Seanad debates

Wednesday, 28 February 2024

Community Safety and Investment: Motion [Private Members]


10:30 am

Photo of Robbie GallagherRobbie Gallagher (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I, too, welcome the Minister back to the House this afternoon. I also commend our Labour Party colleagues on bringing forward this very important motion. It is a very timely motion and, from a Fianna Fáil perspective, we are very happy to support the motion as outlined by the Labour Party Senators this afternoon. This is motion we can all agree with. Everyone wants safer communities, be that in this city or in any other city or, indeed, any town or village in the country.

Much reference has been made, and rightly so, to highlight again the Dublin riots which occurred back last November and which were truly shocking. I thank the gardaí for their bravery that night because it was a horrible scene. The way the gardaí conducted themselves deserves great mention and I commend them on it. I also commend other services, be they the fire services or, indeed, bus operators, all of whom were subjected to shocking behaviour. There can never be any excuse whatsoever for that type of behaviour nor should we try to create any excuse for it. It was insulting to the good people of the inner city in Dublin, most of whom would want no act or part in that type of behaviour. The Joint Committee on Justice, of which I and a number of other Senators are members, engaged in discussions in the wake of the November riots. The Minister for Justice was took part in those meetings. It was a very worthwhile exercise to take the learnings from that night and to try to incorporate them into new thinking, be it on the part of gardaí on the ground, Garda management, the Department or the Minister. A great deal of good work has been done. I look forward to some of the recommendations coming forward.

When it comes to Garda recruitment, it is fair to concede that we are at a pinch point in the context of numbers. It is also fair and reasonable to acknowledge that this situation has not been helped by Covid. The chair of the policing committee said recently that had it not been for Covid and the fact that the training college in Templemore was shut down, we would have an additional 1,000 members on the force. Such a number would be considerable and would go a long way towards alleviating some of the stresses and the pinch point to which I refer. Unfortunately, when numbers are tight, things like community policing can be cut. I do not agree with that. Whether gardaí are deployed to deal with traffic, be part of drug squads or engage in other specialised duties, it must be remembered that there are only so many officers to go around. If numbers are tight, certain areas have to be cut. Rather than cutting the number of gardaí working in community policing, we should increase it. Community policing is key to having safe communities. In order to have safer places, we need enough gardaí on the ground and they must be deeply involved in the communities in which they serve.

The recent recruitment campaign has been very successful. It is extremely positive that between 5,000 and 6,000 people have expressed an interest in joining the Garda. We look forward to new recruits going through the system as quickly as possible.

I mentioned that detailed discussions engaged in by the Joint Committee on Justice. Those discussions involved contributions from representative associations which made points about recruitment and, equally and more importantly, retention. There are issues of which the Minister and the Commissioner are well aware. I like to think we will see movement on the issues that cause members of the force to retire much earlier. It is all well and good having huge numbers joining the force. If, however, a certain percentage leave before they are due to retire, it indicates we have a problem. Following the discussions engaged in by the Joint Committee on Justice, everyone is aware of the problems and issues. I like to think we will make progress on those issues in the not too distant future. Everybody wants safer communities in places like Dublin, particularly in the inner city, investment in services and youth diversion projects. There are plenty of the latter but more are needed.

I support everything that has been said. We need more investment. However, I would like to see some old-fashioned respect coming back into play. People need to have respect for law and order. If that is absent, we are going to go down a very dark hole. I again commend the Senators who brought forward the motion. I am happy to support it, but more needs to be done both in respect of Garda numbers and investment in communities. I feel the Government gets that and that it will continue to invest.


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