Wednesday, 23 January 2013
Community Development: Motion (Resumed)
Debate resumed on the following motion: 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 (purpleflag.org.uk), 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. -(Senator Denis Landy).
I am grateful for the opportunity to make a number of comments on the motion. Fianna Fáil would argue strongly against the devastating blow to the security infrastructure of the State. The underhanded reduction in the force to an abysmal low of 12,000 Garda members, combined with the jaw-dropping closure of over 100 Garda stations is nothing less than an attack on the Garda Síochána by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter. At the same time, we have an increase in burglaries, drug smuggling and serious dissident activity. The Government is going way beyond the EU-IMF agreement in slashing Garda numbers to their lowest level in over a decade and in dismantling the security infrastructure of the State by closing Garda stations across the country. Fianna Fáil has put forward a fully-costed alternative budget proposal that reopens Templemore to allow for Garda recruitment and keeps rural Garda stations open. Instead, criminals will be toasting the Minister's decision to dismantle the Garda Síochána.
I wish to focus on the set up and the difficulties in rural Ireland, even though this is a motion that embraces communities in both rural and urban Ireland. In the Mizen Head Peninsula, for example, where I live, Goleen Garda station, which is one of the most remote in Ireland, has been closed. The Minister has forgotten that three or four years ago an attempt was made to land one of the biggest shipments of drugs near Goleen and it was the local gardaí who apprehended the felons, who are now serving long sentences in Portlaoise Prison. Ballydehob Garda station on the same peninsula has been disabled and two banks on the peninsula at Ballydehob and Schull have been closed down. The peninsula is also on record as having the oldest population profile of any rural area, bar one community in Donegal which the Minister of State represents. It is also regrettable that in the last 12 months we have lost the Cork to Swansea ferry, which is having a very negative impact on people in west Cork who want to travel to and from the UK and on tourism in the area. Furthermore, Cork Airport has lost approximately one third of its flights in recent times, which is hugely damaging to the community.
The proposal by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to transfer the responsibilities of Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners to the Cork Port Authority is something which I vehemently opposed in this House. I succeeded in deferring this when it was proposed by the former Fianna Fáil Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, when I spoke for approximately four and a half hours in this House on this matter.
I have great respect for the Minister of State, Deputy McGinley, and my remarks are not directed at him. He has a great love, respect and, indeed, grá for rural Ireland. The threatened closure of many rural schools is another difficulty, as is the slow roll-out of broadband in many of the schools in west Cork. Another enormous problem is the mass emigration from our shores, which has probably never been as intense as it is at present. If one combines all of these elements, one paints a very dismal picture of the fate of rural Ireland going forward. I know of several GAA clubs in my own area where problems have arisen because of emigration. Gabriel Rangers, which is based in the Schull area won the west Cork junior football final two years ago for the first time in its history but a shopkeeper told me recently that 18 of the panel of 33 have now left Ireland, a situation that is replicated in many other areas. I am not saying that this is all the fault of the Minister for Justice and Equality. I am simply giving the House an overview of where we stand in rural Ireland.
At an Oireachtas committee meeting recently, attended by the Garda Commissioner, Mr. Martin Callinan, I focused in particular on the closure of rural Garda stations. Senator Whelan made a comment to the effect that they are just buildings but if there are no gardaí or buildings in places like Goleen, which is 40 miles away from the nearest large town, it indicates a lack of status for such places and provokes fear among locals that their local garda is gone for good and glory. When I questioned the Commissioner at that meeting he told me that, in his view, the closure of rural Garda stations was not an economic issue and that little or no savings would be made in that regard. That must be put on record. The reduction in Garda numbers is an issue of major concern, particularly when one bears in mind that approximately 2,000 members of the force are engaged in administrative duties. A total of six or seven Garda stations in my constituency have been closed. The fact that these were the most rural of stations in the area, which were serving an active community, is a matter of grave concern.
I mentioned the closure of the banks earlier. When banks close in areas which have large numbers of elderly people, some of whom do not have cars or access to decent public transport, many of them are inclined to keep money at home. The professional burglars out there who are staking out rural communities and individual houses are well aware of the fact that people are keeping money at home.
An elderly lady was attacked in her home in County Donegal by marauding thieves and in County Tipperary a priest had to disrobe when he had to chase a person who had attempted robbery either before or after mass. These appalling incidents are a retrograde step. It is important to send out the message that our rural communities are safe - I am sure the same would apply to the city - even with the diminishing numbers in the Garda force.
In my view the morale of the Garda has never been lower. The GRA and other representative bodies have expressed concern about the cutbacks in the Garda numbers, overtime and the supply of Garda cars in the community. It is important to acknowledge the tremendous work the Garda does in difficult circumstances. I am deeply concerned by the direction of policy being pursued by the Government, in particular the thrust of the Minister's policies. I concur with the view expressed by Senator Whelan who stated that Deputy Shatter had not the decency and respect to come to this Chamber. The Members of this Seanad may be viewed in terms of the famous film "Dead Man Walking" but Members expect to be shown respect by the Minister.
