on the National Youth Justice Strategy, we can have all the plans that we want but unless adequate resources are provided, they will not mean anything. I agree with previous speakers that this State has a history of conducting pilot projects. Those pilot projects, if successful, need to be reviewed, best practice must be put in place and the projects must be operated across the State, particularly in those urban settings that suffer most from the type of crime we are discussing today.
I welcome the strategy's references to early intervention, diversion and family support. We need to look at this holistically. Family support is not just about dealing with situations when people are already in difficulty with the criminal justice system, are falling into criminality or are well ensconced in it. At that stage, young people may be committing serious crimes, may find themselves being used by criminal gangs and so on and we need criminal justice action that deals with that, particularly when we are talking about serious crime. Long before we get to that acute stage, however, we need to use real early interventions. We need to intervene in the lives of kids who are growing up in areas that have huge levels of deprivation, that suffer because of the actions of criminal gangs and whose families may need more supports. We need to offer such supports at a very early stage so that these kids can benefit from the education system and move on into employment. Education and employment are things that many of us benefit from without thinking twice about it.
I welcome the fact that we are discussing the National Youth Justice Strategy in the context of the wider justice strategy. Reference has been made to the community safety forums which would mean bringing more State agencies together to combat crime and protect our communities. We need this to happen. I welcome the Guerin report and the implementation board that has been put in place for Drogheda. However, I am very wary when I see that the family addiction support network in Dundalk that deals with Louth, Meath, Cavan and Monaghan, which offers real solutions and which is often used by An Garda Síochána, is having real difficulties drawing down funding to stay afloat. We really need to look at this holistically. We are dealing with areas in our constituencies, particularly in urban settings like Dundalk, that are being run by fiefdoms, with kids being used by capos. We need solutions that deliver for those people and we need to protect our communities.
I broadly welcome the National Youth Justice Strategy and commend the work of the expert steering group in putting it together, as well as the work that went into it at ministerial and departmental level. There is a very welcome focus on children's rights throughout the document. The strategy places an emphasis on early intervention, prevention and diversion, with the use of detention acknowledged as a last resort and we would all agree with that. A lot of work has gone into the development of this strategy. If enacted, and I underline "if", the policies being presented by the Minister today will help a lot of young people in this country who are in need of support. However, there have been countless strategy documents published over the years but few, if any, have been fully implemented. It is fair to say that we need assurances about implementation. There is no point in putting together a very good strategy document if there is no commitment to implement it. The key question is how this strategy is taken from paper into practice. What timeframes and key performance indicators will be set out and who will be responsible for ensuring they are adhered to? We need this strategy to be delivered in practice.
The youth justice oversight group is a very welcome aspect of the new justice strategy and, if done correctly, this group could be the key to ensuring that the document does not become yet another set of very good ideas that are not implemented. It is vital that membership of this group represents the lived experience of young people and youth workers.
It has to represent the situation on the ground rather than what people think it is. There is often a tendency to stack the boards with departmental officials, policy advisers and so on, but doing something behind a desk is very different from people who have a working knowledge of what needs to be done and where the priorities need to be set. Meaningful oversight will be really important. The saying in disability activism is "nothing about us without us". There is a very strong argument for including some young people on this oversight and I am not talking about one token person. That would be extremely beneficial.
Will the Minister of State outline at what stage the formation of the oversight group has reached? Who will sit on it? When will it meet? That will be the difference. I very much support the work of the Garda youth diversion programme around the country. Those involved take a youth work approach and play an essential role in keeping young people out of the justice system. It is not every youngster who will be suitable for the youth diversion programme. The nature of the crime is relevant. If it goes beyond antisocial behaviour and is something covered by the criminal code, then the person might not be suitable for the programme. The Garda carried out an audit between 2010 and 2018 and discovered cases involving upwards of 7,000 youngsters where there was no follow-up in respect of crimes that were not considered suitable in the context of the youth diversion programme. These included serious assault, theft and criminal damage. Too often we hear it said that someone is under 18 years of age and you really cannot do anything. Not doing anything invites those who have committed serious crimes to move up the food chain. It is unacceptable that that number of crimes would not be progressed because it sends out a bad signal and is not good for those individuals either.
Far greater resources are needed. Earlier this year I carried out an analysis of Garda staffing and resources across the country and found that, with only two exceptions, the number of Garda youth diversion programmes in each division was unchanged since 2016, and the majority retained at 2013 levels. That has to be looked at. It is a very good programme but it cannot be so sparse that it is not meaningful. With fluctuations in youth crime, it is really important that there is a response and it is updated routinely.
The Department of Justice has stated its intention to develop the service, but the expansion of existing services has been slow and a greater degree of urgency is required. Every item of policy contained in this document needs to be backed up with a lot of evidence, not just from the Garda but also from youth workers and child psychologists. I have to question the rationale behind the extension of the Garda youth diversion programme to children between eight and 11 years of age. I am concerned as to whether that is an appropriate response for people in that age group. The Irish Penal Reform Trust has pointed out the importance of not labelling children as possible offenders at a very early stage because it becomes very problematic as people assume that behaviour. Have other avenues of support been considered for this age group, such as after-school programmes or other resources? I carried out an analysis of the funding that went into a youth work programmes. It is very patchy throughout the country. There is no evidence to show that when an area grows, the services in that area, which might have a very young demographic, grow too. There is no evidence that money follows population or demographics. That needs to be looked at because that is where you will do some of the diversion before you get to Garda diversion. I have seen it work very well with a small number of people in my area who were identified very early on and diverted into very positive activities rather than becoming a problem for the youth diversion programme.
We have to be very careful. You often see articles in the media about young people that are very negative. That has to be balanced up because the vast majority of youngsters would never give five minutes of trouble but they do feel labelled by the them-and-us presentation. It is very important that we foster good role models and that for all the negative things there are positive things said as well. There is no shortage of positive things, but they are not highlighted. I recall one diversion programme in my area whereby youngsters were in a scheme that led to them being involved in a lot of positive activities. A couple of them said to me “Do I have to do something wrong to get to do some of those things?” Not providing the other services presents a real problem. We must look at this matter in its totality. The very small amount of money that goes into youth work is a really good investment when you consider the cost, for example, of incarceration later on, the nuisance that certain behaviour causes if it is at the antisocial level and what happens when it goes beyond being a nuisance when it ends up being contemplated by the criminal code. As I said, a significant number of people end up in the very serious category and their crimes have not even been followed up on. That needs to be addressed.
I welcome the opportunity, as do my colleagues, to contribute to these statements on youth justice strategy. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, and commend both her and my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, on the energy they have brought to their particular portfolios since their appointment last year. They have made a difference.
My constituency, Dublin South-West, is colourful both politically, in terms of the representation it returns, and demographically, in the context of the reasonably and moderately wealthy suburbs to suburbs with significant challenges and needs of which it is made up. I do not mean to stereotype these places because there are challenges in every community, but I often wonder what it is like to be Irish in 2021 if you are from the parts of west Tallaght that I represent. If you were defining what it is like to grow up in Ireland or setting out how you see Ireland as a young person growing up in these areas, how would you describe it? Descriptions in this regard are certainly worth eliciting.
Perhaps this is a project that the Minister of State might fund for young people in these areas to allow them to articulate answers to questions such as: "What it is like for me to be Irish where I live?"; "How do I see the world?"; "How does the world see me and how does it respond to me?"; "What are my chances and my opportunities here?"; "What are the obstacles to me fulfilling my potential here?"; "What things get in my way?"; "What are the institutional pieces of architecture that support me hugely in my youth?"; What is lacking and where am I let down?"; "From where do I not get support?"; "Who stands in my way?"; "Who abuses me?"; "Who understands me?; and "Who is it that does whatever they can to ensure that I can achieve my potential as a human being?"
I have no doubt that there would be incredibly positive answers in there as well as some surprising and very challenging answers for society. For that reason, I believe that there needs to be a much stronger voice from children and young people in this strategy and that it needs to be tapped into on a pretty continuous basis. There is a lot of top-down stuff, notwithstanding the best will in the world of the agencies involved. We need those agencies to engage more with the young people they are trying to support. There are increasing supports in this approach of the national youth justice strategy, which I welcome. Any increase in supports for young people, and particularly in my constituency, are to be welcomed.
Reference was made to the Garda youth diversion project. It is hugely welcome that this is to be enhanced to cater, in particular, for children with additional and more complex needs. As a public representative, one also comes across the other tools that are open to the Garda, such as antisocial behaviour orders - the famous ASBOs. There are a lot of gardaí, and newer recruits in particular, who do not know what an ASBO is. It is one of those measures to try to intervene with the family and to educate its members to the effect that they have responsibility. As the Garda superintendent, the chief superintendents and the sergeants on the ground will tell us, these will actually work where there is a good strong family structure and where the parents and guardians are on the same page as the Garda. These measures, however, simply will not work for those kinds of structures are not in place and where the family fabric may not be as strong and needs a lot more support. I would like the Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, to bring this back to the Garda Commissioner. I have encountered this, not once but twice, and it was used. In some cases, it is used quite effectively. It is a tool that is there to be used, and not just during Covid. We are coming up to Hallowe'en, a time when antisocial behaviour can occur when youngsters are gathered together. This is where community gardaí come in because they know the communities. We need a lot more community gardaí. They are able to separate the leaders from the herd. There are usually just two, three or four leaders in a group and gardaí on the ground who have the relevant knowledge know who they are. It is about engagement with younger people and the Garda and other bodies being aware of the powers and tools that they have available.
Over the course of four years in opposition as my party's spokesperson on Dublin, I raised the issue of scramblers. Finally, the Government is getting to grips with this. I welcome that and it is now up to the Minister for Transport to provide that last little piece of meaningful legislation. That is the stick, but there also needs to be a carrot. Why not have a diversionary element to that? I am aware that the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, has funding available for projects in a number of communities that have been badly affected by those using scramblers in different ways. I am aware that in Deputy McAuliffe's constituency it was happening on the streets and in my own constituency was happening it is in fields and parks. It has manifested itself in different ways.
