Tuesday, 22 November 2022
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
An Garda Síochána
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this issue and the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, for being here this evening to respond. I congratulate the Minister for Justice and the Government on the publication today of the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill. That is landmark legislation that marks a new departure for policing in Ireland. I will focus on community safety. It is central to the reforms in the published Bill today. It talks about ensuring that people are safe and feel safe. For decades, sociologists all over the world have recognised that the fear of crime can be as damaging and in some cases more damaging than crime itself. It is not always clear that the fear of crime is associated with actual crime rates. It is associated more often with social and physical vulnerability factors than with actual crime rates. Some studies show that community policing where police interact even briefly with residents and business owners the fear of crime reduces significantly within such neighbourhoods. Lowering fear of crime enhances the well-being of residents and business owners. This is where the Garda Reserve has a huge role to play.
On 19 October 2021, the Garda Reserve Strategy 2021-2025 was published. I congratulate the Commissioner and his team for producing a strategy with measurable objectives and a clear timetable. It is an excellent document. It speaks to diversity and inclusion. In the foreword, the Commissioner talks about the delivery of a proactive high visibility policing which contributes to keeping people safe. That is why I would like to see recruitment to the Garda Reserve starting as soon as possible. After all, it is more than a year since the strategy was published. On 25 October 2021 I was informed in a reply to a parliamentary question that Garda management and the Government were committed to increasing the number in the Reserve to 2,000. A year ago the number in the Reserve was 439, now it is 389, so the numbers are falling rapidly. I understand there was a pause in recruitment while the strategy was being developed. The Policing Authority, in its Policing Priorities 2022-2024, sees Garda visibility as a key area in supporting and ensuring community safety and that one of the areas of measured success will be the implementation of the Garda Reserve strategy. In March last year, the Minister told me by way of a response to a parliamentary question that recruitment to the Garda Reserve would be launched later in 2022. On 24 May last, the Minister told me it was anticipated that a recruitment process would be launched in late 2022 or early 2023, predicated with the Public Appointments Service, PAS, as to the timetable for the recruitment process. On 20 October last, I was informed that a new recruitment campaign would be formed in the second half of next year, that is, 2023. That will be almost two years since the excellent strategy on the Garda Reserve was published. I think that is too far in the future. My purpose here this evening, while of course recognising the exclusive responsibility with the Garda Commissioner for the recruitment, training and deployment of Garda members and members of the Garda Reserve, is to respectfully request that the recruitment campaign for the Garda Reserve begin early in 2023 as originally anticipated. The Garda Reserve has a great range of functions laid down in legislation. We actually debated this quite a number of years ago. I was here at the time. The Houses saw the value and importance of the Reserve, and that is why I believe that putting off the recruitment process until this time next year is too far away. I would like to see it starting in the new year. The more visibility we have on the streets of people in Garda uniforms, the better. It helps the Garda. There are people who want to be part of the Garda Reserve and give back to the community by being part of it. The Commissioner recognises that in the strategy. I ask that the Commissioner, who I hope is listening this evening, and his team, would take note of this and would work together with the Department to ensure the recruitment begins as soon as possible in 2023.
On behalf of the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, I thank Deputy Stanton for raising this issue in the House. The Deputy will appreciate of course that the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the allocation and distribution of resources. However, I can inform the Deputy it is anticipated that the Garda Reserve recruitment process will launch in the coming year. As the Deputy may already be aware, the launch of a new Garda Reserve recruitment campaign is a priority of the Garda Reserve Strategy 2021-2025, which is an important element of the Government’s plan to modernise and strengthen An Garda Síochána under the plan set out in A Policing Service for Our Future. The strategy is informed by an internal review of the Reserve and sets out key commitments including recruitment, training, development, deployment, governance and evaluation. A priority is the new recruitment campaign next year, on foot of which new reservists will be appointed for five years initially. The campaign intends to target a broad and inclusive range of candidates in keeping with the Reserve’s role as a visible form of community engagement. There is ongoing engagement between the Department, An Garda Síochána and the Public Appointments Service to ensure that the recruitment campaign is inclusive to diverse and under-represented groups with the intention of removing perceived barriers. An Garda Síochána recognises the Garda Reserve offers policing experience to a wide range of people from diverse backgrounds and communities. Fostering and increasing diversity and inclusion in An Garda Síochána will improve service delivery by harnessing the unique talents and life experiences of people from all backgrounds. I am advised that An Garda Síochána is utilising established outreach forums and recruitment campaigns in line with the organisation's workforce plan.