I intend to support the amendment tabled by the Sinn Féin Members because I think it is important to lay down a marker that we will not take lying down the cynical cutbacks and closures that will affect the safety and security of people in their homes.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Is é 2013, bliain na Gaeilge. I see in the Gallery Dublin city councillor, Mary Freehill, who works in the community. I welcome her to the House. The local councillors have played a significant role in local community initiatives. I welcome the debate on the Private Members' motion on community development, in particular the opening paragraph which states:
Yesterday we debated local government reform, putting people first. I did stress in that debate the importance of local community and local council input and the involvement of those involved in local development in community issues.
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;
In the UK, the Association of Town Centre Management has adopted a purple flag which indicated that town centres and city districts are safe and constitute a pleasant place to be, with good levels of cleanliness and security generally. Ennis in County Clare was the first town and Dublin city was the second to apply for this flag. I want to give credit to Councillor Johnny Flynn from Ennis who initiated and subsequently proposed to the municipal policy committee the Purple Flag initiative adopted by Ennis Town Council earlier this year. Ennis has gone through and completed the pathfinder process. Hopes are high in this regard. Dublin city, through the Dublin City Council and Dublin city BIDs programme, is applying through the pathfinder process as well to have the purple flag in the Dublin city area. I hope we will see many changes coming under the Purple Flag initiative.
The Purple Flag initiative started in England in 2009 and is run in partnership with industry, licence holders, retailers, central and local government, police and consumers. It is based on extensive research, market testing and piloting pathfinder projects. There are many groups involved in the scheme. There are two projects in Ireland, the first is based in Ennis and Dublin city is engaging in the process. The local council joint policing committees would be well placed to take this forward on a national basis, but obviously one must crawl before one walks. We will see how the first two towns get on and I hope the Minister will inform all of the local councils of this initiative, which is worth following. It is successful in 25 towns in England and I understand that four or five towns in the North are involved as well. The award is designed to provide recognition to places which demonstrate excellent standards in managing the area at night. We have heard Members comment on the safety of areas at night, but this initiative, driven by community and business, seeks to ensure that areas are visitor friendly at night and help to overcome any negative perceptions that may exist. A Purple Flag week is hosted in England and we may consider adopting it here in order to raise awareness of this initiative. We must try to replicate the success by promoting and expanding the Purple Flag initiative across the length and breadth of Ireland.
It is not easy to be awarded a purple flag. One must meet standards under the following criteria, safety, care, movement of people, transport, car parking and how bars and restaurants are managed in the area. This initiative is done in conjunction with the business association in England. In Dublin, the Dublin City Business Improvement District, BID, is the body which is leading on this initiative. It was Councillor Johnny Flynn and the business association in Ennis that were the first to start the purple flag initiative in Ireland.
The provision of community services and policing contribute immensely to improving the quality of life. Many speakers have concentrated on the Garda resources in rural areas. Community policing and safety has come to the fore with the highlighting of the drastic incidents in County Donegal where elderly people have been robbed in their homes. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, emphasised that cuts to Garda numbers and the closure of rural Garda stations meant that more officers would be on the road instead of behind desks. What is important is that gardaí will not be sitting in stations but will be engaged in front-line policing. I share the Minister's view. We cannot go back to the dark ages, we must move forward.
An Garda Síochána's Policing Plan 2013 outlines the Commissioner's proposals for the continued reorganisation and consolidation of the Garda station district. After the closure of 100 Garda stations in 2013, there will still be 564 Garda stations in the State. This will be significantly more than the comparable number in Northern Ireland, in which there are 86 stations for a population of 1.5 million or Scotland in which there are 340 stations for a population of 5.2 million people. We must be realistic. The essential point of the Garda Commissioner's strategy for reorganisation and consolidation is to make best use of our well-trained and well-educated gardaí and, in particular, to maximise their time on operational duties.
Until recently the Garda station network was essentially the same as the RIC network which operated in 1922, when the bicycle was the mode of transport. This is not appropriate for the policing needs of 21st century or consistent with modern policing practice. The Garda Síochána now has an "A" class police computer system, a state-of-the-art digital radio system and a transport fleet which is currently receiving significant investment. An additional investment of ¤3 million in the Garda fleet towards the end of 2012 has resulted in more than 170 new vehicles being purchased. These vehicles are currently entering into service. A further ¤5 million has been made available for the purchase and fit out of new Garda vehicles in 2013 because gardaí need vehicles to get around. The substantial investment will contribute in a significant way to the ability of the force to operate to the optimum benefit of our communities throughout the country. A previous Member spoke about Operation Fiacla so I will not dwell in detail on it. The Garda must be commended for the operation of the effective Operation Fiacla. As of 31 December 2012, 3,538 persons have been arrested and 1,924 have been charged as part of that operation. I commend the Garda for that.
Neighbourhood Watch and the Community Alert schemes are very important. The people in County Donegal stressed the importance of texting between communities and the local involvement in Neighbourhood Watch and Community Alert. They did not, however, stress the importance of the Garda station in the community, with the garda sitting inside. Texting and mobile technology the GPS are very effective. The Minister for Justice and Equality made the point two weeks ago that there is no possibility of losing 1,500 gardaí this year. There is no question of gardaí not being properly paid. In the past number of years, the average retirement figure per annum has been 400 so that will leave Garda numbers above 13,000. Costs are being streamlined in the force but this does not equate with poor or reduced service. In the context of effecting efficiencies, there is a broad range of initiative being taken and I compliment the Garda on the work it is doing and the efficiencies it is putting in place, which makes valuable use of its resources.