The final issue I will raise is Garda numbers. I do so specifically in the context Tallaght Garda station. Tallaght is the same size as Limerick. This is an old chestnut. I do not know how many Garda stations there are in Limerick city and Limerick county. While I do not want more Garda stations, I do want more resources.
The final point I will make, and I thank the Acting Chairman for his forbearance, is about the visibility of drug use and drug distribution, which undoes every measure that the Government and statutory agencies bring forward. It is a theme I will return to again.
I acknowledge the fact - this has been mentioned a few times already - that I was very anxious when I was the Minister of State that we would have a strategy and plan. We pulled together the experts in 2019. There were 26 people who worked extremely hard on the strategy for more than a year I acknowledge their work. They were led by Deaglán Ó Briain, a very impressive official in the Department of Justice. Really and truly these people put their hearts and souls into this because they knew they were doing something very important.
Colleagues mentioned the importance of resources. This cannot be understated. It is hugely important. in the context of resources, throwing money at something without having a proper strategy, plan and underlying philosophy can be a waste. We have seen this over the years.
There were a few things we were very anxious to have included in the strategy, the most important of which were prevention and early intervention. It is hugely important to get in early. Primary school teachers, and teachers in créches, will tell us that they can identify children at a very young age who are suffering from adverse childhood experiences. Deputy Howlin mentioned trauma. This includes abuse, neglect, community violence, homelessness and growing up in a household where adults are experiencing mental health issues or harmful drug use. All of these can have long-lasting impacts. From my work in counselling some years ago - and I know that Deputy Lahart has been involved in this area also - I discovered that very early trauma can have a massive impact way down the line. This is why we must intervene early.
Collaboration between agencies is hugely important. Schools can often identify children who are really impacted by trauma and troubles. The youth agencies are out there, as are the Garda and the health service. They all need to work together and collaborate at a very early stage and right up along the way. We were very anxious that this would happen, and I am very glad to see it in the strategy.
I pay tribute to the Ministers of State, Deputies James Browne and Hildegarde Naughton, for launching the strategy. I was afraid that might not happen. It has happened, however, and that is great to see. There is agreement across the House that we need to drive it on now. There is a lot of good stuff in there, but it is a living document and we must work with it.
The best interests of the child must be at the forefront here. I could talk all day about this. Youth justice workers and community-based organisations are hugely important. I have been out there, and colleagues mentioned seeing communities in trauma and in conflict, with young people who are really and truly caught up with this violence and trauma, and communities that are lost. In the middle of those communities, however, quite often there are youth services, youth workers and Garda diversion projects that are doing amazing work. I have seen them. I have met with young people who have been diverted away from a certain life of crime because of the work of a significant adult in their lives. This can be the mentor who stepped in and took the place of the parent who was not there very often. That is hugely important. It is very interesting that sometimes these young people can become leaders themselves in a positive way in their own communities. I have seen where they have stepped up to the mark and started to lead their peers away from antisocial behaviour. We do need to provide services and places where our young people can go and meet because being on the street is no place for them. This is why sport is hugely important also. The Acting Chairman, Deputy Sherlock, and I have been calling for the funding relating to the sports capital programme to be at least doubled this year. This is something we really need to see happening, with more money being put into sport and young people in and outside should being encouraged to get involved in positive activities such as youth work, art and music. In my constituency, we have children for whom the system has not worked. They are now learning through music with the East Cork Music Project. It is amazing to see how they are coming on and developing. There are ways and means of doing this.
The youth services need all the support we can give them. Very often they are operating on a shoestring. They need support. They are out there at the cutting edge, meeting these young people on the streets and elsewhere and engaging with them in a very positive and proactive way. The services need to be supported and encouraged. If we can divert one child away from a life crime, we are saving that child's life. We are diverting that child from misery, hopelessness, suffering and prison further down the line. If we can start early and get in early it makes a massive difference. Positive leisure time, sports, outdoor skills, arts and cultural activities are vitally important.
The Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland mentioned co-location of services. That is something we should work towards.
I also want to make reference to the Youth-JARC programme, that is, the Joint Agency Response to Crime, which focuses on the prolific offenders. The Youth-JARC programme is a pilot project we established a number of years ago in counties Cork and Dublin and it has been quite successful.
Again, however, these are not easy answers. If there was an easy answer, we would have found it a long time ago and there is not. It is hard work. It is never giving up and staying there all the time. The doors have to be open for these children no matter where they are. I believe this strategy has huge merit.
I will also just speak for a moment on the other issue of community safety, on which I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton. This is vitally important. It is something I raised recently when we had the joint policing committees. The Acting Chairman, Deputy Sherlock, and I were involved, I am sure, in quite a number of those at the start when they were in towns. The town councils disappeared, for good or for ill - that is another debate - but the joint policing committees that were established locally in the towns also went. I suggest that the Minister of State might look at her municipal districts where there is a structure in place. If the municipal districts and community safety committees could be co-located geographically, if you will, it might be a good start.
I welcome this strategy, which is quite good. It is important that we recognise that many juvenile offenders suffer multiple disadvantages and that early intervention is the key to reducing the number of juvenile offenders. That is really a critical and important thing to say.
When I read the strategy and its accompanying notes, I was thinking about how this will work in my constituency of Limerick. As the Minister of State is probably well aware, we have huge problems in parts of our city. Some parts suffer from massive disadvantages, whether that be poverty or where parents in families have addiction problems. Youth unemployment is off the scale in Limerick. Eight of the top ten unemployment black spots in the State are in my city of Limerick. Obviously, there are other factors which contribute to youth criminality or whatever they are up to. People might come from backgrounds of domestic abuse or where there is a failure of parenting in a family.
I commend the strategy. I think it will really work well if we are serious about this. We can make those interventions that can save lives, families and communities. The flip side is that if we do not, we will be back to where we are. We have seen it across communities and we had difficult problems in my own city a number of years ago. Thankfully, we are not exactly there but I am concerned that we are on the tipping point where it might be coming back to that scenario. The impact it has on people and communities can be dramatic. People have a right to live free and safe in their own homes and sometimes it does not happen. It is, therefore, important.
One of the biggest things we did in Limerick, which was hugely successful a number years ago until, unfortunately, the numbers were cut, was to have community gardaí on the streets. They really got involved in communities and spoke to young people. They were involved in the sports clubs in the local communities and in residents' associations. Unfortunately, however, the numbers dropped. I have the details of the cuts to community gardaí in front of me. In 2008, there were 92 community gardaí in Limerick city and in July 2020, there were 31. That is a huge drop-off in community gardaí in Limerick, who genuinely did a massive amount of work and made a massive contribution to making our community safe.
Youth crime has an impact on communities, whether that is drugs, scrambler motorbikes or small incidents of antisocial behaviour. It is really upsetting people. In the short time I have, I will emphasise the fact that the vast majority of young people are very good kids. They have done a really good job, especially in the last number of years with the pandemic. They have done fantastic work and it is important that we mention that as well.
I welcome the Youth Justice Strategy 2021–2027. It is a very good document and I do not believe there is anything in it that I or anybody else could disagree with or argue against. None of this will work, however, unless adequate resources are put into the various organisations and clubs that are mentioned in the document, and that we ensure there is cross-departmental and agency co-operation when working together. It is very important.
When I think about or discuss crime, whether it is youth crime or crime in general, there is an imbalance between what is invested in prevention and early intervention and what is put into the Prison Service at the other end. It is unfortunate because we have to try to keep as many people as possible from getting involved in crime.
My background is in teaching. I spent almost 30 years teaching in a DEIS school in County Cavan. Like others have mentioned, the vast majority of young people I encountered over those years were absolutely brilliant. If one investigated a little into the backgrounds of the few who did present with issues, that is where the problem was.
When I first started teaching, because I was only teaching part time and not full time, I worked in a pub during the summer. It was an eye-opener and an education for me. I witnessed parents coming in and perhaps spending the whole day drinking in the pub, with their children running around the street doing God knows what or mixing with God knows who. It made it clear that some of these children have very poor backgrounds. In fact, not that long ago, before I left teaching, I heard of students going into a different pub in their school uniforms and sitting at tables doing their homework because the parents were at the bar drinking.
A common denominator for a lot of young people who get involved in crime is poverty and deprivation. Those issues need to be tackled. Addiction is another huge issue and, again, proper services need to be put in place to deal with that. Mental health is the other issue. We need many more mental health supports as well.
When I was teaching, the school completion programme was excellent in trying to keep those in danger of early school leaving in school. It is vitally important to keep young people in education and training. That was probably around the time of the recession and the next thing was that the budget was slashed. The programme was not done away with but the resources were greatly curtailed. It is an awful pity. It would be great if more funds could be put into the school completion programme to bring it back to life and work with many of the young people.
I want to echo comments about the Garda youth diversion programme, which does excellent work. Again, additional resources that could be put into that and into community policing would be more than welcome. The need for additional funding for sports other youth activities is also vitally important.
I do not normally take ten minutes. Less is more, as they say.
I welcome to the debate today with regard to the national Youth Justice Strategy 2021–2027. It is a good document but as with any document, its implementation is the most important thing.
I commend the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, on the community approach regarding the misuse of scrambler motorbikes in particular areas. There is particular problematic issue around scramblers where I live. A holistic approach that turns an antisocial activity into a prosocial activity is a very good strategy. Hopefully, it works out. I know a number of young people who have put in an application regarding funding. They are very enthusiastic and when that happens, they bring other young people in with them.
This all depends on resources. The strategy of dealing with legacy issues such as marginalisation, inequality and disadvantage was not in the document. That is a different remit. Those kinds of cutbacks were very evident in the economic crisis of 2008-10 and afterwards. I believe more than 50% of cuts were made to youth services over that time, and still, to this day, youth services are trying to recover from those cuts. They have clawed back a good percentage of them but there are still huge legacy issues. If we do not have the resources then it is going to be very difficult to engage with young people.
Lucan has one of the biggest youth populations in Ireland, if not Europe. This is a huge demographic. There are many young people and a lot of new houses have been built in the last ten to 15 years. The resources for agencies are just not there, however. They have a small amount resources but they cannot do what they are professedly trained to do, which is to engage with a lot more young people. If we do not engage with young people then the outcomes are not good.
