Thursday, 4 November 2021
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
84. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the action he is taking to keep transport workers and passengers safe on buses, trains and trams given the worrying reports of threats, violence and antisocial behaviour on public transport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53879/21]
What action has the Minister of State taken to keep transport workers and passengers safe on buses, trains and trams, given the worrying reports of threats, violence, antisocial behaviour, and worse, on public transport? I ask her to make a statement on the matter.
I thank the Deputy for this question and the opportunity to discuss the very serious issue of antisocial behaviour on our public transport systems. The safety and security of both public transport passengers and staff, including arrangements to deal with antisocial behaviour, are important matters that, first and foremost, must be managed by every public transport company, in conjunction with An Garda Síochána, where appropriate. The NTA is also engaged with public transport operators regarding the issue of antisocial behaviour. My Department has engaged regularly with the NTA and the three CIÉ companies on the issue of antisocial behaviour and in ensuring the safety of passengers and staff. In their responses, all three companies stressed their strong and close working relationships with An Garda Síochána on these issues. Furthermore, while I am of course concerned to ensure that the necessary arrangements are in place to ensure the safety of all passengers and staff, the allocation of all Garda resources, including the manner in which Garda personnel are deployed, is solely a decision for the Garda Commissioner and his management team.
On the action being taken to ensure the safety of transport workers and passengers, my Department has been advised by Iarnród Éireann that a joint Iarnród Éireann-Garda focus on public order and antisocial behaviour has been in place since May of this year. A particular focus has been on the greater Dublin area with emphasis on the DART, the northern line and the Heuston to Portlaoise services. A new security monitoring centre, which has been in operation since January 2021, has played a key role in targeting high-risk locations with a particular focus on groups of youths with bicycles using the network to avoid Garda road checkpoints. For the months of June and July, 2,852 fixed penalty notices were issued during the joint operations for fare evasion, with 4,348 issued in the year to date.
There has been a noticeable increase in compliance and a corresponding reduction in antisocial behaviour. A new text alert service has also been introduced to enable customers to discreetly report antisocial behaviour incidents and allow security personnel or gardaí to respond.
I thank the Minister of State for her response. This is an issue that has been in the news in recent days and weeks. We have all heard first-hand the experiences of both passengers and workers. It is of serious concern for a number of reasons, not least the impact it has on the individuals affected. I know from speaking to workers and their representatives, not just in the transport unions but elsewhere as well, that they are not calling for transport police, like the airport police or the transport police they have in other places. As I understand it, they are calling for a division of the Garda focused on public transport, the same way we have the roads policing unit, the drugs squad or whatever else it may be. Is that something the Department has considered or will consider? The Minister of State has some experience in the Department of Justice.
It is important to note that An Garda Síochána engages extensively with transport operators and that a range of regional and local operations have been put in place to address incidents and issues that have arisen at specific locations. There is ongoing communication between An Garda Síochána and the respective control centres and access to good-quality CCTV can assist the Garda when investigating serious incidents. For example, an interagency operation was established involving gardaí in Dublin and Iarnród Éireann targeting incidents of graffiti and criminal damage to train carriages on the north Dublin train line. As part of this operation, gardaí conducted patrols of rail lines in an effort to target groups involved in this activity. Iarnród Éireann's annual spend on security has risen from €3.7 million in 2016 to an expected spend this year of €5.2 million, with up to 20 security teams operating daily. It is a case of An Garda Síochána working with our public transport operators.
The solution, which if effective might not need to be a long-term one, is visibility, presence and deterrence. I note that there are significant commitments in the programme for Government to the resourcing of the Garda to deal with antisocial behaviour, among other things. Another commitment in the programme for Government is the establishment of a national public transport forum involving all stakeholders and the commencement of section 17 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008. That forum would be helpful in dealing with this issue, as well as a range of other issues and we are missing it. When are we going to see it and when will it be populated?
To add to my earlier response, An Garda Síochána established regional quick-response hubs at Portlaoise and Thurles to support our intercity services in order to address incidents of antisocial behaviour on board our services, and this has had a significant impact in reducing antisocial behaviour and increasing compliance. The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, while standing in for the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, spoke to the Garda Commissioner and senior gardaí about the issue of antisocial behaviour generally and a new operation will be launched very shortly. As the Deputy said, we have secured funding in the budget for 800 new gardaí next year, which will put us on track to meet and beat our target of having a 15,000-strong Garda Síochána force.