The motion "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;". I ask the Minister to consider this point. Councils in Ireland have their hands tied behind their backs. I ask the Minister to considering giving power to the local authorities. I ask him to ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to change the legislation. We should do what England does because it works there.
Tá céad fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit, an Teachta McGinley. Mar a dúirt an Seanadóir Keane, tá súil againn go n-éireoidh go maith le Bliain na Gaeilge. Is breá an rud é. D'impigh mé ar Baill an Oireachtais inné oiread Gaeilge agus is féidir a úsáid le linn na bliana. Ba mhaith liom an leasú atá ag Sinn Féin ar an rún seo a mholadh. Sílim go bhfuil go leor inmholta sa rún seo, ar nós an t-aitheantas a thugtar don obair mhaith atá ar siúl sa phobal maidir le cúrsaí coiriúlachta, srl. I ndáiríre, áfach, tá an rún ag damhsa timpeall ar na príomh-cheisteanna.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after ??between April and December 2012?? and substitute the following:Even though the motion is positive in many respects, many of which are worthy of commendation, in my view it is a great act of political ballet in that it dances right around the major issues relating to the resourcing of Garda policing in rural areas in particular. The Sinn Féin amendment addresses the issue of closure of Garda stations, the lack of resources and transport. If the Government is serious about community safety in rural areas, the issue of rural policing must be at the top of the agenda. The next generation in rural Ireland will not have anything like the public services which were available to their grandparents. It is a shocking indictment of this Government's attitude towards rural Ireland that this is the case.
??? welcomes that 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;
the Government?s recent announcement that 100 Garda stations will be closed and 14 rural garda districts will be scrapped and remotely managed from urban centres next year, is a substantial blow to the infrastructure of rural Ireland, and has caused great concern in rural communities;
closing stations and operating stations with one officer only serves to reduce Garda visibility in rural areas. Garda stations must be kept open and sufficiently staffed and equipped to allow for both in-station services and acceptable callout response times;
in rural settings, it is essential that Gardaí have sufficient equipment and accommodation that is fit for purpose including secure digital radio, satellite navigation systems, internet and email access and suitable transportation;
sufficient resources must also be made available to respond to crime phenomena such as the break-ins and attacks on elderly people, such as we have seen in Donegal in recent weeks. Such attacks inculcate significant concern in rural communities;
and that Seanad Éireann further notes:
that the closures and cutbacks come on the back of substantial cutbacks, closures and reductions in opening hours in rural garda stations during the course of the
Fianna Fáil/Green Party Coalition;
that both the Irish Farmers? Association and the Garda Representatives Association, have opposed these on-going station closures on the basis of their impact on community policing, and in particular in rural areas;
and therefore calls on the Government to support the development of initiatives to improve the quality of life for individuals and families across communities in urban and rural areas, and to reverse the cutbacks Garda stations recently announced.??.
One of the most obvious manifestations of the curtailing of public services is the running down of the Garda Síochána and the closure of stations. A total of 39 Garda stations have been closed permanently over the past year. We understand that some 100 more are mooted to be closed. People in rural communities are hugely concerned at the implications of this policy for them and for their communities, not only with regard to safety but also the resulting sense of isolation and insecurity. There is a very real perception that the curtailment of policing increases the likelihood of people becoming the victims of crime, as evidenced in the number of burglaries and violent assaults on rural households. I refer to a recent incident in my own home town where an elderly brother and sister were robbed not once but twice in the past six months. They were terrorised in the process. This is not an uncommon practice. It is not solely an issue for rural dwellers. I refer to a meeting in the Shantalla area of Galway city last Sunday attended by more than 150 local residents to discuss how to handle the spate of burglaries. I commend the fantastic work of the community policing officer who was in attendance. It is obvious, however, that the resources in the area are very stretched. These issues must be dealt with.
The decision to close Garda stations should not be based solely on the level of crime in an area. I believe this was the benchmark used by the Minister. It should be the measure of the success of a rural Garda station and the gardaí if the level of crime is low in a rural area. It shows the local gardaí are on top of the case, so to speak, that they know the people in the area who might go astray and have headed them off at the pass. I refer also to the role of the Garda Síochána in rural areas in dealing with cases of domestic violence and with accidents and deaths. It is important to have gardaí based in rural areas so that they can react quickly in times of need.
More generally, it is believed that the loss of such stations represents a weakening of the social fabric of such communities. The local garda plays a significant role as a community resource and as a point of contact. We all know from our own areas that a centralised Garda service means it will take more time for a garda to travel out to a situation, in particular if he or she is not familiar with the rural area and with the houses and people involved.
Sinn Féin is carrying out a significant campaign around areas of rural Ireland. We have met many people in different areas. One of the issues raised most frequently is that of rural policing. We met a group of people from west Cork who are campaigning against the closure of stations in the area. This issue was mentioned also by Senator O'Donovan. It is the view of many people in rural areas that the Department review which recommended closures was based on raw crime statistics contained and detailed in the PULSE system. In their view this is the wrong approach as it focused on crime detection rather than on crime prevention. Knowledge of his or her community and crime prevention are the main components of the work of a rural-based garda. The community garda will have built up a credibility and respect in the community. As things stand, gardaí are often not keeping appointments for community clinics as advertised in stations which are only served a few hours a week. This concern is evident all over rural Ireland. Everyday business, such as passport forms to be stamped, is delayed. I know of a person in a rural area who required stamped documentation for a passport for his child. He could not find a garda and tried to make an appointment with a garda in a local station. He was asked to travel 20 miles for an appointment at a specified time. There was no garda in attendance when he arrived as arranged. He was asked to travel almost another 20 miles to Galway city. This is an unacceptable and unfair burden on the community. A proper service cannot be delivered to people when they need it.