It is the same in Newcastle which, again, has a lot of new builds and many young people who want things to do. We were all young once. Young people sometimes gather in places where they should not be gathering but, generally, they want to do things. They do not want to do bad things; they want to do good things. If we have things for them to do, however, then the outcomes are very good. This is seen not only in Ireland but in Scandinavia where, rather than taking a criminal justice or policing approach, the best approach is through youth work, diversion and so forth.
That is the way to tackle certain issues around young people.
I read with curiosity about the Greentown initiative, which I had never heard about. It is a good critique of how young people are drawn into serious criminality. I can tell the Minister it is a losing battle, especially in the areas I know. It is depressing to see people as young as 12 or 13 years being drawn into criminality, generally around the distribution of drugs. It works like clockwork. These kids are groomed by adults. Money is provided and these young people are used for the distribution of drugs. As I said, that battle will be very difficult to win. Can it be addressed? It can. I probably will not have time to address all of the issues but the issue of 12-year-old children selling crack cocaine to adults is one I and most people find abhorrent. It is unbelievable. I would have known these young people from different activities. We want to do something about it but that is up to the authorities and the relevant people.
These are issues this strategy is trying to address. It is not perfect, by any means, but it will have better outcomes for young people. Engaging with young people leads to better outcomes for them, their parents and siblings. The Garda youth diversion project is a very good one. It diverts young people from engaging in activities they should not engage in and is worthwhile. Midnight leagues football is a brilliant project. Community gardaí tell us it diverts young people from activity they should not be engaged in. Engaging in other activity leads to a better outcome.
This is about resources. The majority of the aspirational aspects of this strategy can be resourced but, again, is all about outcomes. We need to engage with young people in the right way and avoid speaking down to or demonising them, as happens in society, especially in the media. We have to try not to demonise young people. If people are told they are stupid or smelly, that will get into their heads and they will think that way. If we tell young people they are good and do good things, the outcomes will be good for them and society as a whole.
Like many areas of youth work and many areas in general, the Garda youth diversion projects have been under significant strain in the past 18 months or so as a result of Covid. This has allowed many of these projects to reach out and find new ways of working. Much of this outreach was effective in reaching out to young people who might not have been involved previously in the centre-based work of youth projects.
I am on the board of a Garda youth diversion project in Crumlin called CLAY. The project did assertive outreach to hard-to-reach young people who were causing trouble in the neighbourhood and were not engaging with any of the centre-based services. This focused piece of outreach allowed CLAY to reach out, build relationships and start the work, accepting where these young people were at and start pulling them back into the centre or even trying to divert them from where they were, while working on the street.
As things return to normal, many of the services are faced with the challenge of choosing between outreach, which is proven and effective and reaches very difficult-to-reach young people, and centre-based work, which is also proven and has good outcomes for young people. To force services to choose between outreach and centre-based work is deeply unfair and, ultimately, unfair to the young people.
We need fund dedicated outreach workers and services to reach those young people who are so far refusing or unwilling to engage with centre-based programmes. It allows a street-level response to the crime and antisocial behaviour the projects are not able to bring, notwithstanding the good work they are doing in the centres. It is not either one or the other; we need both. To do the outreach properly, we need funding to go with that. There is no mention of that kind of specialist outreach in the strategy. We need to start resourcing and developing policies around that.
Speaking of youth and hard-to-reach groups, I share the concerns raised by other Deputies and the Irish Penal Reform Trust on the inclusion of children aged between 8 and 11 years. Bearing in mind the age of criminal responsibility begins at 12, I am concerned that scooping up children aged between 8 and 11 and including them in a criminal justice response will stigmatise a whole bunch of young people who should be receiving generalised rather than justice themed support services or support services around offending.
I know there is offending behaviour among young people of that age. Gangs are looking to groom children of that young age, partly because of the lack of criminal responsibility that applies to them. We need a response to them but a criminalising response or one that scoops them into justice programmes will create problems of stigmatisation. There are huge problems with stigmatisation. Many young people in disadvantaged and marginalised communities feel they are picked on, simply by being a member of that community and feel the gardaí are out to get them because they are poor. This creates an us-and-them attitude and a resistance to the kind of youth justice work that is successful. This can be fatal to much of the youth justice work we are all praising. We need to be conscious of and careful around that stigmatisation and of how many of the youth offending problems we are talking about grow out of a background of inequality, marginalisation and poverty.
While a youth justice strategy is very important, it must have a fundamental grounding in that world view. The Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, spoke about the need to be holistic and community focused, but we need to be naming marginalisation, poverty and social exclusion and actively addressing them. Previous speakers referred to the need to include Tusla and the HSE and this is all part of that. While I commend the strategy, that is one point that occurs to me.
One related issue, which was also raised by Deputy Gino Kenny, is direct consultation with young people. We need to find ways to directly communicate and consult with young people and have them feed into these projects. Much of the youth justice work comes from that youth work perspective of consultation, empowerment and engagement. Much of that work is being done, but I look at the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime and violence reduction in the United Kingdom and on encouraging and supporting direct consultation with young people and children from many of these marginalised communities which are often over-policed and will be on the receiving end of this strategy. Finding ways to do that direct consultation will also help break down the stigmatisation and the us-and-them attitude between young people and gardaí. I thank the Minister of State for his support.
I am glad to have an opportunity to speak on this legislation. Similar to my colleague, Deputy Costello, who just spoke, I believe we have a particular situation arising in the aftermath of the lockdown that is more serious than it was previously. There are a number of issues we need to take into account and a number of initiatives we need to take. This legislation is one of them. We have to learn how best to deal with this matter. Confrontation is not the way to do so, in the first instance. We have to establish a system that young people will have confidence in and can approach on the basis that they will come to no harm, their circumstances will improve, they can rely on it and they will not become victims of the circumstances.
There is, however, a need to take people off the street. The situation, as it is now developing now, is that many people are concerned for their safety just walking along the footpath. That should not be the case. We can say that the youngsters concerned are deprived and have not had a proper chance, which is true. However, the fact is people, including other children, women and older people, are also being deprived by virtue of having their rights impinged upon, in a serious fashion, to the detriment of society and the good name of the country.
We should concentrate, in the first instance, on ensuring that a proper service is available and gardaí are specifically trained to deal with such circumstances as they emerge. This is not a normal situation. Gardaí may well be faced with youngsters who are confrontational. That will not solve the problem or make it any better. It will not to solve the problem for the Garda, society or the youngsters themselves. We need to put a lot of thought into how we deal with the issue but we have to deal with it.
Another group we need to recognise - I have raised it on many occasions in the past - is first-time offenders. This is assuming they have not gone past the stage where they can be hauled ashore. We need to ensure first-time offenders are treated properly and there is a way to bring them onto the straight and narrow path. However, if they go to prison, it is hugely important that they do not find themselves in the company of hardened criminals on a daily basis and subject to the same regime all the time. They should get the first possible opportunity to have their educational needs and recreational needs met, and to have their character built up within the prison system. In other words, they should be able to become confident that society is not their enemy, they can improve society and that society can contribute to their situation in a meaningful way that is neither confrontational nor aggressive. That has to be done.
I followed many questions over the years on this subject. I discovered – although I do not know how much has changed - that certain groups are formed within the prison system. There may be an attitude that allows these groups to dominate who gets educational training and who gets proper treatment inside the system. It can deprive those who need that training most to ensure they do not fall further and further down the criminal league or create a problem for themselves that is much more serious than mere delinquency, for want of a better description.
There are three elements to this. First, we need to deal with it. Second, we need to deal with it in an appropriate fashion. Third, in the event of all systems failing and the youngsters finding themselves in prison or juvenile prison, we need to ensure they do not fall under the influence of professional criminals who will adopt them, recruit them and use them for their own ends in pursuit of their own objectives every time. It is not just that they are in danger doing it. It always happens and will happen every time. Those kids then find themselves in a situation where there is no redemption for them in the future. They are ostracised by everybody. They feel themselves rejected by society, and they are. They feel that there is no hope for or faith in them.
We need to have a system that responds to the situation, from the point of view of the youngsters and society. Society should not harshly treat people who find themselves on the wrong side of the tracks. It is important it does not do so. There is everything to be gained from approaching that kind of situation in a thoughtful, caring manner, which will be of benefit to society
I welcome the strategy and commend all those involved in producing it. If implemented, it will have a significant impact on young people at risk and help to divert them from criminal and antisocial behaviour. As a former co-ordinator of Meitheal and the child and family support networks, CFSNs, with Tusla, in the Dublin 17 area, I saw incredible results yielded by a parent and child led process that puts the young person firmly at its centre. However, the process fell down regularly because of the serious resource pressures that many of the agencies we worked with were under. There needs to be – and I know it has been mentioned on several occasions because it is such a critical piece of the jigsaw - a significant increase in funding to all of the agencies involved in working with young people. This is to ensure that the agencies will have time to attend agency, inter-agency or Meitheal meetings. This was a significant issue when I was organising such meetings in the Coolock and Darndale areas.
I highlight the need for supports for young people and their families so that they can access services in a timely manner. This topic is brought up pretty much on a daily basis in this Chamber. Children, particularly young people with additional needs, have huge problems in trying to access services. I have just finished a meeting about services for dyslexia. Children often have to wait two to three years to access these services. Many of the problems start at the ages of three, four, five or six years. It is at those points that the children start to disengage from education. In my direct experience working in the Coolock and Darndale area for nearly 20 years, and as a representative for many years in Dublin West, I saw many young, vulnerable people who did not get access to services when they needed them. They were gradually drawn into criminal and anti-social gangs because they were vulnerable, out of school and not engaged because they were on the streets without something to do.
The cuts to youth services, drugs support services, autism spectrum disorder, ASD, services, child mental health services, adolescent health services, and community addiction teams are still being felt today. I know that. I have seen and experienced it. These people will experience it on a daily basis when they are trying to access these services. Yesterday, attending a conference for Travellers on Travellers in prison, I was reminded of the visiting teacher service that was provided for Travellers. We had one of the most incredible visiting teacher services for Travellers in the Coolock area before it was cut. The Traveller community makes up only 1% of the entire population, yet its members comprise 10% of the prison population. The visiting teacher service for Travellers, which was tiny and cost very little money, was cut. I saw the devastating impact that cut had on the Traveller community.
