Thursday, 21 October 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
89. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she will provide an update on the Drogheda implementation plan following the publication of the Geiran report earlier in 2021 with updated associated timelines; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51513/21]
Following the murder of Keane Mulready-Woods in Drogheda, the Government published the Geiran report, which is a very comprehensive document containing lots of timelines and recommendations on actions to be taken. I ask the Minister to outline, in particular, what is happening in relation to the Drogheda implementation plan. I wish to acknowledge the fantastic work done by the Minister, the Department of Justice, and locally, by the Garda. There has been an increase in the number of local gardaí of over 30% since that appalling crime was committed. There are also a significant number of cases before the courts. The criminal aspects are being addressed, but action must be taken on the social and community aspects.
I thank Deputy O'Dowd for raising the matter. I know he has put a huge amount of work into it. As the Deputy will be aware, the publication and implementation of the recommendations of the Drogheda scoping report are key actions in my Department's justice plan 2021.
I am grateful to the former director of the Probation Service, Mr. Vivian Geiran, who made over 70 recommendations in his scoping report on short- and long-term responses to challenges the community faces in Drogheda. This includes measures around crime prevention, youth services, drug addiction, education, infrastructure and community development. The recommendations highlight the need for improved inter-agency co-operation in the administration and delivery of State services in Drogheda, as well as the need to resource public services or provide additional services in certain areas, in particular.
In July, I obtained Government approval for an implementation plan for Drogheda. I also secured commitment from across Government that, given the manifest needs, there will be a special focus on Drogheda including, where necessary, Departments and State agencies prioritising funding applications for projects in Drogheda related to the Drogheda implementation plan. The implementation plan identifies the relevant stakeholders for each recommendation and outlines the next steps for engagement and delivery. I intend that the plan will be a living document and thus reviewed by my Department each quarter, with progress reports produced twice yearly. This will allow for ongoing engagement and consultation.
I can inform the Deputy that some very positive steps have already been taken, such as the provision of supports by the Department of Education to the three schools identified in the report, as well as funding provided by my Department to the Red Door Project to ensure the continued provision of the important services it provides.
At a local level, the Drogheda implementation board will be the core driver and co-ordinator of the activities outlined in the plan, while my Department will lead national oversight to ensure strategic direction, action planning and the delivery of the Drogheda implementation plan.
While I welcome the actions the Minister has taken and in particular, the prioritisation of applications through the implementation board to the separate Departments for the local community, there are problems and they need to be addressed further.
It is true that the Department of Justice has been exemplary in its commitment to change and its response to people through organisations such as the Red Door Project, as mentioned by the Minister. However, that is not universal. The difficulty is that the HSE has not engaged appropriately with the Red Door Project. Unfortunately, the needle exchange programme, which was provided by the HSE, ceased operation on 10 May 2021. Currently, no needle exchange programme is being provided at the Red Door Project and there are no clean needles available to people who need them. We have brought it to the attention of the HSE. I appreciate that the issue does not fall within the Minister's remit, as such, but people are most concerned at the lack of action and engagement on the part of the HSE. Action on the issue must be fast-tracked and needs to be taken now. It is not acceptable that the Red Door Project, which the Minister rightly and properly fully supports, is not getting the support it needs from the HSE.
I thank the Deputy for raising the issue. I am disappointed to hear the HSE is not engaging with the Red Door Project. Grants have been provided to the Red Door Project. My Department is engaging with the HSE on the provision of funding to the family addiction support network. I wish to assure the House that the whole of Government is committed to supporting the implementation of the plan for Drogheda.
I will raise the matter with the Minister for Health, as I am sure the Deputy will, because we want to see progress. I must say that good progress has been made. The Deputy has highlighted the issue on numerous occasions in this House and according to the latest figures from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, there was a welcome reduction in most categories of criminal activity in the Louth division in quarter 2 of this year, compared to quarter 2 of last year. The Deputy might be interested to note that as of 30 September 2021, the latest date for which figures are available, there were 396 Garda members assigned to the Louth division. This represents an increase of over 30% since December 2016, when there were 302 members assigned to the division. There has been a good increase there.
As I said earlier, I acknowledge the fantastic job that has been done by the local Garda and the Department of Justice. There must be improvement in communication between the HSE and the Red Door Project. Action on the part of the HSE speaks louder than words.
The other issue is that there must be community representatives on the implementation board. I have looked at the Dublin North East Inner City implementation board, which is in a similar situation to the Drogheda implementation board. There are two community representatives and a representative of businesses and employers on that implementation board. That is lacking in Drogheda. It was not a recommendation of the Geiran report, but I think it needs to be introduced now. Local involvement is needed at the top, because there is a feeling of distance from some community groups. They do not know what is happening and are not being informed by the implementation board through the local media as to what is happening. That is a deficit. The implementation board is aware of that.
We must push forward with it. If we had more people like the Minister and her Department working on this issue, we would be flying.
First, I wish to thank the Minister for her commitment to the future plans of Drogheda.
In fairness, Drogheda needs a bit of help and I am glad the Government and the Minister made a commitment.
A few months ago the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, and Chief Superintendent Christy Mangan attended St. Nicholas Gaelic Football Cub's open day to show the amount of work the GAA does in the Drogheda area. Whether soccer, Gaelic football or rugby, sport plays a major part. The Garda Commissioner and the chief superintendent made a commitment to the people of Drogheda that they would help to invest in these sports. Having been involved in sport myself, I can say that at least when people are involved in sport parents know where their children are. We have many new estates in Drogheda. One new estate in Drogheda has more than 3,500 people. Can we get more sports facilities and more sports communities in areas to help combat this situation? Will the Minister have a chat with the Garda Commissioner to request an update on what happened that day? It is in an area of Drogheda that needs help. I thank the Minister for giving a commitment to help combat crime in Drogheda.
I thank both Deputies for raising these issues. The Minister, Deputy McEntee, who will return on 1 November, is absolutely committed to this implementation plan for Drogheda. It is something on which she has worked very hard. I also acknowledge the work of Martin O'Brien, the CEO of Louth and Meath Education and Training Board. It has agreed to facilitate and support the implementation plan. The board is chaired by Michael Keogh, who is a former senior official in the Department of Education. The implementation board held its first meeting on 13 October. The next step is to get four subcommittees up and running. These groups will reflect the recommendation for subgroups contained in the Geiran report. The groups will include wider representation, particularly local community and voluntary groups as Deputy O'Dowd mentioned. The intention is that a first meeting of these subgroups should take place before the next meeting of the implementation board in November. Deputy Fitzpatrick is right that sport is absolutely essential. It helps young people.