Garda transport is an issue which has also been raised by other speakers. In a number of cases, gardaí have either failed to respond or have taken an inordinate length of time to respond to reported incidents because of a lack of resources such as vehicles. Gardaí should be able to respond appropriately and in good time when called upon for assistance. Gardaí have told me off the record that they are being asked by their superintendents to use their own cars. For example, plain-clothes officers have used their own cars even though they are not supposed to do so. I know this is happening in all parts of the country because I have been told by gardaí. It is an unacceptable situation. It is also unacceptable that where a patrol car is not available to travel to an incident - as happened in my home village of Carraroe - the garda should ask the person making the telephone call to collect him. There has been an overall increase in crimes such as burglaries, an increase of 8% in 2011 and a more dramatic increase of 15% in the first quarter of 2012. Over 1,700 burglary suspects have been arrested, with more than 980 people charged between April and August 2011. The Garda Síochána attributes rising crime to cutbacks. There will be more than 500 fewer Garda patrol cars by the end of 2012 compared to 2009. I note the decrease did not begin under the current Government but it began in the time of the previous Government. However, the current Government has continued the policy. People in rural communities are seeing an increase in more violent break-ins, often targeting elderly people living alone, such as the recent barbarous attacks in Donegal.
There needs to be a more focused approach to the policing of rural communities. The 2007 report, Policing in Ireland - Looking Forward, the Garda inspectorate found that in many instances small rural stations were serviced by one officer answering to a district headquarters but mostly operating alone without ready access to supervisors, an official car or Garda IT systems. The Garda inspectorate recommended the implementation of a consistent rural policing model to enhance visibility and to make best use of Garda resources for serving local communities. This has never happened in any meaningful way. Instead, there have been reductions in service hours or the complete closure of Garda stations.
Ba mhaith liom an leasú atá ag Sinn Féin á chur chun cinn. Sílim nach dtéann an rún atá molta ag na Seanadóirí sách fada. Is léir sin ón gcaint atá á dhéanamh i measc an phobail. Tá súil agam go mbeidh Seanadóirí in ann tacaíocht a thabhairt don leasú atá déanta againn.
I second the amendment. I will keep my comments as brief as possible. Senator Ó Clochartaigh made the point about the use of the benchmark of crime levels rather than that of crime being prevented. I wish to take up the mantle for rural Ireland and to describe from personal experience the effect of the closure of Garda stations. The geographical spread of settlement in rural areas means that older people have become vulnerable to crime. The economic situation means that some people who are struggling and who are aware that the nearest garda may be 20 km away and will not be available to give chase, have been tempted to commit crime.
The closure of Garda stations has become a green light for crime. Although we have the Neighbourhood Watch scheme and members of communities are looking out for one another, there is a point at which one needs a Garda presence to act as a deterrent and ensure follow-up and sufficient reaction times. Comments were made in the other House about tweeting gardaí or finding them on Facebook but this will not mean very much for an elderly woman who is shaking with fear in her home when there is somebody breaking in downstairs. Such a woman cannot tweet or find the Garda on Facebook. If one's local garda is so far away, it raises serious issues.
In my county, three Garda stations, namely those in Bawnboy, Redhills and Stradone, have been closed. This has been a serious blow to the community and to community policing.
Tomorrow I will be raising in the House the issue of local bank closures. It is felt that when businesses must bring money further afield to lodge owing to bank closures, they will increasingly become targets for criminals. This is where a local garda in a small town could make a big difference.
In our amendment, we have highlighted the issue of resources. In rural settings, it is essential that gardaí have equipment and accommodation that is fit for purpose, including secure digital radio, satellite navigation systems, Internet and e-mail access, and suitable transportation. The question of transport has been highlighted on numerous occasions. Gardaí have had to request on occasion that a person who rang them should collect them to bring them to the scene of a suspected crime. In this day and age, that is completely unacceptable. In rural settings, as elsewhere, the importance of having Garda equipment and accommodation that is fit for purpose cannot be overstated.
I agree that gardaí deserve commendation on their work on community policing and supporting Neighbourhood Watch schemes. I note the establishment of the JPCs has been valuable, although I, like many, believe they could have more teeth.
There is a need to maintain the number of gardaí at a level sufficient to provide the most effective and efficient policing service to all communities. However, the number is simply not being retained at an adequate level. It is in that context that we are proposing our amendment. I call on the Government to support it and I welcome Fianna Fáil's support therefor.
I am glad to be able to speak on this motion. I will confine my comments to policing. It is important that legislators and policy-makers be very careful in the language they use in this regard. There are two issues at stake with regard to policing, the first of which is public safety, which is important, and the second of which is public confidence, which is equally important. Legislators and policy-makers have a responsibility in both of these areas.