Consideration is also being given by An Garda Síochána to ensuring the Garda Reserve can serve as a pathway to future recruitment competitions for Garda members where individuals have a desire to progress on to that position. The strategy further aims to ensure that members of the reserve are fully supported by local Garda management and that the role is recognised and promoted throughout the organisation.
The Department of Justice is currently engaging with An Garda Síochána on revisions to the Garda Síochána (Reserve Members) Regulations, SI 413/2006 and governs the reserve ahead of the commencement of this recruitment process. The Garda Commissioner has established an implementation group and oversight committee to ensure the strategy delivers on its objectives. The Minister looks forward to working with him to increase the number of members of the reserve and realising its full potential as a valuable resource in visible policing and in providing a pathway to full-time membership of An Garda Síochána, including from minority communities.
I thank the Minister of State for his response. As a former Minister of State at the Department of Justice, I can see where this is coming from. I agree with everything the Minister of State has said. The only thing that is missing is a date for starting the recruitment, which the Minister of State has not addressed although it was the main point I made.
One issue I recognise in the Minister of State's response is the pathway to full membership. The reserve strategy acknowledges this when it states that the Garda Reserve provides an opportunity to experience a career in policing and may encourage some individuals to pursue a full-time career as a member of An Garda Síochána. The internal review found that while reserve gardaí have access to a specific stream during recruitment campaigns, the benefits to the individual and the organisation are limited. It goes on to state that the strategy proposes to examine the opportunity to develop the recruitment stream for reserve gardaí, taking account of their operational experience. Therefore, there is a way to achieve this.
For 23 years, I was a member of the Army Reserve, the FCA. We often lost the best and the brightest to the Permanent Defence Force, although I do not know how they missed me. They got a taste of Army life, they liked it and they joined up. The same can happen here with the Garda Reserve, which can be a pathway to full membership. We know there are challenges at the moment to Garda recruitment and that is another reason I would put forward as to why we should begin this as soon as possible. It would help with enlistment into the Garda.
I was previously told that we cannot have both at the same time but, with respect, I do not agree as that is to talk about two different groups of people. If we get people into the Garda Reserve, they will not all want to join the full-time police force, but a certain number of them, younger people in particular, may join up, get a taste of it and make a career choice based on that. If they make that career choice to join the full-time gardaí, the chances are they will stay there and make a full-time career of it.
I rest my case. I hope the Minister, the Garda Commissioner and the Department can work together and move on this early in the new year.
I thank the Deputy. I have listened carefully to his initial comments and it is clear he has been following up on this issue, which is close to his heart. He can see the benefits of the Garda Reserve and he has been persistently trying to follow up on when the recruitment campaign will start. The information I have been given is the information I have passed on to him, but I can pass on any further questions to the Minister.
I agree with the Deputy's view that this can lower the fear of crime. My experience with the Garda Reserve is that when we meet its members, it is a different experience from meeting more experienced gardaí. I certainly met people who did not look like they were gardaí and who came from different ethnic communities. I think that helps in building connections with communities. Part of the objective is also that if gardaí are understaffed in an emergency situation, they can draw on extra resources. It seems to be working in that way.
This can serve as a pathway to further recruitment. Clearly, it can act in the same way that an apprenticeship does in that members of the Garda Reserve can realise it is a career they enjoy, they can see the full-time gardaí at work and decide it is something they want to apply for. It allows a period of trial and testing. As the Deputy said, it is a similar experience in the FCA before people go on to the Army.
There is certainly a place for both. There is a place for people who are volunteering within their community, although we always have to make sure they are volunteering for the right reasons and there have to be checks and balances about that. There is also room for people who are full-time traditional gardaí and who are fully paid, and so on.
I understand the Deputy wants to know when the recruitment campaign is starting. The information I have is that it is starting in the new year. I will pass on the Deputy’s concerns to the Minister, Deputy McEntee.