It would be remiss of us not to discuss community policing because it is also a critical part of this strategy. I speak to community gardaí regularly. They tell me all the time that their service is on its knees. They do not have the resources or people on the ground to be able to deal with what they face. If we are asking these gardaí to work with and engage with young people on the ground, attend inter-agency and Meitheal meetings, and meet community representatives and residents associations, then we have to resource them on the ground and put people into Garda stations to ensure they can do that job.
If we do not then, unfortunately, the strategy will be doomed to failure and will become another document that is put on a shelf. I welcome the funding of community-based interventions for the most serious and prolific young offenders and their families, and for those who are at significant risk. I agree that in most cases detention should be the last resort. To ensure community buy-in, the system must be well funded and resourced with highly skilled youth and family workers who should be given everything they need to divert these hard-to-reach young people away from crime and antisocial behaviour.
In appendix 1, section D indicates how bad the situation is. One of the principles of this document states, "that criminal proceedings shall not be used solely to provide any assistance or service needed to care for or protect a child". It is appalling that, in a youth strategy, we are asking people as a principle not to bring children to court or engage them in the criminal justice system to access services. That shows us how bad the situation is. This strategy concerns the people who are most at risk. I am concerned that the youth services will be diverted from those who are considered "at risk" and that they will not get the service which prevents them from getting to the stage where they are considered "most at risk". I ask the Minister to review that part of the strategy, because I am concerned about the young people who are on the road of crime but are not considered at serious risk, so that they can engage with some services.
I welcome the opportunity to speak today. I thank those responsible for the development of the new Youth Justice Strategy 2021-2027. It is a comprehensive report and contains some good points and suggestions on how we tackle the ever-growing problems of youth crime. Unfortunately, those who get involved in crime are becoming younger and younger. It is worrying that crime is seen to be appealing to the younger generation. I firmly believe in taking the approach that prevention is always better than cure. I have said many times in this House that the key to prevention of youth crime is education at an early age. In my role as a politician and in the GAA, I have come into contact with many young people who, unfortunately, became involved with the wrong people and ended up coming before the courts. As a society, we must always ensure that crime never pays. We have seen in recent times, particularly in my own county of Louth, where criminals get children involved in drug crime with the lure of designer clothes and shoes to begin with. Once these children get involved, it becomes almost impossible for them to get free from the criminals. This is where we have to start. We must work on these vulnerable children at an early age and we need to start as early as primary school. Committing crime must be shown as the wrong thing to do and not highlighted as cool. Kids at an early age are exposed to the so-called rewards of crime and think it is a way forward for them. Education is the key to stopping children entering into a life of crime. The strategy we are discussing today speaks about supporting the youths once they have entered into the system. This support is needed. However, we need to concentrate more on prevention measures.
We need to start in primary schools and work with the teachers and other staff who deal with the students daily. We need to help front-line workers and provide them with more training and access to best international practice on how successful countries are dealing with crime. The measures should be seen as part of the curriculum in the same way as mathematics and Irish. It should be normal for children at an early age to be taught their core subjects in addition to how wrong crime is and the dangers which it can lead to.
In my constituency office in Dundalk, I have dealt with a number of vulnerable kids who, unfortunately, got involved in crime at an early age. In these cases, it was evident that if these kids were shown better guidance at an early age, there would have been a good chance they would not have got involved in crime. Apart from working with schools, it is also important that the parents of these children are helped. I know this may not be practical in all cases, but in some situations, parents are crying out for help. This help should be available to those parents. No one knows a child better than the parent does. If we can put support structures in place at an early stage for these parents, I strongly believe we can have better outcomes.
This strategy, it is fair to say, is largely a developmental framework which will provide a starting point for a range of actions and initiatives. We need this strategy to work and it is important in this regard that we work closely together to quickly get this initiative, as detailed in the strategy, off the ground. The time for talk and discussion is over. We all know the importance of this and it is fair to say the solutions are obvious. Therefore, all we need now is implementation.
I come from a sporting background and, being honest, if I was not involved in sport, I would not be here today. People think sport is for elite people; it is not. I was lucky to have played many sports. I played GAA, soccer, rugby and running, and swimming at a time when we did not have a swimming pool. We had a swimming river. Even if the facilities are not available, we should still be able to help. Last night I went to a GAA blitz in Darver, County Louth, where there were at least 300 children present with their parents and grandparents. This happens not only in the GAA, but in soccer, rugby and all sporting organisations. We should invest more money in these sports organisations. I mentioned earlier that the younger generation needs support and guidance, and who better to provide that help than their parents. Is there any way we can get more money into sports? I know people who say that they are not a good footballer, not a good runner or not a good athlete, but they can be a volunteer such as a referee or a coach. People can be in different positions when doing sport. When I was growing up, we had two options: go around the corner and start smoking behind the wall like everybody else or play sport. The type of people one hangs around with has a big influence on one's life.
People think this concerns money and everything else, but this is not just about money. I have been elected as a Deputy on three occasions. I recall when knocking on people's doors while canvassing, I saw numerous children, through the window, playing with their PlayStation or computer games. Years ago, that never happened. People were told to go out into the fresh air and get a bit of exercise. I am a firm believer that a healthy body is a healthy mind and it is important to get as many people involved in sport as we can.
I would not like to think that in two years' time we may be back here discussing the same situation. I welcome this strategy, but I would prefer if we had a defined timeline on how we will implement these measures. We need actions and not words to solve this problem. Teachers in primary schools can play a big part in this, as can parents and grandparents. All these people are putting their hands out looking for help. This is a fantastic start, but I asked the Minister to ensure that we do not return to this stage in two years' time talking about the exact same issues again. I keep saying that prevention is better than cure. From my own experience as a politician and in the GAA, people need support and guidance, and there are many others who want to help them.
As people in my constituency will know, my constituency office is next door to the courthouse. If people come to my constituency office on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, they will see the many handcuffed young people taken into the courthouse, with their parents and grandparents crying. Now is the right time to start. Prevention is the cure when they are at a young age. Let us not continue down the road and say that every other time is right. Now is the right time.
My constituency office is also across from the courthouse in Waterford and I reiterate exactly what Deputy Fitzpatrick has said about that. It is terrible to see the number of young people involved in the courts.
It is a fact that people in our general community feel vulnerable and unsafe at times, particularly when they are outside their homes. However, it is a fact that people who live in disadvantaged areas certainly feel vulnerable, for themselves and their children, whether they are inside or outside their homes due to gangs and antisocial behaviour, drugs and substance abuse, or the danger of them and their children being coerced or exposed to criminality, and low- and mid-level crime. We know disadvantage leads to further disadvantage. Due to a lack of education, a lack of role models, and a lack of employment with no career choice, ongoing disadvantage will, most likely, be repeated in the family cycle.
The strategy we are debating proposes to involve the community and build around that. I ask the Minister to outline how we get the youth and chaotic parenting to engage with us. School clubs, school breakfast clubs and school dinners need to be resourced in every part of the country. I have some experience of these in the past and they do tremendous work. If children go to school hungry, they have no chance of being taught and, furthermore, they feel deprived when they compare themselves with other children in the school.
The teachers want to support this endeavour. In my area though, I know of a school club that was getting very little resourcing other than the private moneys being put into it. GAA and other local sports and community clubs are an absolute must in this regard. Such community-level organisations must be included in the allocation of sports grants now be considered. I refer especially to those that are poorly funded.
I welcome the local community safety partnerships initiative. Mr. Sean Aylward, a former Secretary General of the Department of Justice, is leading that undertaking in Waterford and I wish him the best of luck. I spoke here recently about the resources being provided to the Garda. I mentioned that in Waterford, the site of the new divisional headquarters, officers do not even have a locker room to put their bags into and in which to change their clothes. The monitoring room in that station serves ten counties for all 999 emergency calls and yet the people there are sitting cheek by jowl in rooms that barely have ventilation or windows. It is a ridiculous situation. The station is understaffed. It lacks 16 full-time gardaí and no sergeants have yet been promoted, even though they were allocated to the station in the last two years. These matters need immediate attention.
We also need a new drugs strategy and we must determine how to tackle the drug barons, the mules and the dealers. How the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, is engaging at this level must also be examined. In addition, we need community intelligence and that cannot be developed without getting the community involved with community policing. It will require the building up of trust. How does a community-based organisation, allied with public services, support and engage with families who have little in the way of such trust? A bridge must be built between local welfare offices and the Garda. I am not sure what communication goes on in that regard, but my experience has been that there is very little. We must build community trust that will in turn bring about development for the people in those communities.
We need early targeting and intervention by the support services of the State in respect of vulnerable families and young children. Voluntary support services must have a co-ordinated vision. I will not go into detail about a case in Waterford but I will outline the situation. Volunteers were going into a family in Waterford where small children were experiencing incredible hardship and distress. The volunteers tried to engage with Tusla but they were told that they could not and that Tusla was already engaged with the situation. Those volunteers, however, were visiting that family week after week and seeing no remediation of the situation. That is no longer acceptable. If this initiative is to work, then this aspect is something that the Minister of State must examine.
More Garda resources must be involved in combating crime. Criminals must also be properly profiled. If the intelligence exists, and the resourcing is provided, then that can be done. We must start to have a zero-tolerance approach to antisocial behaviour and vandalism. Whether those responsible are living in disadvantage or students attending third level, there is no difference in my mind. They are all equally culpable in this regard. Evidence is also needed to show that success is possible for disadvantaged communities. I ask the Minister of State to look at investment in capital initiatives and at investment in maintaining the public realm in disadvantaged areas. Equally, education is required. We must bring in role models to talk to young people about the poverty trap of unplanned pregnancy and to try to give them an example of a different model that will allow those young people to see where their future might lie.