I read the amendment and have heard Sinn Féin speak on it. I ask myself the reason for the amendment and the use of such language. Senator Ó Clochartaigh gave the impression that gardaí are not turning up for appointments all over the country. Senator Reilly stated elderly people are more vulnerable to crime. They might be more scared of crime but they are not more vulnerable because we know from the statistics that the rate of crime under all headings, apart from kidnapping and fraud, is consistently lower.
No. We will deal with facts here as opposed to supposition. The statistics indicate that people living in the greater Dublin area are more likely to be victims of burglary while the Border counties and the south west have the lowest rate of break-ins.
Giving the impression that crime is on the rise, although the opposite is the case, terrifies people who need not be terrified.
The Garda and policing patterns are changing. Senator Ó Clochartaigh said people do not enjoy the same policing patterns that their grandparents enjoyed. I am glad they do not because society has moved on enormously in the past 50 years.
What is occurring is an undermining of public confidence in the Garda, which I believe is doing a great job, bearing in mind that would all like to see more gardaí on the street.
Let us consider the crime of burglary, for example. Is it the garda on the beat or in the rural Garda station who solves and prevents burglaries? It is not. Up to June of last year, there was an increase, of up to 8%, in burglaries. In the three months after June, there was a decrease of 24%. Senator Keane alluded to this. The trend coincides with an operation called Operation Fiacla, through which there was an enormous number of arrests of known criminals actively involved in burglaries. This has resulted in a reduction in the number of burglaries in the order of 24%. Therefore, it is not the garda in the rural Garda station or the garda on the beat who is preventing burglaries; rather, it is Garda intelligence and the targeting of known criminals.
One wonders why Sinn Féin is speaking in the most inflammatory and terrifying language to the very people about whom it purports to be most concerned. We need to be responsible in what we are saying and speak calmly. There is an argument to be made regarding the closure of community facilities other than Garda stations, such as banks and post offices. Senator Reilly is correct that this may increase the risk of cash in transit being targeted. The purpose of my contribution, humble as it is, is to talk to the public confidence element and urge us to be responsible in what we are saying.
There is a campaign to retain two local Garda stations in a certain part of the country, which I will not mention. I was speaking to the very anxious individuals concerned. Fifteen crimes were reported in one of the stations and 14 in the other, yet the campaigners propose that a garda be present all night. Rather than having gardaí sitting in a Garda station in an area where there is virtually no crime, it is surely better to deploy them according to a more efficient model.
Sinn Féin said it has a major campaign under way. It speaks as if it speaks for the entire population in using its inflammatory and worrying talk. It is no coincidence that where the party's campaign is strongest, the fear of crime is greatest, although the statistics on the actual number of crimes do not indicate this fear is warranted. Let us be careful and not use every opportunity for political gain.
The statistics show that people living in the greater Dublin area are more likely to be victims of burglary, while the Border counties and south west have the lowest rate. One cannot make up one's own statistics, including on Galway. The statistics do not bear out the Senator's argument. It is in the Dublin area, as opposed to rural areas, that crimes are more likely to be carried out. To suggest otherwise is being dishonest and it is worrying people when there is no need to terrify them. Of course, we all have concerns about crime that are legitimate but the statistics show a yearly decrease for the past ten years. Therefore, we should be careful and a little more cautious in the language we use. Let us not scare the people we claim to represent.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy McGinley, whose presence we really appreciate because it has been difficult to get a Minister. I am conscious that there are a number of Ministers away. This motion falls between the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of the Environment, Community Local Government so we appreciate the Minister of State's presence very much.
My colleagues have focused most on policing, which is the subject of the amendment.
I am prompted to echo the words of my Labour Party colleagues on the need to ensure the continuation of an efficient and effective policing service to all communities, particularly for elderly people living in remote locations, as was mentioned earlier. That includes urban areas, where levels of crime are higher. Senator Gilroy was right to highlight that crime rates have fallen.
I want to focus on two specific issues that are dealt with in the motion but are not directly connected to policing. We have tried to reference a range of different initiatives and institutions that contribute to improving the quality of life in different communities. The first of these is the power of local authorities to intervene where nuisance is alleged to have occurred on private lands. Second, I shall talk about the purple flag initiative.
With regard to the powers of local authorities, my party inserted a particular clause into the motion which was included at the behest of Dublin City Council. I welcome Councillor Mary Freehill, who has been to the fore in raising the issue of private nuisance, to the Visitors' Gallery. The matter has been raised with me and with plenty of colleagues on doorsteps in Dublin. An example is when a neighbour's hedge or tree encroaches significantly on a particular individual to such an extent that it creates a nuisance. At present the local authority has no power to intervene to compel any action to be taken on private lands, such as the cutting back of a Leylandii hedge, or take steps to ensure that light is not affected, even where gross negligence is alleged. By contrast, English legislation gives councils the powers to enter private lands and compel action in extreme cases. The Labour Party motion calls on the Government to consider the implications of giving similar powers of intervention to local authorities here where poor management or gross negligence is alleged to have arisen on private lands. Dublin City Council has done a good deal of work on the issue and I have met the relevant sub-committee. I know the council has already made direct contact with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Department of Justice and Equality. It is an issue that falls between the two Departments. Strictly speaking, it is a matter of local authority powers and should come under the remit of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government; however, I understand the view has been taken that it could be more properly dealt with by the Department of Justice and Equality.
