Thursday, 25 November 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
The problem of antisocial behaviour is an ongoing one. I am particularly interested in and concerned about antisocial behaviour on public transport. I would be interested to know what initiatives are being taken to tackle antisocial behaviour generally, particularly since the Government came into office last year.
I thank Deputy Haughey for raising this important matter. I can assure the Deputy that the Government is determined to tackle antisocial behaviour. Our communities deserve to feel safe and to be safe and our three local community safety partnerships being piloted in Dublin north inner city, Waterford and Longford are designed to identify the issues causing communities to feel unsafe and to address them through a collaborative approach. I am very conscious of the negative effect that antisocial behaviour can have on the quality of life for individuals and for local communities.
In line with a commitment in the programme for Government, I established an expert forum on antisocial behaviour last year. This forum is considering the effectiveness of existing legislation and looking at proposals for new ways forward, including whether new powers for gardaí and additional interventions to support parenting of offenders are needed. A subgroup of the forum has recently been established to examine the issue of knife crime. This follows a previous subgroup which examined the misuse of scramblers and quad bikes. Everything we are doing in respect of antisocial behaviour is designed to identify whether greater legislation or Garda powers are needed but also the kind of supports we can put into the community to divert people away from carrying out antisocial behaviour.
The Deputy will be aware that the Garda Commissioner is responsible under the law for the management and administration of An Garda Síochána, which includes the planning and deployment of Garda resources in response to crime trends. I as Minister of State have no direct role in those decisions. I am assured however that An Garda Síochána continues to implement high visibility policing plans to address public disorder related issues and antisocial behaviour, with particular overt and targeted policing of public places at times when public order incidents and antisocial behaviour typically increase, such as bank holiday weekends.
In particular, An Garda Síochána commenced Operation Citizen on 22 October. This operation is focused on reassuring the public, residents, visitors, businesses and workers that Dublin city centre is a positive and safe environment. Particular focus is being placed on antisocial behaviour, public order and quality of life issues, assaults and high-volume crimes.
I thank the Minister of State. I am aware that my parliamentary question is a broad one. I would like to narrow it down to antisocial behaviour in the Dublin metropolitan region, DMR, north and specifically on public transport, especially the DART. Gangs on the DART can be very intimidating and threatening to our transport workers but also to female passengers travelling on their own, especially at night time. What is being done to address this problem? The Garda needs to liaise more with the National Transport Authority and Iarnród Éireann on the matter. More gardaí need to be allocated to a dedicated policing unit within An Garda Síochána to deal with this unacceptable behaviour. I am aware that ballots are taking place for strike action by some staff who feel very threatened by this behaviour. It is an ongoing problem. In recent months, incidents are becoming increasingly intimidating, threatening and aggressive. I would be interested to hear the Minister of State's thoughts on this.
I understand the Deputy's concerns. The distribution of An Garda Síochána and the role it is going to play is a matter for the Garda Commissioner and the chief superintendent within each particular area. I can advise that as of 31 October, the latest date for which we have figures, there were 781 Garda members assigned to the DMR north division. This represents an increase of over 15% since December 2016 when there were 660 members. I am also informed that there is ongoing communication between An Garda Síochána and the respective control centres and access to good-quality CCTV, which can assist the Garda when investigating serious incidents. In that regard, Irish Rail plans to install more CCTV cameras and to increase security patrols on DART carriages. A text alert system has also been introduced by Irish Rail to facilitate customers to discreetly report any incidents as they develop on rail services. Further to this, since the start of 2021 the Garda national public order unit has been deployed on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at times when antisocial behaviour and reports of public disorder are at their peak. This unit provides invaluable support and assistance to front-line gardaí in tackling antisocial behaviour and criminality on board public transport.
We are aware there is a problem in Dublin city centre but there is also a problem in the suburbs, particularly in high amenity areas, especially on public transport, during the summer but also at Hallowe'en and on bank holiday weekends, as the Minister of State has said. Operation Citizen was launched in Dublin city centre recently. Would the Minister of State agree that we need more high-visibility patrols, foot patrols and mountain bike patrols in areas where public order offences are occurring, as well as an increased role for community policing to tackle this problem? I welcome the Minister of State's remark that he has established a special expert forum on antisocial behaviour and I will continue to monitor that and await developments. I am also aware that the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland has something to say about this matter. What progress is being made in respect of the proposed new policing, security and community safety Bill? I think it was mentioned somewhere along the line. It should be brought forward as soon as possible.
I assure the Deputy in respect of proposed legislation that we are advancing all legislation as quickly as possible. The Department of Justice, the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and I have moved a significant volume of legislation through the Houses already. I am advised by An Garda Síochána that the focus of Operation Twintrack is pro-engagement with a high level of visibility at train stations and on rail networks. I am further advised that An Garda Síochána in collaboration with Irish Rail and Transdev Ireland have planned four national community engagement and rail safety partnership days of operation beginning on 8 December 2021. Due to an increase in Covid-19 cases, this event has been postponed, unfortunately. As this phase of the operation has not taken place, it is not possible to provide any measurable outcomes to the Deputy in respect of the operation.. I can tell the Deputy that every step is being taken, whether through antisocial behaviour measures, youth justice, legislation or increased resources. For example, funding has been provided for an additional 100 mountain bikes in the most recent budget, as well as an additional 800 members of the Garda Síochána. We are approaching this from every possible angle to address the antisocial behaviour that has been happening in Dublin.