Dáil debates

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Crime Prevention

9:32 am

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Gabhaim mo bhuíochas don Cheann Comhairle as ucht an ábhair seo a roghnú. Ní thugann sé aon sásamh dom an t-ábhar seo a ardú sa Dáil sa bhealach seo. Rugadh agus tógadh mé i nGaillimh agus tá mé thar a bheith bródúil as, ach ní féidir leanúint ar aghaidh ag tabhairt cluas bhodhar don drochiompar atá ag tarlú ar shráideanna na Gaillimhe le blianta anois. Tá sé éirithe níos measa le déanaí, ach níor tharla sé inniu ná inné. Tá sé ag tarlú de réir a chéile agus ag éirí níos measa le cúpla bliain. Chomh maith leis sin, tá teachtaireacht láidir ag teacht amach ón Rialtas nach bhfuil ag tacú leis na cúinsí ar shráideanna na Gaillimhe. Tá an Rialtas ag rá le daoine dul amach, bheith ag ól agus ag ithe agus ag baint taitnimh. Níl aon fhadhb leis sin ach is teachtaireacht lom atá ann gan an comhthéacs de na cúinsí eile atá ag teastáil. Tá an drochiompar ag cur isteach ar chosmhuintir na Gaillimhe agus níl sé sábháilte níos mó. Sin na gearáin atá faighte agam.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, for being here today. I look forward to his response. It gives me no pleasure to raise what is happening on the streets of Galway. I am a proud Galwegian.

I want to see it thrive in the most sustainable and inclusive way possible. Unfortunately, that is not happening at the moment and has not been for some time. The latest in a series of assaults, where a woman has sustained life-changing injuries as a result of a firework in her eye, is just one of the many that have happened. I wish her and her family the best of luck.

What I raise today is not one issue, but what has been let arise on the streets of Galway. For example, back in August, I wrote to the superintendent and the council about Claddagh, where I live, and the removal of barriers. I do not want barriers in or around my city, but at the time it was inevitable because of the crowds congregating and drinking openly, against the by-laws. The Garda was under pressure. In a sense, I have great sympathy with the gardaí on the ground, less so with management, let me say, in the time of Covid and a time where we have by-laws that are not being enforced. We are now in a situation where the headlines in the local and national press and on the radio are screaming at us. I have here a series of complaints, from people who are genuinely interested, saying do not let this happen to our city. Some of them are born and reared in Galway and others have moved in and adopted it. They are all very rational reasonable people who tell me they do not feel safe anymore. That is an appalling indictment of my city, Galway.

One thing to come from the Policing Authority report was the wonderful advantages of having viability around police on the ground. Mr. Justice Charleton talked about the visibility of the Garda and its importance. Unfortunately, gardaí are not visible. It is a reactive policy rather than a proactive one. I want to work with the Garda, I have the greatest of respect for the force and I want more of its members on the ground, but we cannot continue with a reactive policy. There are suggestions Eyre Square might be closed off. I would not agree with that. However, in the beginning, I was in favour of railings around Eyre Square, and still am, as part of a planning process, not as part of a reactive situation. We should have had railings from day one where that park was for everyone in Galway, closed off like the parks in Dublin, but the experts at the time told us that was not possible and that we were thinking above our station - I think those were literally the words used at the time - and now here we are with problems.

9:42 am

Photo of James BrowneJames Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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On behalf of the Minister, Deputy McEntee, I thank Deputy Connolly for raising this important matter. I am aware of media reports of a number of serious assaults that have taken place in the Eyre Square area in Galway city in recent weeks. I want to assuredly condemn these frightening physical attacks on people as they go peacefully about their business in Galway city centre. The Deputy will appreciate that the Minister for Justice is precluded from commenting on any live Garda investigation. Under Irish criminal law, investigations can only be carried out by an Garda Síochána, which then submits a report to Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP. The DPP in turn is independent in her prosecutorial function. However, I would urge anyone who has witnessed any of these public assaults who may have any information that would potentially be of interest to An Garda Síochána to contact the local Garda in Galway city. Reports can also be made through the Garda confidential line on 1800 666 111. Similarly, if anyone has been subject to an assault, please report this to An Garda Síochána without delay as the Garda is best placed to advise victims of supports.

The Minister is assured by the Garda Commissioner that Garda management keeps the distribution of resources, including Garda members and units, under continual review in the context of policing priorities and in the context of crime trends to ensure their optimum use. The Deputy may also be aware that Garda Operation Soteria, the national strategy for reducing assaults in public places, incorporates a pro-arrest, pro-enforcement and early investigation policing approach to these incidents. Operation Soteria specifically targets crime hotspots for assaults and public order in each Garda division and facilitates focused policing operations in these areas at appropriate times.