The motion simply and reasonably calls on the Government to consider the implications of giving such powers to local authorities. We need to be careful when drafting in order to ensure that Article 40 of the Constitution, regarding the inviolability of the dwelling, is not in breached in any way. It will be a difficult task, but the matter is a real issue and causes serious problems for people who feel they have little option or prospect of a remedy. They have the option of taking a private action in tort but they may not wish to do so against their neighbours. The motion refers to behaviour that falls well short of the sort of anti-social behaviour that has already been the subject of legislation. None the less, it is behaviour that can create a real disturbance to people in their everyday lives.
I wish to speak about an issue that is addressed in other paragraphs of the motion. We have called on the Government to support initiatives such as the purple flag initiative adopted in the UK by the Association of Town Centre Management. The website purpleflag.org.uk sets it out. The initiative was undertaken some years ago to encourage urban centres - both town centres and districts in cities - to apply for accreditation or recognition where they have significantly improved safety and public amenities between 5 p.m. and 6 a.m. The organisation is trying to raise the standard and broaden the appeal of town and city centres in order to present them in a positive light and encourage visitors from within the town or city and outside the area. The initiative has led to significant improvements in areas such as Leicester Square in London, which has secured purple flag status, but also on this island, in Belfast and Derry city centres. My party sees the purple flag initiative as providing an incentive to local businesses in particular districts to improve their facilities and work with local authorities and local police to ensure there is better safety at night, better litter collection services and so on. I have had contact with the Dublin City Business Improvement District, which works to improve the city centre area in collaboration with local businesses. It has already taken a number of initiatives to improve amenities in the city. The organisation informed me that it has applied for inclusion in the purple flag initiative, as has Ennis. It is actively engaged with the process and hopes to have a decision soon on its application. The initiative is an exciting prospect. Like the blue flag label for our beaches, the purple flag initiative will encourage and attract visitors to particular districts and provide a significant improvement in quality of life for local residents and visitors alike.
I commend the motion to the House. There are a range of aspects to the motion. It is not just about policing, although that has been the focus of the debate so far. My party hopes that the Government will consider our proposals, give powers to local authorities, as I have outlined, and support initiatives such as the purple flag initiative.
Tá áthas orm deis a bheith agam labhairt ar an ábhar thábhachtach seo sa tSeanad tráthnóna. Chomh maith leis sin, ba mhaith liom buíochas a thabhairt dos na Seanadóirí go léir a labhair ar an ábhar seo. Tá sé soiléir go bhfuil a bhí le rá acu ag teacht óna gcroíthe agus go bhfuil tuiscint acu ar na deacrachtaí atá againn maidir le cúrsaí coiriúlachta ins an tír i láthair na huaire.
I am speaking this evening on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, who is unable to be here due to other business. The Minister has also consulted with his colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, in preparing for the motion, as certain aspects of the issues raised come within the remit of his Department.
I wish, again, to comment, ins an chéad teanga eile, na Seanadóirí a labhair. The motion touches on a wide range of important and interlinking issues which have an influence on the quality of life in our local communities. At the heart of the motion is an exhortation to co-operative action and a pooling of energy and resources for the common good. At times like these, when we as a society are struggling to deal with the interrelated difficulties arising from the economic situation, it is especially important to make the most of our combined efforts. We need to develop appropriate strategies to support effective collaboration between State, business and community interests.
I am thankful that there are already many examples in different parts of the country of organisations such as the Garda Síochána and local authorities working in partnership with a range of local stakeholders to improve the environment for doing business, socialising and the enjoyment of civic amenities. The Minister supports effective communication between the Garda and business and community interests. He is aware of the effective engagement between the Garda Síochána and the Dublin business policing forum, for example, as well as similar liaisons between the Garda, local authorities, chambers of commerce, business associations and various voluntary groups.
Local authorities have been active in support of enterprise and business and some have been creative in identifying opportunities to support the business community. This is demonstrated by the publication during 2012 of the County and City Managers' Association's analysis of local authority support to enterprise and business and the local government sectoral strategy for economic development, Supporting Economic Recovery and Jobs - Locally. These have formed and will continue to form an important basis for all authorities to develop local strategies to support the Action Plan for Jobs and to step up their game in their contribution to national recovery. Furthermore, the action programme for effective local government, Putting People First, outlines a clearer and more enhanced role for local government in economic development.
The principle of collaboration is also a key feature of the role of the joint policing committees established in each local authority area. The Minister is happy to see that the motion acknowledges their importance. The programme for government made a commitment to build on existing community policing partnerships and forums to enhance trust between local communities and their gardaí. In the spirit of that commitment, the Minister initiated a review of the operation of the joint policing committees during 2011. He published a discussion document in November to broaden the consultation process and open the matter for wider consultation.
He would very much welcome the views of Senators and all other elected representatives on the role and functioning of the JPCs as part of the present review process. The review process will also need to take into account the broader developments with respect to local government reform which are under way and the implications of this reform for the operation of JPCs.
