Thursday, 19 January 2023
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
I thank the Deputy for his question and the opportunity to discuss the serious issue of safety on our public transport network. Antisocial behaviour is a wider societal issue to which public transport is not immune, and I fully recognise that those who regularly use and work within our public transport network are most directly impacted by any associated incidents.
Safety and security on public transport are matters that, first and foremost, must be managed by every public transport company, in conjunction with An Garda Síochána, where appropriate. Nonetheless, both my Department and the National Transport Authority, NTA, engage regularly with operators on the issue, and the NTA has established a working group on antisocial behaviour which meets monthly with the operators to discuss developing trends and share best practice. Further, each of the operators have their own safety and security policies in place to deal with issues such as antisocial behaviour, and have introduced a number of initiatives in recent years to help combat the issue. This includes increased investment on security, with a more than 50% increase in spending on rail security in the past five years, from €3.7 million in 2016 to €6 million last year.
We have also seen the wider deployment of CCTV. The entire Dublin Bus fleet is fully fitted with CCTV cameras, with up to 11 internal cameras and three external cameras fitted on the more modern vehicles in the fleet. Radios on each Dublin Bus vehicle facilitate immediate contact to a central control centre. There are also text alert systems, and joint initiatives with An Garda Síochána, such as Operation Twin-Track. Additionally, as part of my Department’s sustainable mobility plan, the NTA has committed to develop and publish an annual public transport passenger safety and personal security report and implement measures where appropriate. The combined interventions implemented to date have substantially helped tackle antisocial behaviour. However, it will require ongoing monitoring and, therefore, I am committed to continuing to work with all stakeholders to ensure the safest possible travel environment for members of the public, and the safest possible working environment for the employees providing our valuable public transport services.
People will be familiar with the bus routes in Tallaght - 27, 65B and 77A - that were curtailed in recent days because of the antisocial behaviour, intimidation and threatening behaviour of, in some cases, mobs against other passengers and transport workers.
There have been some very graphic accounts given by individual bus drivers. In one case, a lady going by the pseudonym of "Debbie" feared she would be raped or killed by a mob. She said she still sees the person when she closes her eyes. It is clear that what the Minister is doing is not working. It has an effect on people using public transport. It has an effect on public transport services in individual areas. Good people deserve the services in Tallaght and everywhere else and it has an impact on attracting people to work in these services. What is the Minister going to do about it that will address it?
I absolutely share the concern for drivers who are being threatened and terrorised in that way in that instance the Deputy mentioned. It is totally unacceptable and all of us collectively have to make sure they are protected and safe in what they are doing. There was significant development with the Tallaght stakeholder forum meeting this week. That is very important. This best way for us to counter this is for local representatives, trade union representatives, Dublin Bus and An Garda Síochána to work together.
There have been additional patrols by gardaí in the area. We have arranged undercover gardaí on a number of the different services. Dublin Bus had to make its call in terms of the route adjustments to protect its drivers. We are all agreed that this is intolerable, however. The greatest suffering, as well as to Dublin Bus drivers, is to the people in west Tallaght who deserve to get the full services to which they are entitled. It is true in my mind that a co-operative approach in the stakeholder forum where we work collectively with public representatives, Dublin Bus, trade unions and An Garda Síochána together is the best way of addressing this issue.
The Minister is aware that party colleagues have raised this repeatedly. I want to point towards the private security spend of our bus and rail operators and the impact this has on driver recruitment. It is a huge challenge in deterring people from using public transport. The Minister points towards CCTV, which is an after-the-fact matter. It is clear it is not having the impact. When the State wants to respond it is too reactionary, but when it does respond, it puts gardaí on bus services. That is what it did in west Tallaght. That is the approach. I find it incredible that there is not a clear plan to address this problem that involves a public transport unit. We hear it from Fianna Fáil repeatedly, locally and nationally. There needs to be a far clearer and more comprehensive plan to deal with this. It is not just in west Tallaght; it is in other areas as well. We have raised it repeatedly. When the various measures are taken into account, it is clear that the deployment of gardaí on those services really has an impact.
If I understand Deputy O'Rourke correctly, it is a matter for An Garda Síochána rather than for a separate policing service. I agree with him on that. I know there are different views. Some people are arguing that we should have another completely separate police service for the transport system. I do not agree with that. I think it is best managed within An Garda Síochána, which is best placed with the immediate response system it has. I agree with the Deputy on that. The Garda manages that in terms of how many gardaí it puts on services. As I said, it is operating more patrols in the areas now where we have a particular problem and has also deployed undercover gardaí. That is the appropriate response. That is an operational matter for An Garda Síochána but absolutely we are supporting it. The Government will support it with whatever resources it needs as it determines how best to work with Dublin Bus as it does with Bus Éireann, Luas, Irish Rail and the other transport operators. I believe An Garda Síochána with its operational capability has the key people who must provide the protection our bus employees need.