I understand a number of assaults involved fireworks. Part 6 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 gives An Garda Síochána the power to make arrests in relation to the possession of unlicensed fireworks. Penalties include a fine of up to €10,000 and up to five years' imprisonment if convicted of igniting fireworks or throwing an ignited firework at a person or property. The severity of these penalties demonstrate the seriousness attached to these offences.

The Department of Justice runs an annual safety campaign about the dangers of illegal fireworks. This year's campaign was launched on 22 September and asks the public to think about the impact fireworks have on others, particularly the vulnerable in our communities. The main message of the campaign is fireworks are dangerous and illegal and people should not be pressured into buying, selling or using them.

In addition to this campaign, An Garda Síochána’s Operation Tombola is in force to combat the illegal importation, sale and use of fireworks. Operation Tombola has both an overt uniform presence and a covert element, where appropriate, to disrupt firework related and other forms of antisocial behaviour. A key element of An Garda Síochána's community policing role involves ongoing, extensive Garda engagement with transport operators, and a range of regional and local operations have been put in place to address antisocial behaviour incidents on public transport.

The Minister continues to engage on an ongoing basis with the Garda Commissioner on all these community safety matters.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I thank the Minister of State for being here but in a ten-paragraph reply there is was zilch mention of community policing on the streets of Galway and what is needed. He tells me he cannot comment on a live Garda investigation. I did not ask him to. I did not ask anyone in the Department of Justice to comment. I am bringing attention to the danger on the streets of Galway. I do not want to do that but I am obliged to do so. This is not about fireworks, although a serious assault occurred and others did relate to fireworks. These assaults have been going on for quite some time. I am bringing to the Minister of State's attention now, which I do not want to but I must, the fact this has been going a number of years and is getting worse. In my opinion, it intensified with the message from this Government to go out and drink and be merry. The streets and the public areas were taken over in a manner that was not compliant with the Barcelona Declaration, which we passed almost 20 years ago, guaranteeing universal access to all our residents regardless of ability, with the motto in mind, "good design enables, bad design disables". All that went by the board. That is part of the problem.

The second part of the problem is the failure to have proactive community policing. There is one sentence in the reply that tells me the "The Minister is assured by the Garda Commissioner that Garda management keeps the distribution of resources" etc. under review. The headline in the newspaper two weeks ago was that the superintendent or chief superintendent - I may have the title wrong - said he was never reluctant to ask for more resources but he had the use of two or three trainee gardaí at the time. Trainee gardaí are a wonderful asset but they have to be part of an overall manned and womanned police force that is given a message that this behaviour is simply intolerable, we will not accept it and we are with you on the ground, muintir na cathrach, chun stop a chur leis. That is not what is happening.

This reply is not acceptable. I do not blame the Minister of State but, really, at some stage somebody has to come in to the House, put replies like this aside and say this behaviour is unacceptable, this is what we are going to do about it, that they will engage with the Commissioner and chief superintendent in Galway, and they will see what plan is there to stop this so that we can all live in safety and all enjoy our city.

Photo of James BrowneJames Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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Again, on behalf of the Minister I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. As the Deputy will be aware, the Garda Commissioner is by law responsible for the management and control of An Garda Síochána and for the effective and efficient use of Garda resources to combat crime and to keep our communities safe. The Deputy will appreciate the Minister for Justice is unable as a matter of law to intervene in these independent operational matters.

On the designation of gardaí as community gardaí, we are lucky to have a community-based police force in this country but the designation of gardaí as community gardaí is a matter for the chief superintendent. I cannot comment on anything the chief superintendent may have said on the distribution of gardaí between himself and the Garda Commissioner, but what I can say is this Government is committed to ensuring there is strong visible policing in our local communities. Budget 2022 reflects this commitment with an unprecedented allocation of more than €2 billion in Garda funding in the coming year. This funding will include a provision for recruitment of an additional 800 gardaí and an additional 400 Garda staff. That will be part of the process of gardaí being freed-up from administration to carry out operational roles. That has been ongoing and more than 800 gardaí have already been released from administrative roles back into operational ones. This increase in the number of members of An Garda Síochána and staff will deliver significant growth in operational policing hours nationwide and improve services to the public generally.

I am informed that 323 gardaí were assigned to the Galway district as of September this year, which is an increase of almost 24% since December 2015 when 261 Garda members were assigned to the stations in the district. I am further informed that there are seven Garda stations in the district compared to five in 2015. I understand that 23 community gardaí are assigned to the Galway district compared to 14 in December 2015, which is an increase of 64%.

Finally, I welcome the budget 2022 allocation of €2 million to the community safety innovation fund and €6.7 million in support of the youth justice strategy. This funding will support local communities in addressing those local needs as well.

Sitting suspended at 9.51 a.m. and resumed at 10 a.m.