Thursday, 25 November 2021
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
I ask the Minister for Justice if she or the Government has any plans to establish a transport police service and if she will make a statement on the matter. For many years now, this has been called for by the travelling public, particularly those in urban areas where there is much antisocial behaviour on trains, the DART and the Luas, as well as at depots and stations, and people may feel threatened. It is also a major problem for staff and we know trade unions have called for this as well. Will the Minister enlighten the Dáil in this respect?
I thank Deputy Kenny for raising this matter. I fully appreciate the concerns raised by people, including members of the public and those working in public transport systems and specifically those who must deal with antisocial behaviour and criminal activity. If we are honest, we have probably all seen videos and various recordings circulating throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly the past few months, of really unacceptable behaviour. People's health is being put at risk at well. It is essential that people feel safe and are safe when they take public transport or use any type of transport across the country.
As the Deputy may be aware, Garda management engages extensively with transport operators, including the National Transport Authority, Irish Rail, taking in DART and InterCity rail, and Transdev Ireland, which operates the Luas. It does so to try to provide a high-visibility presence on public transport through a co-ordinated approach. I am informed by the Garda authorities that a range of regional and local operations have been put in place to try to prevent and detect the criminal activity and antisocial behaviour on public transport we have seen more often in recent times. For example, Operation Twin Track was a community engagement and rail safety policing initiative conducted by the Garda, in partnership with other public transportation stakeholders, with the sole purpose of providing high-visibility policing of rail and light rail transport within the Dublin metropolitan region and nationwide, and to deliver crime prevention advice.
The multi-agency review was conducted to examine the effectiveness of this operation and it was agreed that An Garda Síochána will continue to proactively engage with public transportation stakeholders and providers to try to conduct further similar operations. I hope we will see that expand beyond the Dublin metropolitan region. I have been advised by the Garda authorities that each chief superintendent in Dublin has put in place a dedicated policing plan to tackle antisocial behaviour on public transport. Gardaí are conducting both overt and covert patrols of various public transport networks to address incidents of antisocial behaviour or any other offences.
A number of operations have taken place across the Dublin metropolitan region, including during the recent Hallowe'en period, involving high-visibility patrols of public transport on Dublin Bus, Luas and DART services to prevent and detect incidents of antisocial behaviour. Much work is being done already. I commend the Garda on the work that has been done.
I echo that sentiment; we must commend the Garda on the work done in respect of this. However, the reality is that many passengers feel abandoned and unsafe when they travel on our public transport systems. The National Bus and Rail Union has basically stated this type of service must be provided and spoken about taking industrial action if something is not done because it believes that many of its members are often under threat and many have received physical injuries as a result. It is the same position with the travelling public. It is over a month since The Irish Times featured a report with testimonials from many people who travelled on our bus and train systems, including the DART and Luas. They spoke about open drug dealing and people displaying threatening behaviour, leaving passengers feeling completely abandoned and isolated on the service.
Most people share my feeling that the answer to this is to have in place a proper public police service dedicated to the transport services. It should be put in place by An Garda Síochána as a unit of the Garda. Perhaps it could happen in the Dublin area as a pilot before being implemented throughout the country.
It goes without saying that whether it is people hopping on a bus to go to a local town, students going to college or somebody going to Dublin for a day out, there should not be an issue with people feeling unsafe on public transport. That is well understood within An Garda Síochána. The Garda have been proactive in recent times, with engagement not just within Dublin but in various regions. We have seen a number of charges arising specifically from Garda actions, either for public order incidents, antisocial behaviour or more serious offences.
Currently, there is no proposal to establish a specific unit. At the same time, the Garda Commissioner will always keep these matters under review. It is important to continue the work being done, which is effective. If the problem escalates or continues to disimprove, I am sure the Garda Commissioner will take that on board. Significant work is going into trying to ensure our public transport is safe. It is already yielding results and we must continue to work with the Garda and public services on rail lines and elsewhere to ensure they are supported in what they are doing. Everything is being considered at all times.
I am disappointed that no consideration is being given to establishing a dedicated transport police service. Most other countries across Europe and many places throughout the world have that in place and it works very well. We also know millions of euro are being spent every year on private security firms doing this kind of work and they only deal with aspects of the issue. They do not deal with the broad range that An Garda Síochána could deal with because of its remit.
We are now at a stage where we are encouraging more people to use public transport because of global warming, our carbon footprint and all of that. Nevertheless, people feel unsafe in doing that. The Government should consider this very seriously and put in place a pilot programme in Dublin city on the DART, Luas and certain other areas. If that could be done, people would regain confidence in using these public services without fear. It would also give some sense of hope and confidence to the people who work in these services. A week ago, a man who works in the transport service in Dublin told me horrific stories about some of his colleagues receiving threats and abuse. It is long past time we took the bull by the horns and established a pilot programme for this. It would not cost much money. We need additional Garda resources for all kinds of things. We all understand that. In this particular instance, it is clearly something that should be delivered as soon as possible.
What is clear is that the Garda is very aware of the concerns. The sole objective in carrying out the work it has done and the engagement with the services is to ensure people travelling on public transport and those providing the service are safe. There has been engagement and pilot programmes in Dublin and this will reach to the regions. There is also engagement between the control centres to ensure we have access to good-quality closed-circuit television. There have been discussions with Irish Rail to ensure we can expand this service. There are many things already happening to try to tackle this matter. Again, if the matter is not tackled sufficiently and problems persist, the Garda Commissioner reserves the right to explore this further.
It is a commitment from me as Minister for Justice and the Government that we will continue to increase the Garda presence. We have seen a particular focus at the weekends at public transport stations, not just in Dublin but across the country. That is on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, when we know incident rates are higher. The more gardaí we have on the ground, the more patrolling can be done. In that regard, we have committed to 800 additional gardaí for next year with 400 civilian staff and in itself, with their redeployment, that will allow more gardaí on the ground. There is a great deal happening and we are very aware of this matter. It is always kept under review.