Thursday, 21 October 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
An Garda Síochána
The Minister will be aware that Garda numbers have fallen for the past five consecutive months and are now at their lowest since January 2020. This is a cause of concern and annoyance within the force but also across rural communities.
Will the Minister of State give some figures on the number of personnel in each Garda station in County Longford?
The budget provided by the Government to the Garda Commissioner continues to increase to unprecedented levels, with an allocation of €1.952 billion for 2021. Budget 2022 provides more than €2 billion in funding. This reflects the Government’s commitment to making sure people are safe in their communities.
As the Deputy will be aware, the Garda Commissioner is by law responsible for the management and administration of An Garda Síochána, including the deployment of Garda members throughout the State. As Minister of State, I have no role in these independent functions. I am assured that Garda management keeps the distribution of resources under continual review.
I can inform the Deputy that as at 30 September 2021, the latest date for which figures are available, there were 139 gardaí assigned to stations in County Longford, an increase of 13% since 2015 when there were 123 Gardaí assigned.
Following a period when the Garda Training College in Templemore was closed due to Covid-19 restrictions, which constrained recruitment, I am glad to confirm that 450 gardaí will be recruited this year and the funding provided for next year fully supports the recruitment of Garda members and staff to resume in full. In particular, the funding announced in budget 2022 will enable the recruitment of 800 new Garda recruits and 400 Garda staff in 2022 - an additional 1,200 personnel. This increase in the number of Garda members and staff will deliver significant growth in operational policing hours nationwide and improved services to the public generally.
Furthermore, I am pleased to note that the first meeting of the new Longford community safety partnership was held on 20 September. This initiative has the potential to further support the work of the Garda in Longford through building on the existing joint policing committee. It brings together residents, community representatives, business interests, councillors, the local authority, An Garda Síochána and State services, including the HSE and Tusla, to devise and implement local community safety plans, reflecting community priorities and local safety issues. The Longford partnership is one of three pilots, which will run for the next two years. I am also delighted that budget 2022 provides for the establishment of a new community safety innovation fund.
The Minister may be aware that an unexpected but very beneficial consequence of the Covid pandemic was that trainee gardaí from Templemore were dispatched nationwide to support the Covid policing effort. This was transformative in County Longford because it allowed stations to move from a traditional roster of six ten-hour shifts to a more effective and productive roster of four 12-hour shifts. It greatly enhanced the visibility of officers on the street. The additional officers deployed in Longford throughout Covid points to the optimum number of officers needed to safely police the county. The number of personnel across County Longford needs to be augmented to approach the number we had when trainee officers were provided throughout Covid. I hope this can be taken on board by the Commissioner and the Department.
I thank the Deputy. I also thank rank and file and senior Garda officers who stepped up to the mark during Covid and showed their commitment to the local communities in which they were based and living throughout that very difficult period. I also thank the trainees who stepped up to the mark during the period when a slightly different approach was taken from the approach taken in the past. While the 12-hour shift roster has been very positive in An Garda Síochána, operational matters are for the Garda Commissioner.
Another 400 Garda staff will be recruited in 2022. There will also be an additional 800 new garda recruits in 2022 and we have ongoing additional recruitment this year. We have fallen behind in recruitment due to Covid and the restrictions imposed on the training centre in Templemore. I a sure, given the additional resources we will have, that more gardaí will be assigned to Longford.
I thank the Minister of State. I appreciate that the programme for Government has an ambitious target for the growth of garda numbers nationwide but Garda strength fell from a high of 14,500 in 2009 to 12,800 in 2014. It is great that we will have 450 new officers coming out of Templemore this year. I emphasise that a significant number of those new officers need to be deployed in rural Ireland, specifically in counties such as Longford.
I thank Deputy Flaherty for raising the issue of the number of gardaí in County Longford. I am aware that policing and protecting rural communities in the county is a hugely important matter for the Deputy, who has raised this matter with me on numerous occasions. The deployment of gardaí is a matter for the Garda Commissioner but I have no doubt that he will deploy additional gardaí to those areas, as necessary.
As a member of the rural forum, I can inform the Deputy that we are working on a new rural crime strategy that we hope to announce next year. This will bring together the various policies for the prevention of rural crime. An Garda Síochána are there to empower the communities in preventing crime. As we have seen with the new community safety partnerships, we can bring together all of the different elements of our communities to ensure they are protected from those who seek to exploit our communities and commit criminal offences.