Dáil debates

Tuesday, 20 September 2022

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

An Garda Síochána

10:20 pm

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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First, I wish to condemn outright those who were involved yesterday evening and every other night and day in rallying robbed cars through the neighbourhood of Cherry Orchard. Thankfully, nobody has been seriously injured in this ongoing spate of criminal behaviour by youths in the area. As anybody who watched the lawlessness of the joyriders as they raced up and down the road in the housing estate yesterday evening, all would have been thinking that it was lucky that there were not multiple victims in hospital, or even in the morgue today.

This has been ongoing for a number of weeks and months. The gardaí in the squad car must have been very shook up because it looked as if the criminals were intent on doing serious damage to the car and injury to those inside.

It is a pity, however, that it took to ramming of a Garda car for the authorities to sit up and take notice. This has been, as I have said, ongoing for a number of months with little visible impact from the minor actions the Garda has taken to date. Only two weeks ago I raised this matter with An Garda directly in a local policing forum and I know that my colleague, Councillor Daithí Doolan, who is chair of the local policing forum and who was injured by one of these gangs when he interceded on behalf of a besieged constituent, has been contacting the Garda morning, noon and night when a robbed car is spotted rallying and endangering children in the area.

More gardaí and more Garda resources are required. One squad car is not enough for the whole of Ballyfermot. Two gardaí in a car going to tackle three racing, robbed cars and being cheered on by 50 or 60 people, is not enough. No visible patrols for most of the year is not good enough. Accelerated planning and delivery of the Cherry Orchard local area plan needs to happen, including additional resources and extensions for St. Ultan’s Primary School. There also is a need for shops. Approximately 40 years after this area was built, there are no shops, barbers, hairdressers, butchers, cafés or anything like that. That shows this area has been neglected and that neglect must end.

Photo of Patrick CostelloPatrick Costello (Dublin South Central, Green Party)
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As Deputy Ó Snodaigh has said, the scenes played out last night in social media were shocking for many but they are not shocking for the residents of the area who have been putting up with this kind of thing night after night for months.

Some of us local representatives have been working together to raise the issue by working with the community and with community development organisations. Excellent work is being done in the community but the funding is constantly on a knife edge. We need to be looking at how we can work with the community, which wants to see an end to this kind of behaviour. As my colleague has said, we need to see more gardaí on the beat and to see a higher level of community policing. Based on replies to parliamentary questions, only approximately 6% of the local Garda station's complement is dedicated towards community policing. This compares to a national average of 19%, to 13% in other areas, or even 66%, I believe, in Carlow. I appreciate that many of the decisions on community policing are made at a divisional level but they are made in the context of the wider manpower available. We need, therefore, to look at the manpower that is available to the Garda in order that its members can get out on the beat regularly and build up the relationships they need in this community to enforce the law effectively.

Communities like Cherry Orchard feel marginalised, ignored and invisible because this kind of behaviour has been happening. When communities feel so marginalised, this kind of behaviour is inevitable. We need to invest in these communities but we also need to show them that we care about them by putting gardaí on their streets to protect the community.

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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I thank both Deputies for raising this issue in the House today. This incident is very much at the forefront of our mind today and the incident referred to by the Deputies is completely unacceptable for those living in the local communities who have to put up with it. I agree with Deputies in condemning this in the strongest terms. What we saw was a blatant disregard for the law, for members of An Garda Síochána, who were going about their business but most importantly, for the people in the area who should not have to put up with this.

We will always support communities affected by antisocial behaviour and criminality. They are as appalled by what has happened as we are. We will also put supports in place to ensure that there are the services and facilities for young people in all of our communities.

Speaking from a justice perspective, however, and I will touch on what has been invested specifically in the Cherry Orchard area in the past year or so, but we have to do this in a comprehensive way in order that it is a Garda response but is also making sure that we have the other resources in place.

I have spoken to the Garda Commissioner and have asked him to look specifically at what more we can do to try to tackle and deal with this type of antisocial behaviour. To be clear, however, anyone who engages in this type of behaviour, in what were criminal acts last night with cars being stolen and with the types of incidents that were happening, must be punished and there must be repercussions at the end of the day. We cannot allow communities to live in this kind of fear. I also wish to convey my best wishes to the gardaí who were involved in the incident last night.

I agree that we are very lucky it did not result in a fatality, either of members of the Garda Síochána or members of the community, or even those who were driving the cars and causing the havoc we saw on social media. I would appeal to anybody in the area, as gardaí have been doing, to try to come forward.