A social welfare answer is required in respect of those fathers who refuse to pay child support. I raised this issue before I entered politics in Waterford and perhaps the Minister of State will respond to me on this matter. It was my understanding then that there was no obligation for the names of fathers to be noted on birth certificates. If the names were not noted, then there was no way for social welfare officials to track those fathers. I ask the Minister of State to get back to me and to let me know if that situation has been rectified. The situation in Australia at the time was that if a father was not registered on a birth certificate, then 30% less family income was provided. That ensured that a father was named and that the representatives of the State knew where to go to get family payments. Resources with guaranteed funding streams are required in order that future planning can be assured in this area. We need buy-in from all public bodies and agencies to deliver on this plan. I hope this new youth strategy that the Minister of State is planning will provide the answer. I hope as well that this House will not have to wait too long before we are advised about whether this policy is having an impact on the ground.
I support the National Youth Justice Strategy 2021-2027 launched earlier this year. I welcome the opportunity to discuss the policy. We have all witnessed the rise of antisocial behaviour in Ireland, but we must also be careful not to demonise the young people of our country. We must offer solutions and measures that can be extended to divert young offenders away from the criminal justice system beyond the age of 18. Our most recent census recorded almost 500,000 youths aged from 12 to 17. Garda figures revealed that approximately 3% of them will commit an offence annually. We must help those young people to avoid that fate. Early intervention and holistic wraparound policies may well be key, but we must also ensure that there is joined-up thinking and that one strategy in one Department is not undone in another because of issues with funding or resources. We see this happening time and time again. Great initiatives are started but then no funding or resources are forthcoming. This will be the game-changing aspect in this regard.
Therefore, when we talk about joined-up thinking and wrap-around policies we must see interdepartmental co-operation. We must all be on board and working together. I receive many calls involving antisocial behaviour. It can have a major impact on our communities and pose challenges for the Garda and other youth justice agencies. Sometimes, this antisocial behaviour can lead to serious crime and we must tackle it. It is important that we have a plan to do so. This strategy is welcome in addressing these challenges, as well as new and emerging issues in the youth justice area. Not only must we prevent offending behaviour from occurring, we must also have better ways of diverting children and young adults who commit crimes away from further offending and involvement with the criminal justice system. Youth crime has significant implications across a range of policies and aspects of service provision, including in the areas of child and family services, health, education and local authority functions. We are all affected, even if such crime is not necessarily happening on our street.
Research shows a strong link between youth offending and socioeconomic circumstances, as well as child and family welfare issues. We must examine this aspect carefully. If we do not put the supports required in place in those targeted areas, then tackling other challenges will surely be more difficult. We can do this and be successful by helping one youth at a time. However, we must work together and ensure that everyone is on board to provide better outcomes and better options for those who wind up in the justice system at a young age. Vulnerable people need a helping hand and support at all levels. That is the benefit of the Garda youth diversion project. We must work in our schools and in our communities to engage with young people and ensure that they are part of the solution instead of being seen as the problem. This is the major issue. Young people must be viewed as the solution and not the problem. We must adopt that perspective in future.
We are crying out for gardaí in my area of Carlow and in my wider constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny. I spoke about this matter recently. We need more gardaí on the streets and more community policing. I go to all the joint policing meetings but if the required funding and resources are not provided to An Garda Síochána, then our strategies are not going to work. One thing I have learned, and that we must always remember, is that we must start from the ground. We must work with the gardaí on the ground through community policing and that is how we will solve this problem. I again mention the Garda station in Leighlinbridge, which is another issue that I would like the Minister of State to address. I welcome this strategy and it is a start. We get moving on it straight away, because we do not want to be back here next year and find out that it has not progressed.
I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to these statements and I am grateful to the Minister of State for being here. I thank him and the Minister for Justice, Deputy Humphreys, and before that, the Minister, Deputy McEntee, for the consistent and vitally important work they have done in this area. I have raised several issues in this context before and I do so again. They must be and are central to this strategy. First, there is a requirement to tackle the rise in knife crime across the country. Second, we must address the worrying scenes of antisocial behaviour that have been witnessed in recent months, especially in Dublin. One area of this strategy that I am heartened by is the deliberate focus on those criminal gangs that invest in and groom young people to play a part in their evil activities across our country. It is an approach that is key to any strategy and it offers the biggest outreach.
We talk about the importance of high-visibility policing, which I agree with, and about sentencing and structures, but the key area that must be placed at the heart of any strategy is the ability to introduce a scheme of genuine early intervention. In that regard, it does not matter if such an approach involves officials in the Department of Justice, members of An Garda Síochána, or, more importantly, people in our communities such as teachers, youth workers, parents, guardians, sports coaches and everyone else concerned.
I have spoken with the Minister of State and others many times regarding the issue of knife crime. Looking at the approach taken in Scotland, the Scottish model has worked. It has drastically reduced violent crime and knife crime across Scotland, and especially in Glasgow, which at one stage was the capital of knife crime in Europe. The issue was not approached there as simply as a criminal justice matter but also as a public health matter. All facets of society were included in the model used in Scotland, from youth workers to teachers. It is something that can and will work and it really is the only solution to addressing a rise in crime numbers, particularly among our young people.
When we talk about early intervention, which could be from so many different avenues, as we look to the budget next week, one point that is so important is to ensure that the new community safety fund being set up by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, in tandem with the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, is fully resourced. An Garda Síochána seized €11.2 million from criminal gangs last year. That does not include the funds seized by the CAB. We need to see every cent of that money being ploughed into the communities that need it most for early intervention services to make sure that the knives do not get into young people's hands. We know that young people between the ages of 12 and 17 are the ones most acutely exposed to knife crime. If one carries a knife, one is far more likely to be a victim of a knife crime. The money must also be pushed into providing juvenile liaison officers, JLOs, and everything else to have the facilities to ensure that young people do not get led astray by the drug lords and the gangsters who make our streets a nightmare, in particular in the capital.
A youth justice strategy is acutely different to a wider justice strategy, because what must be at the heart of it is not society in general, us as politicians or members of the Garda, it is the young people of the country. We must ensure that we provide the diversions and opportunities in order that regardless of people's postcode, they have equality of opportunity in life. That is the best approach to any youth strategy, namely, to give them equality of opportunity to pursue whatever they want to do in life and to ensure that we have given them benevolent and worthwhile opportunities in life so that they are not lured into a life of criminality by nefarious actors.
I will open my brief statement with a statistic. The 2016 census indicated that 375,000 or 3% of young people committed an offence annually. More than 50% of the cases before the courts involving youth crime are dismissed or struck out for being of a minor nature. That said, the kernel of the issue is that one's propensity to commit an offence is linked to one's socioeconomic status and, as such, there is a likelihood of reoffending. To tackle youth crime and associated issues, we must first combat poverty and deprivation.
When gathering my thoughts, I listened to other speakers and I heard many key words that are always used in such debates. I refer to "prevention" and "early intervention". I commend the strategy. The Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, has emphasised that children who have been identified as being hard to reach are the focus of the plan, and that a never-give-up strategy will be adopted. It is very important to acknowledge that the Minister of State is trying to reach out to those who are worst affected.
From my perspective as a teacher for many years, the issue is intertwined with education. From teaching for 12 years in the town of Fermoy in east Cork, I can see the benefit of a good community garda and a good sergeant in the area who used the school to his advantage to access children, get their attention and deal with them, not necessarily on any criminal issue, but to touch base with them and to keep in touch. It is very important as part of any strategy that we emphasise the importance of education in preventing or solving any of these problems.
We have Garda diversion programmes in Cork city. On my side of the city, Knocknaheeny-Hollyhill is unfortunately the location of one of those programmes. Given the issues that we have on that side of the city, we could use more such programmes. We are lucky enough in that we have five or six such programmes across Cork, but the fact that there is only one in Knocknaheeny-Hollyhill must be addressed.
As a teacher, I understand the importance of the school completion programme and the home school community liaison officers we have in schools. If we were to ask any of the children involved with those teachers, many of them would acknowledge the importance of having the one good influence or teacher at school that is looking out for them. In many cases, it is the one good adult those children might have in their lives. It is important that the programme would continue to be rolled out and expanded in the future in disadvantaged schools participating in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, programme.
Several Deputies mentioned the sports capital grant. My understanding is that in next week's budget, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, and the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, will announce a substantial increase for the sports capital fund. That will be most welcome. Many of the interventions will be targeted at urban settings and inner city areas, which would be great. The one plea I make, not just to the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, but in particular to the Minister for Education – I have done this repeatedly – is about schools and community buildings. They are large recipients of State funding and we do not get bang for our buck in that regard. The buildings are not utilised as best they could. Schools must make facilities available in order that local children can come in to use a facility or a building that is ancillary to a school, be it a sports hall, swimming pool, pitch or AstroTurf pitch. The buildings should be accessible at all hours of the evening and not just close at 3.30 p.m. in the day when the schools close. That is something we must address.
For me, the visibility of drugs is a massive issue. It became more apparent during lockdown when it was more visible on the streets. If a young person of 12 or 13 can see that happening around the corner in their local area, it will have an impact on him or her. It is vital to reduce the visibility of drugs on the streets. Previous speakers, from Dublin in particular, have spoken about obvious drug taking on the streets and children being used as mules. Those issues are also impacting young people in Cork.
Knife crime was mentioned and gratuitous violence. I heard Deputy Jim O'Callaghan on television during the week. He put it quite eloquently. He said that as a society we must tackle why young boys in particular feel the need to show bravado or machismo by carrying or wielding a knife, inflicting violence or pain or targeting somebody in some way. As a society, we have a lot to ask ourselves about how we address that issue and why a certain sector of society seems to think that is acceptable behaviour.
The Minister of State and I have had private discussions on knife crime in the past 12 months. A zero-tolerance policy is the best approach when it comes to knife crime. I accept that sentences for knife crime have increased from one year to five years. There was a serious incident in Cork last week where a 15-year-old was stabbed at 2 a.m. on Saturday night. The issue is becoming more prevalent. The crimes are becoming more violent and the repercussions on the victims are lifelong and, in many cases, visible for all to see.