I have referred to a range of approaches to help improve the environment for business, social and community activities. It is important that we continue to seek improvements and in this regard the Minister is aware of the Purple Flag initiative which has been established in various parts of Britain and Northern Ireland. The Minister understands that plans are in train to introduce the initiative in this jurisdiction with Dublin city centre and Ennis taking a leading role, and accreditation also being sought in Newbridge and Dundalk. The Minister is informed that the Garda authorities are actively engaging with relevant stakeholders involved in this and other similar initiatives around the country. No doubt Senators will share the Minister's interest in the continuing development of such initiatives to help contribute to crime reduction, the management of the night time economy and community safety generally.
The Minister is conscious that many of the issues which this type of programme is seeking to deal with stem from concerns about public disorder and anti-social behaviour on our streets, particularly at night. While concerns about crime are fully understandable they should be seen in the context of a fall in most categories of recorded crime, including homicide, public order and assault over the past year.
Notwithstanding incidents of some entirely unacceptable violent behaviour on our streets, it is important that we do not create the impression that Irish urban centres are more affected by public order problems than those in other countries. Public order problems, particularly at night, can be associated with any major city or town the world over and, unfortunately, Irish towns and cities are no exception. The gardaí are using the strong powers available to them to deal with public disorder. In addition, gardaí implement a range of strategies such as the Garda youth diversion projects to encourage some of those who may become involved in anti-social behaviour to channel their energies in a more constructive fashion.
Dealing with anti-social behaviour, however, is not simply about policing. We know that much of the violence is fuelled by people drinking to excess and taking illegal drugs. This problem is not simply a matter of law and order. This is an issue which requires action by parents, educators and those who sell alcohol, not only in public houses, but right across the retail sector.
The Minister and the Garda Commissioner are acutely aware of the concerns about the incidence of burglaries, and also the corrosive effect the fear of crime can have on community morale. In particular, we are all concerned about the impact on elderly and more vulnerable people. In response to this situation, Operation Fiacla was set up by the Garda Commissioner and is particularly focused on identifying and targeting mobile gangs involved in burglaries around the country. Specific burglary related initiatives have also been implemented in each Garda region to target suspect offenders. In the period from April 2012 to the end of December 2012, Operation Fiacla resulted in 3,538 persons being arrested and 1,924 persons being charged, showing that the Garda Commissioner is effectively deploying the substantial resources available to confront those engaged in this form of criminality. Furthermore, the latest quarterly figures for burglary suggest that Operation Fiacla is having an impact when compared with the quarterly figures prior to its introduction.
On behalf of the Minister I can assure this House that An Garda Síochána is taking all available measures to respond to this type of crime and especially to the shocking incidents of aggravated burglary which we have seen recently. While clearly any statistical improvements are no consolation to those who have had to endure dreadful experiences at the hands of burglars, it is only fair to gardaí to mention that the most recent crime figures show that the number of aggravated burglaries had fallen compared with the previous 12 months.
Similarly, the Minister concurs with the sentiment expressed in the motion that community-based initiatives are very much strengthened by the deployment of strong and effective community policing. Community policing is at the heart of policing in Ireland. This point has been consistently emphasised by the Garda Commissioner and the Commissioner's Annual Policing Plan for 2013 highlights the importance of An Garda Síochána working with communities to tackle behaviour that affects the public's quality of life.
The Garda national model of community policing aims to build upon and enhance good community policing practice. It recognises the need for dedicated community police officers, of which there are more than 1,000 countrywide. It is also worth emphasising, as the national model does, that all gardaí have a role to play in community policing.
This enhanced community policing service is monitored closely by the Commissioner and his senior management team. The national model plays a key part in responding to crime by taking into account and responding to local conditions and needs. In this regard, gardaí continue to work closely with all communities to enhance community safety through a wide range of local fora such as Community Alert and Neighbourhood Watch. The Minister is pleased that the motion acknowledges the important work that has been done under these programmes over the years and that it underlines the need to sustain and build on this partnership approach into the future.
The Department of Justice and Equality, along with the Health Service Executive, has for many years supported the work of the Community Alert programme, which was set up in 1985 by Muintir na Tíre in association with the Garda authorities. This programme has since developed into a national movement comprising over 1,300 local groups which work with gardaí to promote crime prevention and improve the security of older and vulnerable persons in the community.
Community Alert harnesses, in a modern context, the qualities of neighbourliness and mutual support which have long been characteristic of community life in Ireland. This can also be said of the Neighbourhood Watch programme which operates with the close support of gardaí throughout the community. The Minister, in association with the Garda Commissioner, will shortly launch a new Garda publication containing advice for those wishing to set up a Community Alert or Neighbourhood Watch group in their area, and the support their local community gardaí will provide. These new guidelines take account of societal changes which have occurred since the initial schemes were established and provide a step by step "how to" guide on establishing future schemes. They also enhance both individual and community participation in crime prevention.
I would also like to acknowledge at this point the excellent range of crime prevention advice which is available from the Garda, in print or online, or direct from community policing officers and which contains practical advice that all can take to protect themselves from crime.
There are changes to the way policing is being managed and the Minister appreciates that people have concerns about those, concerns which are reflected in today's motion. The overall objective is to ensure that at all times the best possible policing service is provided to the public and communities across the country. In this regard the appropriate deployment of Garda resources has been enhanced by new Garda rostering arrangements which were introduced last year. As a result, gardaí can be on duty at the times of the day when they are most needed.