I would like to outline some of the responses that have been happening because I do not think it is fair to say that nothing has happened in the past few months. I have spoken to gardaí following concerns that have been raised by Deputies in this House, including by my colleague, Senator Seery Kearney, and others. We have had Garda Operation Préachán in place since 20 August this year. This is a specific operation focusing on car-related crime and antisocial behaviour. Arising from that specifically, in the last few weeks seven arrests were made and seven individuals were brought before the courts and were placed under bail conditions, including curfews and other types of conditions. In the Cherry Orchard area specifically, responding to the concerns that people have raised and these types of incidents relating to cars, there have been seven arrests.

Separate from that, other issues have been raised in respect of antisocial behaviour. Local Garda management have tried to enhance their high visibility policing presence with the Dublin metropolitan region, DMR, public order unit over the weekends, although, as we saw, this incident happened on a Monday afternoon. That has to be kept continually under review with regard to where the resources are, when they are there and making sure they are visible. I have been informed by the Garda that there have been a number of meetings with community representatives to try to explore what more can be done, and also with regard to support from those like the armed response unit, the emergency response unit and the air support unit. However, we do not want it to get to a stage where these units have to come into communities, and it should never get to that stage.

The way to deal with it is the comprehensive response that I have mentioned, with more gardaí and resources. What I can say is that I am absolutely committed to increasing the number of gardaí. Templemore has reopened. While we have had challenges with Covid-19, we are now nearly at the stage where we will have 200 recruits in Templemore every 12 weeks. That will give rise to a significant increase in the numbers right across the country and in each area. The new Garda operating model will mean we have more front-line gardaí on the beat because HR, finance and desk work duties that can be done by civilians will be done in a more condensed way, allowing more front-line gardaí out on the beat.

In terms of dealing with more societal issues and supporting young people in particular, I want to highlight that in the last year €300,000 has been invested specifically in Cherry Orchard. There are two full-time youth justice workers, one part-time project manager, one family support worker and one early intervention worker. The CODY project just last year received funding of €62,000 to work with people involved in the antisocial use of scramblers, quad bikes and related crime.

What happened last night was unacceptable and it should not have happened. People should not have to put up with this. I believe the gardaí are doing what they can. Of course, we need to make sure they have more resources but we also have to look at this in terms of a holistic response and how we can engage with the community more. As the Deputies stated, it is about how we invest in community services and supports, looking at education and all of the various different preventative measures that are required.

10:30 pm

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I agree with the Minister that there is some good work being done by gardaí based in Ballyfermot. I was aware of a number of arrests, but those seven arrests have not quelled the issue and it seems to be continuing unabated. One resident wrote to me today who has set up a WhatsApp group with her mother. She wrote: “We have this group to notify and warn each other if there is a car out or an unsafe situation happening in the area to ensure we do not cross paths with it and can be safe coming and going from our homes.” That is residents living in siege and it needs to end. We all have a role to play and I accept the role of local representatives, youth services, schools and the like. However, there is an immediate need for a response from the Garda so this can be nipped in the bud, and it is a long bud at this stage. We cannot have what happened yesterday continuing.

Photo of Patrick CostelloPatrick Costello (Dublin South Central, Green Party)
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We have seen a special policing plan and a special accelerated response for areas like the north inner-city, and I believe this community needs that kind of response. As I said, some of the local representatives are working on plans around community development and around these issues, and when they are unveiled, we need to give them full support.

I would also ask the Minister to come on down and meet the local police and the local community, if she can. The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, was out recently, as was the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien, seeing the situation for themselves first hand. In fact, where the crash happened, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, had been standing there less than 48 hours beforehand. The Minister for Justice should come to the area and meet the local gardaí and members of the community. Let her hear first-hand from them and the other local representatives what can be done.

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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I would be happy to meet with the community and with members of the Garda Síochána. I have spoken directly today to the chief superintendent and I think it would be important to meet with the community. We have also engaged with Dublin City Council. I know a report had been done outlining how there can be greater development, not just in the Cherry Orchard area but in the larger vicinity, so we need to make sure that report and that plan is put into action. It is important that Dublin City Council, the local community, local representatives, the Garda Síochána and my Department come together as soon as possible to make sure we can advance those plans, so it is not just about policing and making sure the resources are on the ground. I know there will be extensive patrols, including the public order vans that will be there this evening, and that increase in resources will continue until this type of behaviour abates and until there is a hold on what has been happening, not just last night but over the last number of weeks. However, it is important that we look beyond the next few weeks and to the longer term. I am committed to working with Deputies and, most importantly, with the community to make sure the plan is not just for policing, Garda visibility and the type of work that is being done in the criminal justice system, but that the resources that are needed, the investment in education and the wider collaborative piece can happen. As I have said, I will be happy to work with colleagues to make sure that is the case.

Cuireadh an Dáil ar athló ar 9.58 p.m. go dtí 9.12 a.m., Dé Céadaoin, an 21 Meán Fómhair 2022.

The Dáil adjourned at at 9.58 p.m. until 9.12 a.m. on Wednesday, 21 September 2022.