Many of these children are the first to fall out of education. Given the current building crisis and the problem we have with trades, there is a perfect opportunity to try to direct as many affected youths as possible towards getting a trade and becoming, for example, a plumber or electrician. That could help matters in the future.
I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak about the national youth justice strategy. I put the question: what is youth justice? In a real republic, youth justice would be seen to be giving all the young people of this island an equal chance to reach their full potential but in a State that has known nothing but flip-flopping Governments of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael for more than 100 years, many of our young people just never had a chance.
Policies that are designed to limit the opportunity of young people are like virtual handcuffs that impede them from availing of the same access to housing, food, education, job opportunities and the right to a fair and equal chance in life. We had a passionate debate on child poverty this week in the Dáil. We are seeing the fallout today of the intergenerational societal problems that are underpinned by poverty. We have areas with high levels of disadvantage right across the State. Over the years, community services tasked with rebalancing the differences between those who have and those who have not, have seen their budgets cut to the bone. Sinn Féin has gifted the Minister of State the solution to somewhat redress the balance. The Proceeds of Crime (Investment in Disadvantaged Communities) (Amendment) Bill 2021 passed Second Stage in this House. The Bill would ensure money seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau was put back into disadvantaged communities. While it was not opposed by the Government, there are probably ideological differences in terms of how it considers the money should be reinvested. The indication is that the Government wants to restructure existing community safety programmes such as the community safety forum and the joint policing committees. While I would not be opposed to that, and I would welcome any additional funding for these community structures, the funding should come out of existing budgets and not be funded directly from money seized by the CAB. What Sinn Féin would like to see is the money seized from the criminals put back directly into the areas where the criminals are most active.
What we want to see is the money put back into community services that have seen their funding cut. We want to see family resource centres, youth organisations, unemployment services, sports clubs, drugs task forces and others being able to benefit from this fund. This was the money that was ripped from our communities in the first place. There is no better way to tackle community safety than increasing communities’ resilience to tackle criminality. If the Government is serious about rebalancing between the haves and the have-nots, then it should progress the Proceeds of Crime (Investment in Disadvantaged Communities) (Amendment) Bill 2021 through the Houses of the Oireachtas.
I support the focus of the strategy that will help our young people from falling into criminality. As was mentioned, early intervention is key to building resilience in our young people in order that they do not see a life of crime as an attractive proposition. In an area of high poverty, it is very easy for young people to become attracted to criminality. They see the lads with the flash jackets, the new runners, the top-of-the-range cars and the seemingly endless supply of money. There is also an attraction in becoming a somebody. However, as the Minister of State knows, these criminals are nobodys. They groom our children, they suck the lifeblood from our communities and they offer nothing in return. Garda diversion projects can help and do help but, sometimes, they are too late, as by the time the young people are engaged with the projects, they are already caught up in a criminal lifestyle.
I have been engaging separately with residents in my own area who feel they are hostages in their own homes because of the behaviour of some people in their area. These residents are experiencing open drug dealing, open drug use, intimidation, vandalism and threats on a daily basis. It is very easy just to throw a blanket over this activity and call it antisocial behaviour. When ordinary citizens are subjected to this barrage of abuse on a daily and nightly basis, it is much more than antisocial behaviour. Drug dealing is a crime, intimidation and threats are crimes, as is wanton vandalism, and they need to be treated as such.
The problem is twofold. First, we do not have the community structure in place to stop these issues from arising in the first place and, second, we do not have the Garda resources to respond to crimes when residents call the Garda. Parts of my area in Dublin Mid-West feel abandoned by the Garda, but from speaking with gardaí, they are also frustrated as they feel they cannot respond in the way they would like because of the lack of numbers and lack of resources. Strategies like this are all well and good but unless there is political will to resource our communities, then this cycle of psychosocial problems that our young people are experiencing will continue.
I acknowledge the work that the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, is doing in regard to putting together a youth justice strategy. I spoke to gardaí in several Garda stations in this regard and they acknowledged it was difficult during Covid to have meaningful engagements with youths. However, now that sports are back and they are liaising with organisations like the GAA clubs, the schools, soccer clubs, camogie clubs and other groups outside of sport, they are having conversations and supporting many of the youth groups.
I know the strategy is designed to provide a development framework to address challenges, as well as new and emerging issues in the youth justice area. However, I am concerned that integration in communities is key to its success. Garda youth diversion projects throughout the country are working well but it is difficult to get exact numbers on how many have been set up and are operational. I would appreciate it if the Minister of State could come back to me with the numbers on that.
In Limerick, Kilmallock has seen great success recently with age groups from 12 upwards involved in the Garda youth projects. Members of the Garda work with all stakeholders to ensure they have the best support for the young people they work with. There is, however, a massive shortage of youth workers in the Limerick area. The juvenile liaison officer does amazing work for young people who fall into the category of first offender, and works well with them.
Interestingly, all of those in the Garda stations that I spoke to referred to the isolation that many young people feel in their communities, with marginalisation and exclusion of those from certain backgrounds. For young people to be integrated into their communities, we need to be mindful of that. As I and others were growing up, we had peers in our communities who we looked to. If there were incidents or first offences or if a family member got into trouble, the first person people turned to was the garda. They could speak to the garda and that garda was able to relate to them, knew the person, knew the community, knew the families and knew everything about them. However, with the new Garda divisions, a lot of that has been lost because we do not have local gardaí in our areas. That goes to the resourcing of the Garda.
There is a massive problem at the moment with drugs in many of our cities, towns, villages and rural areas. We have seen that people are driving around in their big flash cars and they are even setting up businesses but they are drawing young people into this and letting them believe it is a life they can grow in. However, it is not a life they can grow in because they are going to be constantly watching their backs. These people are doing fierce damage to youths who are trying to get on with education or a trade. It is very hard for them to look at this and see them get away with it. That comes back to the number of gardaí we need on the ground to target such activity and to make sure that if people are involved in criminal activity, they will be dealt with. That then gives the other person a chance.
We spoke earlier about the discretion of a garda. The discretion of a garda in communities is huge when it comes to the first-time offender. Again, that needs to be looked at positively going forward.
Earlier this year, the National Youth Council of Ireland called for a national task force to assist young people to get back into jobs and education as soon as the economy was allowed to reopen and I fully support this call. There has been a lot of talk about young people. There are great young people in west Cork. Obviously, young people go a little astray at times but there are great young people there. I have seen it down through the years with the Garda youth awards, an initiative that was started up by gardaí in west Cork. Young people have won awards for the great things they have done in working with the underprivileged, working with the elderly and helping in so many good ways. There are truly great young people out there.
The best way to bring the best out of a young person is to look at the local garda, the community garda, and the way such people work in the local community. Some community gardaí in west Cork are second to none at bringing the best out of young people, and they have been down through the years.
The State has a lot to answer for, however. If a young person is living in rural Ireland, they need a car to get from A to B. As we have no public transport, there is fierce frustration among young people. Members of the younger generation need to be able to drive. All of us have seen at first hand the disaster it is to try to get a theory test and then to try to get a driving test. Our younger generation want to get up in the morning and go to work or to college but when they live in rural Ireland, where there is no transport, they are relying completely on other people to get them to where they want to go. That leads to savage frustration among young people, which has to be looked at in a fair way. We need theory tests and driving tests to be expedited to let these young people, who have suffered enough through Covid-19, get on the road. We need to let them get on with their lives, not that many of our students will be able to afford to buy a car, unfortunately, with the price of insurance, car tax and now, of course, the carbon tax that the Government is belting down on young people's backs and which is going to hurt young people the most.
The Union of Students in Ireland has said that students have been asking for the same three things for years. The first is affordable accommodation. We were outside the Dáil recently with students who showed Deputies, myself included, that some students have to live in tents to get access to education. We have to also get rid of the €3,000 college registration fee. Despite the three calls from the Union of Students in Ireland, who are the next generation of leaders, action from the Government is not occurring and, in fact, the plight of young students has got worse, with higher accommodation costs and lack of student accommodation impacting on all students this year. The entire situation is leading to an awful lot of frustration. Do not get me started on how badly student nurses were treated during the recent pandemic. It was not good enough by a long shot.
Earlier this year, the Government published Pathways to Work 2021-2025, which has actions across the Government to tackle youth unemployment, to increase access to training and, in particular, to progress apprenticeships, which need to be looked at.
We need to help young people a lot more than we have been to date.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, for giving us this opportunity to discuss the things we need to do to help youngsters.
In 1956, my late father started operating a school bus service to Kilgarvan National School. Since he gave it up, I have been doing it. It has given me great pride to see them starting out so small getting onto the bus or, as it was then, the school car and the way many of them have finished up - accountants, solicitors, teachers, you name it. You would be proud to have assisted them in any way back along the line.
What we are talking about is to do more for children. I suppose the main thing is to keep them occupied. You find that may be easier on a farm or whatever, where they all have jobs to do. It is very important that youngsters are allowed work. There is an obstacle that bars restaurants and hotels from employing 14-year-olds, 15-year-olds and 16-year-olds. We do not want to kill them with work or anything, but they would be all the better for it. They would be learning something - how to do the different jobs or whatever.
Sport is very important. I see young fellows who I brought to school a few years ago playing hurling at the weekends. They are fine men and doing a great job. You would be proud of them.
There are issues in respect of affordable accommodation for students going to college. A group of girls and boys from Killarney came up here outside the Dáil on Thursday of week last. They have to drive from Kerry up to Cork because they cannot get accommodation. That is a desperate strain on them to drive up in the morning before college and drive back down after it, and try to study, get ready and get out on the road the next day. That is very hard on them.
The other issue is that they are deprived of the opportunity to work during their holidays because they are not allowed to earn more than €4,500. It is very wrong to stop youngsters from working. If they earn a bit more than that, there should be no regulation stopping them from doing so. Whatever they earn at that age should not be counted when they are applying for the Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, grant. It is important to get fellows to work when they are young because if they go on after college and they have not worked a little bit, they certainly will not start then. It is very important that obstacle be removed and taken out of the SUSI grant equation. I appeal to the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, to look at the matter.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this important strategy.
