Seanad debates

Wednesday, 28 February 2024

Community Safety and Investment: Motion [Private Members]


10:30 am

Photo of Rebecca MoynihanRebecca Moynihan (Labour) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the students from west Cork and Zoe from the National Traveller Women's forum who is here with Senator Flynn.

Across all communities and demographics, people are expressing a growing feeling of unsafety. People in working class communities feel unsafe in their neighbourhoods, the LGBTQ community reports increased levels of hate and related threats and violence and ethnic minorities and refugees are facing violence, discrimination and even arson attacks on places they live. Since Covid we have seen a remarkable uptick in the sense of unsafety that people feel in Dublin city. It feels as though nobody has control. In November, the city was set alight by a group of people, some of whom knew exactly what they were doing and others who saw a chance to express their rage and isolation. However, there is a deeper crisis. It is a crisis in how we operate An Garda Síochána at every level. Strategy, morale, and community trust are all on the line. It is at tipping point.

There is a crisis in morale in An Garda Síochána which has resulted in gardaí leaving the service. We do not have enough gardaí, we are not recruiting enough gardaí and significant numbers will be retiring in coming years, which means we will fall behind again. We cannot provide the kind of trust-based relationship needed for gardaí to maintain safety in our cities on those numbers.

The crisis was preceded by a refocusing of Garda time and resources away from community policing, which is the bread and butter of policing. Riots do not happen when you have good, solid community policing. Social cohesion and policing are not in conflict with each other, but they can and should go together. When I was young and growing up in Rialto during the height of the heroin crisis, the area was considered one of the worst in Dublin. It was no-go area. Trust in people was at a low, with the exception of one person. Anyone who grew up in Dolphin's Barn and Rialto during the 1990s and 2000s would know him: his name is Vincent. No area was no-go area to him. He walked the streets daily and said “Hello” to everybody. He knew what went on and everything that was going on. He was able to build up really important soft intelligence in how he policed that community. His focus was on building relationships with locals. This worked as both a crime prevention strategy, because people did not want to let Vincent down, and as a diversion strategy because he knew how to relate to people who fell into crime. He would work with kids to break the cycle. We need to bring back this kind of policing because it works and it helps bring about trust.

Visible policing also works. People feel safer. It discourages low-level antisocial behaviour and it gives a sense that somebody is in control. We do need feet on the street and a visible Garda presence in our towns and cities. Alongside this, we also need investment in local social sports and recreation for at-risk teenagers and a partnership-based approach in how we do this.

Policing priorities need to be focused on partnership and cohesion as a crime prevention strategy. That strategy needs to include understanding and compassionate law enforcement tactics. Without this, we sow division, exacerbate antisocial behaviour and endanger communities that are particularly vulnerable. We need to resource community safety partnerships, reintroduce small policing areas and increase funding for youth diversion programmes. Furthermore, we need to invest properly in community facilities, recreational spaces and facilities that enable cohesion in our communities in the long-term and give young teenagers somewhere to go. We need investment in the youth diversion programme. In addition to the Department of Justice, the Department of Education should play an integral role in the context of that programme. We should be allocating specific investment in at-risk areas and at-risk youth to ensure they are supported on a wider community level. It is not just policing; there is also the social impact that projects, including youth projects, can have.

I will give an example of where this is not happening. The south-west inner city is an area where the rate of crime has traditionally been. It is an area where many people go to prison and where there is a great deal of drug use. We have no pitches for people to play Gaelic games or football. There are two swimming pools in the area but they are both private and not open to the public. Every community and sports group either does not have any space of their own or struggles with inadequate facilities. Compare this with a private school on the other side of the Liffey that is surrounded by the deprivation of the north inner city but that is separate from it. That private school has a 25 m five-lane swimming pool. That is in comparison with two private swimming pools that people in my area cannot access. The school in question also has a rooftop Astroturf pitch. The pitch we have that is locked up and people cannot access out of hours. The school also has three badminton courts, a basketball court. a volleyball court, indoor cricket nets and a full-size floodlit rugby pitch. That sends a message to certain young people in our inner city communities who are at risk and cannot access facilities that are there on their doorstep, both in the north and the south inner city. It says: “We do not care about you and we will not prioritise you. There are resources that are there but they are not going to you.” It says to these people that we will criminalise them rather than support them.

I hope the Minister will support the motion. It is not just about policing; it is about something more than that. It is about: policing that is compassionate; bringing back community-based policing; and, fundamentally, investing in our communities and in the facilities we need to divert young people when we know they are particularly at risk and not let them go down a road that is very hard to pull them back from as they are criminalised further.


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