Tuesday, 24 May 2022
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
An Garda Síochána
I thank the Deputy for raising the question. I assure him that along with the Government, I am particularly committed to ensuring there is strong, visible policing throughout the country. The budget provided by Government to the Garda this year is the largest to date, with an allocation of more than €2 billion for 2022. I have just come from an event in the Gresham Hotel to commemorate the establishment of the Civic Guard, which then became An Garda Síochána. The event focused on policing over the 100 years of the organisation. Core to policing from the start, in 1922, to now has been the really strong connection that An Garda Síochána has with our communities. In part, that is because it is an unarmed force. That, in itself, breaks down a lot of barriers. Protecting people and putting them at the centre of the work of An Garda Síochána has created that engagement. I was at the Garda College in Templemore last week, where 102 new members were attested. Prior to that 156 passed out. Approximately 50 to 60 will pass out in the next few weeks, and as of September, 200 will pass out every 11 weeks. In making sure that gardaí are visible, it is important we ensure there are more gardaí on the beat. We have increased the numbers in the last year or two. We will get to a stage, come September, where every 11 weeks 200 gardaí will be represented and sent right across the country.
Obviously, there are many ways in which they then can do their work. First, it is about ensuring they are spread out across the various different communities. That is a role for the Garda Commissioner. It is also about ensuring we have as many gardaí on front-line duties. In the last number of years, 800 Garda members have been reassigned to front-line duties because there are other gardaí who are coming in and doing work behind the desk and in the office. There is a budget of €147 million. A significant part of that is going into ICT, which allows gardaí to do their job more effectively out on the beat and to engage with people in a different way. Some €12 million has been invested in our Garda fleet, which means more gardaí out in our rural towns and villages.
There has also been investment in bikes in towns and larger villages, so that gardaí can be seen on their bikes as well as patrolling on their feet. This is what people want to see.
In order to get extra people on the ground, we need to tackle the issue where, if a garda is on a shift and if there is an arrest, for example, for antisocial behaviour, a car accident or whatever it is he or she has to do, approximately three hours of that garda's day then turns into paperwork. Those three hours are spent behind doors where he or she is not visible. To counteract that we need more gardaí on the ground. I understand that more people are being trained up and deployed but we need to ensure that they are covered in the towns, villages and rural areas around the county and not per head of population, as within the larger cities. This is because when gardaí are in a local area in a county, they have to travel up to 40 square miles to cover areas themselves and there may be only four or five gardaí on duty, if one is sick or engaged in paperwork.
We need extra gardaí and to double their number in our stations around County Limerick to ensure that we have a police presence at all times, where people are sick or are otherwise engaged with paperwork behind a desk, after having completed their investigations during the day.
The premise of the Deputy's question is how we can have more Garda visibility within our communities. This is number one about ensuring that we have more gardaí and, obviously, the more we have, the more we have in our communities, towns and villages, be it behind the desk, on front-line duties, working in the specialist units that are being developed, economic crime, online fraud, the new types of crimes that are being committed, domestic violence and, obviously, community engagement as well.
There are other ways through which members of the Garda can be even more visible when one thinks about the fact that our Garda stations and teams are also online. I attended my own joint policing committee, JPC, yesterday where our sergeant talked about the Garda's own Facebook presence, how the force is engaging with people on Instagram, how it is communicating what is going on in an area, and how people can contact them. There is a visibility online as well as a physical one in communities with people.
There has been the development of the community safety partnerships which is an important way in which all members of the community can engage with An Garda Síochána because it is not just our local councillors and representatives in a JPC, but it involves Tusla, our education providers, the HSE, local community groups and organisations, and minority groups. This is a way for people to engage with An Garda Síochána within the communities which, perhaps, has also not existed to date.
I thank the Minister. I appreciate everything done by An Garda Síochána. I see how dangerous the job is, in that 4,000 members of An Garda Síochána were assaulted in the past five years and some 243 members were injured after having been assaulted.
For us in Limerick to have a good Garda service but we need a headquarters. I informed the Minister last week that Newcastle West is without its headquarters. We were given a promise when the old station closed down in Newcastle West, with a population of 8,000 people in that area alone, but we have no headquarters now. These are now in two houses in Askeaton, where a Garda station has been operated from there. They do fantastic work there and, yes, the members are upskilling through the Internet and so forth, but they need a headquarters. We need a place where our gardaí can have a proper headquarters in order that the appropriate infrastructure is put in place.
I do not have a problem with what the gardaí are doing but have a problem with the infrastructure that is there to support An Garda Síochána. I would greatly appreciate anything that the Minister can do to help us get our Garda station back in Newcastle West.
I agree with the Deputy that we need to protect the gardaí and to ensure that when they go about their business and actively put themselves in harm's way to protect us, they need to be supported. We can do that in many ways. We can ensure that they have the stations and the areas to work in appropriately, that they have the technology and equipment that they need, that they have the cars and the appropriate training, which the unions have raised with me on quite a few occasions, and in respect of the capital budget which I will be finalising, hopefully, in the coming weeks with the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan. This will be a new capital plan which will set out for the next number of years what that expenditure looks like, not just in the physical infrastructure but the ICT also.
There are a number of ways in which we can support members of the Garda to do their job. Supporting the Garda and encouraging more people to apply is reflected in the fact that more than 11,000 people applied in the most recent competition. This was completely fantastic and it will allow us to have that rolling in of 200 people coming out of Templemore every 11 weeks.
What is also great is that about 40% of the applicants are women. The role is becoming more attractive to women even though it is a challenging one.
One also has a much more diverse application profile so that people need to see themselves in the gardaí who support and keep their communities safe. The fact that we have much more diversity and many more different backgrounds of people who were not born in Ireland who are now applying, is very welcome. That visibility, in itself, encourages people, particularly younger people, to engage with the Garda when they see themselves in the gardaí who serve them.