Youth justice is something I have worked on for more than 15 years. In 2007, Emer Meehan and I published The Children Court: A National Study on behalf of the Association for Criminal Justice Research and Development. In it, we profiled the young people who were before the Children Court. I raise the 2007 study because it is the same 7% or 8% of children today who we know are most likely to become serious offenders. They are also the children most at risk in the State. They have a shorter life expectancy. They are exposed to violence. They are more likely to commit violent acts and more likely to end up in prison. They are the children most likely to commit offences but they are also extremely vulnerable.
These are not my concerns alone. The have also been articulated by people such as Eddie D'Arcy, who has worked in youth work for 30 years, and Chief Superintendent Colette Quinn, who has run the Garda diversion programme many years. These are two of the most experienced and committed people in Ireland in the context of helping children stay out of the criminal justice system and move into appropriate welfare-based referral pathways. I am honoured to have worked closely with both of them for more than five years on the committee to monitor the effectiveness of the youth diversion programme. Thankfully, both of those excellent people were on the steering group for this strategy. I am very glad that they were.
The strategy is welcome. What needs to be addressed, though, is implementation. There are things that we need to make happen. We have always dealt with this matter in the context of youth offending - in terms of crime only. I would prefer it to be looked at from a more hybrid health perspective, not just as a crime-justice issue. I would like it to be treated as a welfare issue. We need to change the narrative in the public mind, in the media and with victims. We need to be focused very much on restorative justice and ensuring that victims are brought into the process where we see that their needs are met way beyond their expectations within that process. When we do a good restorative process, victim needs are far better met.
We also need to look at vetting. We have a lacuna in the legal environment where potentially every child subject to diversion could be subjected to vetting down the road. The whole purpose of diversion is to give them a safe place - a clean slate - but we find down the road that vetting legislation has taken no account of the Children Act and those children go on to find, for example, when they come to apply to become a teacher or a social worker, they meet the challenge of vetting. These are issues because the alleged crime was never tested to the criminal standard because of the diversionary approach. It does not take into account their age at the time, including the fact that they have a lesser capacity. Why are we committing them to a vetting standard of an adult when the incident occurred when they were a child?
There are two other areas of significant concern. On the impact of social media on young people, the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998 is totally unsuitable. It was developed in the context of adults grooming children but it did not provide for developments in social media. It is not great legislation when one considers the issues that arise day in, day out. For example, one case I am aware of from my work in youth justice involved a boy and girl, aged approximately 12 or 13, who had a quasi-sexual encounter. To all intents and purposes, it was an exploratory. It was not an issue of grooming or coercive control; it was more a matter of a night out and an inappropriate amount of drink taken. Because of mandatory reporting - a whole other issue that needs to be contextualised - the matter was referred to the Garda. Of course, the Garda is mandated to investigate such matters. The young people involved accepted responsibility and they became involved with the Garda youth diversion programme. Let us say they both grow up to train to become teachers. The girl will be vetted with no issue. However, the boy's application will be held up as a result of this matter. It is a serious risk. Gardaí are well capable of deciding, based on risk factors, which cases involve age-and-stage behaviour and which are criminal matters. The existing legislation is too blunt an instrument and it means that children in the diversion programme are included in the vetting programme later on. It is done to a civil standard, not a criminal standard. People are being admitted to a programme based on no legal advice and admitting to something really because they fear if they go to court, they will get a conviction and then face challenges with vetting later in life.
We need to look at the 18-24 cohort. Neuroscience has taught us so much. We need to be much more attuned to this age in behaviour because we know this is the most at risk group. What we are finding is that we are picking up children at 16 in circumstances where they are already involved in very serious offending and living very chaotic lifestyles. It is way too late. We need to identify those people at a younger stage. I welcome the Garda youth diversion programme working with children at a younger age but we need to be careful about how that is worded and how it is approached. We do not need slippage - moving away from those children who are committing the more serious offences.
There is a strong link, as we know, between exclusion from formal schooling and moving into serious offending. When Deputy Stanton was Minister of State, he was very concerned about that. There is a review of the timetables and suspensions in the youth justice strategy, but I would like it to be much stronger. There is a very clear link between exclusion from the formal schooling system and those people who end up in the criminal justice system. The threshold is changing. The cohort that are the most serious offenders often move out of education at a very early age. Obviously, convincing schools to hang on to those young people is difficult. They may need extra resources to do that. At some point, the youth services in schools give up and hand the cases over to the Garda youth diversion programme. The services often withdraw. For example, one case involved a young person who was homeless and in drug addiction. Every service had already withdrawn by the time the child was 13. They only one that had not was the Garda. That is because it cannot withdraw. The strategy is about integrated approaches rather than only a justice approach. It is also about making sure that mechanisms are put in place to ensure that support is not withdrawn just because they have become the responsibility of the Garda youth diversion programme.
As I have said previously in this House, over many years the monitoring committee called for a social worker based in the Garda office because in many cases welfare referrals were made but were not necessarily followed up. My apologies, I think I am over time.
It would be a good idea if we could read material into the record so that we do not lose contributions that people want to make.
I have a few points. First, I welcome the human rights focus of policing strategy - the right to feel safe in your home and on your street but also the right to have a chance to progress from a very difficult start. Many of the young people we are talking about here have such a very difficult start.
I am worried about the decision to leave outcomes vague in this strategy.
There are 31 objectives and 63 actions, but outcomes have not been specified. We need tangible measures to concentrate the mind and move away from a focus on process to one on delivery. The outcomes measured could include recidivism, breaking the grip of gangs on vulnerable communities and instances of certain types of offence, for example, knife crime and drug dealing. The focus on process is overwhelming the targets that we need to deliver.
Wider community commitment to supporting the police is crucial. We do not have a good track record of having that type of cross-silo work. To see a senior officials group established whose membership is not yet specified does not give me confidence that Departments, for example, the Departments of Education and Social Protection, and other entities that have a crucial role to play, for example, councils, are not named and their responsibilities committed to. It leaves me concerned. We need clear targets, we need defined responsibilities given to leaders, we need assigned budgets and we need authority. If those are not there and do not get developed quickly, we will fall short.
I support the area-based initiatives in the programme for Government. That approach is taken towards health, and what is happening in the north inner city and can be replicated in other communities. There are numerous communities that need it. The Greentown initiative is welcome, but we need a wider perspective. This cannot just affect criminal justice arrangements.
We should not confound the community engagement and community policing that the Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, outlined with the focus on acutely impacted communities. They are separate problems and we need separate approaches.
I do not have the time to address the matter in detail, but I refer the House to how the former assistant Garda commissioner, Dr. Jack Nolan, outlined the intimidation and fear that was gripping the community in one of our disadvantaged areas in Dublin 17. Gangs have a grip on the community, undermining confidence and people's ability to progress. We must break that grip before some of the other initiatives can work. Dr. Nolan's focus on disrupting gangs, diverting people with tailor-made programmes acutely related to the community's needs, dividends, recognition and successful people acting as role models is important. We need to build on the community services that are in place, for example, Sphere 17 in my area, and many other similar services in communities that are acutely disadvantaged.
I wish the Minister of State well and congratulate him on this initiative. It is an important area. He needs to let this policy evolve and put more effective delivery and implementation techniques in place than have been initially outlined.
I agree with much of what Deputies Carroll MacNeill and Bruton said. Listening to "Morning Ireland", I heard the sweet, melodious voices of the members of the Loving Life Choir in Drogheda, which is made up of people from a community like the ones we are discussing. Among those who sang were Kara, Kate and Teagan. A former local councillor, Mr. Ken Ó Heiligh, is the person who organised them. It is from an area that has seen the most abuse, criminality and appalling violence. My town has suffered greatly in that regard, which is why the Geiran report must be acted upon and funded. I welcome the Government's decision to prioritise all applications that have gone through the assessment board from the areas of Drogheda in question. I also welcome the involvement of community members, for example, Community House in Moneymore, the Garda youth diversion project and the Family Resource Centre in Moneymore. Mr. Martin O'Brien, CEO of the Louth and Meath Education and Training Board, is providing offices to help a full-time officer work in the community and assist these people. I acknowledge the fantastic work that people like Chief Superintendent Christy Mangan, Superintendent Andrew Waters and the people on the ground have done. People have been waiting for delivery. The Minister of State has a job to do in the context of the upcoming budget. Thanks to the Ministers, Deputies McEntee and Humphreys, he has a Department that is committed to funding the Geiran report in Drogheda.
I fully support the proposal on the proceeds of crime going directly to the communities that have suffered the most. My colleague, Deputy Richmond, mentioned €11.5 million in community safety funding. A significant amount of that will have to be invested in Drogheda.
We are going the right way. Communities are being supported and their voices are being heard. The Loving Life Choir will record its song, "Another Day", soon. We need another day in this country. We need to hold our heads up and acknowledge and support in every possible way all those young people who are finding a way to rise above criminality and the appalling situations in which many of them live. There is a great deal of hope and many good things are happening.
We will be watching the 70 actions that were enumerated in the Geiran report on Drogheda. On radio, Mr. Michael Reade told me that he would be watching the budget. I know that some of my colleagues have experienced his probing mind. After the budget, we will be asking what exactly is being done for Drogheda and disadvantaged areas and what progress has been made on the Geiran report.
We are on the road to change and every Deputy on all sides knows what has to be done. Let us all step forward, and let the Minister of State and the Department provide the promised funding to ensure that, as with the Loving Life Choir, there will be another day and a good and bright future for all of the young people in our town.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on the National Youth Justice Strategy 2021-2027. I welcome its attempt to address youth crime in an holistic, multi-agency and proactive way, focusing on early intervention and preventative work. This type of work, although effective, is often overlooked and the Government has a history of only addressing issues after they arise instead of putting the supports in place to effect real and meaningful societal change that would prevent such issues in the first place. This Government, as well as successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Governments, has often failed in making proactive policy decisions, forcing a reactive approach to almost every area of policy. It constantly fails to consider the fact that steps and measures can often be put in place to avoid such issues and situations. The mica issue in my constituency of Donegal is a prime example of the detrimental effects of reactive rather than proactive and preventative policy approaches, as was the National Youth Justice Strategy 2008-2010, which focused solely on children who already had some contact with the criminal justice system.
