Seanad debates

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Community Development: Motion


3:30 pm

Photo of Denis LandyDenis Landy (Labour) | Oireachtas source

I move:

That Seanad Éireann:? notes the importance of initiatives taken in many areas by local authorities, voluntary organisations and business groupings to improve the quality of life in
local communities;
? notes in particular the existence of initiatives like that adopted in the UK by the Association of Town Centre Management (, whereby
town centres and city districts seek to achieve certain indicators to ensure that an area is safe for people to walk at night and constitutes a pleasant place to be,
with good levels of cleanliness and security generally;
? notes that it is envisaged that a similar initiative will also be piloted in Ireland and encourages the Government to support the wider use of such initiatives in
order to make our town centres and city districts more attractive for residents, visitors and tourists;
? notes that initiatives like these, together with strong levels of community policing and provision of community services can contribute immensely to improving the
quality of life for local communities. In light of the restructuring of the Garda Station and District network throughout the country, notes the increased resources that have been made available for Garda transport and asks that adequate provisions are made to ensure the continuation of an efficient and effective policing service to all communities including to elderly people living in remote locations;? notes that Neighbour Watch and Community Alert schemes should be initiated in rural areas where they are currently absent and that lapsed schemes should
be assisted to re-establish themselves through interventions from the Gardai;
? notes the need to preserve Garda numbers at a level sufficient to provide the most effective and efficient policing service to all communities across the
country, and the need for a full engagement with local communities in the delivery of that service;
? notes the commitment of An Garda Síochána to community policing and proactive engagement through Community Alert, Neighbourhood Watch,
business associations and other groups;
? notes the forum provided by Joint Policing Committees for engagement between An Garda Síochána, local authorities and communities on local policing issues;
? notes the considerable efforts underway to tackle crime through such operations as Operation Fiacla, introduced last year to tackle burglary around the country
and which resulted in the arrest of 3,538 persons and 1,924 persons charged between April and December 2012;
? notes the very limited powers of local authorities under Irish law to compel any actions on private lands, even where gross negligence or nuisance is alleged, and
notes that in England, by contrast, legislation gives councils power in particular to enter on private lands and to compel action on private lands; and calls on the
Government to consider the implications of giving powers of intervention to local authorities where poor management, negligence or nuisance is alleged to
have arisen on private lands;
? welcomes the adoption, by public services including local authorities, of initiatives which provide support to businesses, to ensure greatly improved
communities for tourists and residents alike; and
? calls on the Government to support the development of initiatives to improve the quality of life.

I welcome the Minister of State with responsibility for Gaeltacht affairs to the House and look forward to an interaction with him on this issue. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion this evening. The quality of life for all our citizens in all communities is a very important issue. This motion aims to ensure the Government remains steadfast in its efforts to support the front-line services and the development of initiatives that improve the quality of life for communities in urban and rural areas. It also addresses how community policing plays a vital role in making communities safe and secure. I commend the efforts of the Government so far to protect frontline services across the public sector. I particularly welcome the efforts of the Minister for Justice and Equality efforts to keep the thin blue line from becoming thinner when he confirmed there was no possibility of the force losing 1,500 gardaí this year, as was reported in some quarters.

My colleagues will speak on other matters pertaining to this motion but I will focus on the protection and support of community initiatives. These initiatives give people on the ground a voice and platform to raise their concerns and have them listened to. A well-resourced Garda presence is the backbone of every healthy and vibrant town or community. In October 2012, 170 new vehicles were purchased by an Garda Síochána costing ¤3 million. This is a substantial investment in the Garda fleet and will include mostly patrol cars as well as some unmarked cars and vans. It is a welcome investment and I hope this addition to the fleet will be spread out evenly across the country.

Rural Ireland faces many difficulties. Some of them have been well represented by organisations such as Irish Rural Link which questions the Garda's ability to carry out their role in rural communities as they have done for many years. These difficulties have led to a rise in the number of crimes in rural Ireland. We now see the theft from isolated houses of things like valuable metals, oil and diesel. There may be a perception among some criminals that rural Ireland is a soft touch. We need to work immediately on killing that perception and ensuring that people living in isolated areas in rural Ireland can feel safe in their homes. A great way of doing this is catching the criminal red-handed. I am glad to say that in my own area of Carrick-on-Suir, a spate of recent home heating oil thefts has been curbed by the local gardaí and a conviction for one of those apprehended has been achieved. There is nothing like a headline in a newspaper for deterring criminals from carrying out activities.

In respect of preserving numbers in An Garda Síochána, the Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan, openly admitted to the Oireachtas that he does not want Garda numbers to drop below 13,000. The Garda Representative Association says that any cuts to front-line services would be "reckless endangerment". The Government is very cognisant of this which is why I welcome the statement by the Minister for Justice, Defence and Equality about maintaining as many gardaí as possible in rural and urban Ireland.

A number of initiatives have been put in place over many years, particularly in the past number of years. I have been involved in these in my community. Neighbourhood Watch has been set up in many locations across the country, while Community Alert has been set up in rural areas. These two initiatives have been supported by the gardaí and Muintir na Tíre has also had an input into them. They aim to improve community safety, prevent crime, develop Garda and community links, increase public confidence in An Garda Síochána, foster a caring environment for older and vulnerable people and reduce antisocial behaviour, including graffiti and harassment. These schemes have worked in rural Ireland but there is a need to re-energise these organisations. As in any walk of life, organisations set up many years ago tend to fall away.

I will be brief as I know that the Minister of State is under pressure because he has to attend another event, at least he indicated to me that he was. I thank the Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy McGinley, for his response to this motion. This debate and motion provided an opportunity for us within the Labour group and our colleagues in Fine Gael to bring forward several issues of concern to us and to get clarity on how the Government is addressing these issues. I feel confident that as a result of the response from the Minister of State we will see positive responses.

At a time when crime in rural Ireland is becoming a major issue, however, I ask that resources be provided to local communities to upgrade these organisations and give them a fresh start. Another initiative in place in both cities and rural areas is the joint policing committees which were established under An Garda Síochána Act 2005 and set up in 2006 in 114 local authorities throughout the State. They have their own distinct perspective and input in every local authority area. The Garda has adopted a proactive approach in developing and maintaining links with the key stakeholders. The participants include the chairperson of the local authority, a Garda-nominated officer, local authority members, Members of the Oireachtas for the area and community and voluntary sector representatives. The relevance of the joint policing committees cannot be overestimated. They work closely with the communities they represent and bring forward many initiatives which help both to stem crime and create community involvement.

There is no point in saying otherwise but the current crime figures in rural Ireland suggest we are in a difficult place. An initiative introduced some years ago, Operation Fiacla, was established in response to an increase of 40% in burglaries in some parts of the country. At the time the GRA pointed out this increase and the need for resources for gardaí in rural areas. The operation was very successful, with 3,500 suspects arrested for crimes throughout the State of whom, to date, 1,400 have been charged. I call for further resources to be supplied for a new operation that would ensure that elderly people in isolated areas can feel safe in their communities and not be afraid to answer their front doors. I understand Garda numbers and districts have been realigned across the country but there are gardaí in rural Ireland. I would like to see these officers working on a day-to-day basis with the communities where they are based, through organisations such as Community Alert and Neighbourhood Watch. Even in a time of Government cutbacks it cannot be the case that people living in rural Ireland must go to bed with the fear of being attacked, their house being broken into or their heating oil or various other items being stolen at will. This motion, although it commends the Government for the work done to date, calls for further action and for an initiative or operation throughout the country that will meet head-on the issue of burglaries and robberies in rural Ireland.


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