Early intervention and preventative work such as family support is important. I support the strategy's focus on diversion, prevention and early intervention, underpinned by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Youth detention has a profoundly negative impact on young people's mental and physical well-being, education and employment. As such, I agree that detention should only be considered as a last resort. Literature on longitudinal health effects of youth incarceration suggests that any incarceration during adolescence or young adulthood is associated with worse general health, severe functional limitations, stress-related illnesses such as hypertension, and higher rates of depression and obesity during adulthood. Economists have shown that formerly detained young persons have reduced success in the labour market and educational researchers have found that detained young persons will face significant challenges returning to school after they leave detention. Of the children detained in Oberstown in the first quarter of 2019, 23% had a diagnosed learning disability, and those were only the ones who got diagnosed. There is credible and significant research that suggests that the experience of detention may make it more likely that young persons will continue to engage in delinquent behaviour and that the detention experience may increase the odds that they will recidivate. Congregating delinquent young persons together negatively affects their behaviour and increases their chances of re-offending. Detention pulls them deeper into the juvenile and criminal justice system and can also slow or interrupt the natural process of ageing out of delinquency. The negative effects are endless. At best, detained young persons are physically and emotionally separated from the families and communities that are most invested in their recovery and success.
A serious concern of mine, which is shared by the Irish Penal Reform Trust, is the suggestion that Garda youth diversion projects target children aged between eight and 11 years for preventative measures on the basis of their possible future criminal involvement.
I find this suggestion very worrying and I believe it would be neither an effective nor a welcome strategy. To label children as young as eight years of age as potential criminals is not only extremely damaging but could potentially serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy, causing a divide and resentment due to its accusatory nature, rather than an effective preventive measure. How can we create a society of mutual trust while forcing such serious and damning labels on children so young? This is the wrong approach and I urge the Minister of State to completely review and reconsider this strategy.
As the Irish Penal Reform Trust stated:
We are acutely aware, from both research and practice, that labelling children as ‘criminal’ or ‘offender’ creates additional risk factors for the child and can further drive them into long-term offending behaviour. We are further concerned by the inclusion of any initiative to support children as young as 8 within a Justice-led strategy, and we believe there are more appropriately placed social and educational services that could offer meaningful supports to these children and their families.
Although I agree we should be engaging young people at risk before they enter the justice system, there is a way to do this through communities and through schools without the need for targeting individuals or groups. The importance of positive participation in community life cannot be underestimated. I have seen in my community of Killybegs the profound impact community participation has on young people and how much this participation shapes them throughout adolescence. The Minister said "it takes a village to raise a child" and I agree with him on that. However, we need additional funding and resources for young people and youth work in my constituency and nationally. I strongly support the National Youth Council Ireland's #YouthWorkChangesLives campaign. I hope this need for funding is addressed in next week’s budget, as it is sorely required.
Most importantly, youth justice policy, like all policies relating to young people, should be informed by the voices of young people. These voices need to be heard and respected if we truly want to make positive and progressive changes in this country. That is vitally important. I wonder sometimes whether the Department of Justice is the appropriate place for a youth diversion policy like this one. The Department of Justice, in my experience, has focused on the protection of the State. It is not focused on young people and the need to protect them. That is what is vitally important. We should be devising policies to protect young people. I would like responsibility for this strategy to be moved to the Department with responsibility for children rather than remain with the Department of Justice because that Department does not provide justice. That is the reality. That point should also be taken on board.
I thank the Deputies for the great interest they have shown in this matter. We have had just over three hours of a debate and nearly all the speaking slots were taken up. Given the demands on Deputies' time with committees and other work in the Houses, the fact that so many Members came in to express their views is testament to their interest in youth justice and the issues underlying it.
I acknowledge the work of all those in our Garda youth diversion projects across the country: youth workers, family liaison workers and juvenile liaison officers in An Garda Síochána. The challenges they faced during the Covid period in continuing to interact with those young people who were coming into contact with the system were not easy. I had a good degree of engagement and conversations with those youth workers on the challenges they were facing. I acknowledge the great work they are doing on the ground. I also acknowledge the work my Department officials have done in bringing together this youth justice strategy and working with the various NGOs, experts and researchers across the country.
There are many similarities between the approaches to youth justice and community safety, which have been outlined today. Support, intervention and diversion are key aspects of both. As mentioned, there are many and very complex reasons young people are drawn into criminality and also why people feel safe within their communities. This means there is no simple solution to the underlying causes. What we as a Government hope to achieve is to build safer and stronger communities. However, that does not simply mean more gardaí on the streets. That is only one aspect of the approach we must take. What we are doing is moving back to the original concept of policing, which involves community policing, engagement and safety and not simply more gardaí to bang more heads together. Engagement with young people, in particular, in our communities by An Garda Síochána and supporting community groups is important. Policing is one only aspect of what we need to do.
As mentioned by the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, Ireland compares favourably with international standards on safety. We recognise, however, that for many in our communities that is not the reality of daily life. That is why the youth justice strategy and the community safety policy of the Department of Justice both focus on community engagement and community-based supports. It is no accident that the most disadvantaged communities suffer disproportionately from problems of crime and antisocial behaviour. While the community itself is an essential part in developing local solutions, that legacy of underinvestment and neglect must be addressed. Solutions to address the needs of the community should rightly rest with the community. It is our place in government to provide those necessary and proper resources and supports in the right place at the right time to address the needs of the community and support communities and young people across the State.
A large number of issues were raised by Deputies and while it would not be possible to address them all I will address some them. If Deputies want to contact me directly I will be happy to answer any of their questions. A number of Deputies asked who populates the various bodies that were mentioned in the Minister of State’s opening remarks on the strategy. Our youth justice oversight group is chaired by Deaglán Ó Briain, principal officer, while the governance and strategy group is chaired by Ben Ryan, assistant secretary general. Both are members of both groups. The membership of both groups includes the Probation Service, Prison Service, An Garda Síochána, Tusla, Department of Health, Department of Education, Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Department for Rural and Community Development, the HSE, Oberstown Children Detention Campus and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. There is a broad spectrum represented on these oversight groups to ensure they do not have only a Department of Justice focus. We have sought to adopt a cross-departmental approach unlike Governments in the past which have been rightly criticised for having silos in different Departments. What we have done here will hopefully become a template for future strategies in involving the various Departments and getting ownership across them for solving these types of issues.
Deputy Catherine Murphy raised the issue of the oversight group and its membership. I have addressed that. She also emphasised the importance of involving lived experience and that children would have a voice in what we are doing, a point which was also raised by a number of Deputies. That has been extremely important. The voices of children, both those in the system and those who have been through it and left it, should be heard in helping to engage with and direct what is happening. Ultimately, this is about changing those lives and establishing whether what is in place has or has not been effective, what has and has not worked and why certain strategies have not worked in the past. The experience of the NGOs has been greatly involved in developing this strategy.
Regarding the extension of involvement to eight to 12 year olds, I appreciate some Deputies have questioned why they are being involved. We have been very careful about this. We are not extending the Garda diversion programme to this group per se. The Garda youth diversion project is a specialised youth service. Where those youth workers can identify young people aged between eight to 12 who are at risk or heading towards entering the system, they can bring their experience to bear. However, we are very careful this is not bringing them into the criminal justice system and in ensuring there will be no stigmatising around this. They are not being brought into the full system. Where we have youth workers on the ground - unfortunately, currently there are not those other services that should be in place to do that role - they can intervene to help try to divert those young children from criminal behaviour. They will be known to those youth workers. Unfortunately, often their older siblings may already be in the youth justice system. We are handling and treading very carefully in how we do that. The youth justice strategy is very much a living document that can be adapted. That is why we have many oversight groups, whose membership is overlapping to ensure what we are doing is being done right and that there are feedback loops. For example, the researchers in the Research Evidence into Policy, Programmes and Practice, REPPP, project in Limerick and the youth workers are constantly feeding into the system. They are part of the oversight strategies to ensure that we are doing this right but adapting as we go along. That is why some of our programmes such as the Greentown project has won a European award. We can become a world leader in our youth justice strategies.
However, that can only be done through research and having the various feedback loops from those who are engaged in the system on a daily basis.
The question as to why we do not also extend other-use services was asked. That is certainly something that must happen and that we are doing as well, and it is why those other Departments are also involved in the oversight groups. Young people need to have those outlets. This is what we are trying to do through the antisocial behaviour forum as well, where we have tried to tackle scramblers and we are now looking at youth knife crime, which is very serious. We are trying to find ways to put supports into the communities as well so those young people can have other youth services and not simply those involving the criminal justice system. I have had engagement with the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, to try to unlock any blockages which may also be there for early school leavers trying to access various training programmes. It has in the past been a requirement that an applicant have junior certificate maths to do an apprenticeship, for example, but many young school leavers do not have it because they left before they did the junior certificate. Thus when they get back onto the right path, if you like, and a lot of intensive work has been done and they are getting some work experience, they suddenly find their path blocked. Little things like that can make a huge difference by unlocking those blockages for young people who are changing their behaviour and want to do apprenticeships and other training.
Deputy Lahart raised the issue of having young people's voices heard and I have addressed that.
Deputy Daly raised the issue of restorative justice. I absolutely agree restorative justice is a huge part of this. We have partnered with Ulster University to train the trainers around the importance of this and how to use restorative justice in a careful way to help young people confront their crimes. Very often, part of the problem is young people engaged in crime do not realise what they are doing does not begin and end with one night's criminal activity and that the impact for the victims can be ongoing and life-changing. Allowing them to understand and witness the impact of what they have done is where restorative justice comes into it.
Deputy Costello raised the issues around eight-year-olds to 11-year-olds. I tell the Deputy language like "scooping up" young people and bringing them into the criminal justice system certainly does not relate to what we are doing. I encourage the Deputy to engage with myself or the officials because language like that is deeply unhelpful.
Deputy Paul Donnelly touched on the issue of visiting teachers for the Traveller community. I will certainly raise that with the Minister for Education.