Some critics have complained that the closure of some Garda stations will save only small amounts of money, but that misses the key point. This particular issue is about smart policing and the most efficient and effective deployment of Garda resources. There have been significant advances in modern policing, transport and technology and the work of the Garda Síochána and the station network must reflect this current situation and not the situation in 1922. The Commissioner, in his Policing Plan for 2013, has announced the closure of 100 stations.Noone, Catherine.
Even after these closures, there will still be 564 stations throughout the country which is comparatively more than in Northern Ireland or Scotland, as mentioned by Senator Cáit Keane.
The Garda Síochána now has a class-leading police computer system, a state-of-the-art digital radio system and a transport fleet which is receiving significant investment. An additional investment of ¤3 million in the fleet towards the end of 2012 has resulted in more than 170 new vehicles being purchased. These vehicles are entering into service. A further ¤5 million has been made available for the purchase and fit-out of new Garda vehicles in 2013. The Minister is very conscious of the importance of transport for the Garda Síochána, as called for in the motion. On this basis and despite the very serious economic difficulties, he has sought and secured extra finance to enable the force to acquire a substantial number of new vehicles.
The Garda Commissioner is confident that the implementation of the restructuring proposals contained in the 2013 policing plan will not lead to a diminution in the service provided by An Garda Síochána. The Minster will remain in dialogue with his colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, on the issue of Garda resources, but it is vital that the still significant resources of the force are used with maximum efficiency and to the greatest effect. That is why the reforms being introduced by the Garda Commissioner are essential and should be supported by all Members of the House.
The motion also touches on broader issues in regard to community development. In this regard, on behalf of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, I draw attention to a number of programmes, beginning with the national regeneration programme which targets the country's most disadvantaged communities. The regeneration programme seeks to rebuild these communities by addressing not just the physical environment in which they live but also by investing in the social and economic life of the areas in question. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government supports an ambitious programme of regeneration projects, including large-scale projects in areas such as Ballymun and Limerick, as well as smaller scale projects at particular locations around the country. The holistic, multi-agency approach which characterises these projects ensures regeneration is sustainable beyond the initial construction phases and generates long-term advantages.
The ongoing importance of the national regeneration programme cannot be underestimated, not only from a social policy perspective but also in terms of job creation and economic renewal. The value placed on the programme is explicitly recognised in the programme for Government and despite the current Exchequer constraints, funding for regeneration continues to be prioritised within the overall social housing programme.
A key objective of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government is the facilitation of integrated development at local level; to foster vibrant, sustainable and inclusive communities, and to support the community and voluntary sector in its contribution to an active, democratic and pluralist society. In the pursuit of this objective, the Department funds a range of programmes and initiatives to support communities, including the local and community development programme and the rural development programme 2007-13.
Also of particular relevance to the motion is the seniors alert scheme which provides important support for elderly people. Under this scheme, funding of ¤2.35 million has been allocated by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government in 2013 for the purchase and installation of socially monitored alarms. The scheme successfully supports independent living for people over 65 years. The involvement of local voluntary and community organisations consolidates the ongoing contact by these groups with older people and helps to highlight their home safety needs. The scheme provides an additional measure of support for many people who may also benefit from the work of Community Alert, Neighbourhood Watch and community gardaí.
The Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government note the issues raised in the motion in relation to powers to enter and compel actions on private lands. I understand local authorities have some powers to enter lands and private property or compel actions on private lands, for instance, under the Housing Acts 1966 to 2009, the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992, the Litter Pollution Acts 1997 to 2009 and the Waste Management Acts 1996 to 2011.
The action programme for effective local government - Putting People First - promotes the allocation of additional powers to local authorities. Reforms in relation to local authority structures, governance, finance and operational arrangements set out in the action programme will place local government in a stronger position to take on additional functions. However, such additional functions would have to be compatible with the role of local government generally and be matters local authorities were well positioned to perform effectively. Clearly, the legal and other implications of this suggestion will need to be considered further, as the motion suggests.
The wide ranging motion we are debating touches on many vital issues that affect the quality of community life. To summarise, in relation to the policing aspects of the motion, it is the Government's intention to ensure front-line services are maintained at the highest level possible through the most efficient use of resources. The Garda Commissioner has the Minister's full support in this regard and is confident everyone in the Garda Síochána will continue to deliver an effective policing service to all communities.
The Government also remains committed to optimising the engagement between public bodies and, in particular, the Garda, local authorities and business and community stakeholders to help to address the range of issues encompassed in the motion. In relation to community supports, a key principle is to enable communities to identify and address social and economic issues in their areas. Greater effectiveness and efficiencies in the delivery of local services are priorities, to which enhancing the role of local government in local and community development is central.
On the Minister's behalf, I greatly welcome the initiative of Senators in bringing forward the motion. I am very pleased to listen to their valued contributions to the debate which I will share with and bring to the attention of the Minister.
I welcome the Minister of State. Even though I do not believe the motion is of particular concern to him as an individual Minister of State, he was his usual charming self in delivering his script. It seems there is a certain level of tick-tacking between one element of the Government and another. It is obvious from the warm welcome extended, the expression of thanks and so on that there is some back-scratching going on and an opportunity for the Minister to present his kind of programme.
However, we have at least been spared the usual tit-for-tat point-scoring across the floor of the House, which is positive.
With the regard to the amendment which I shall be supporting, it gets to the nub of the matter in terms of policing, a matter to which I will return. However, I express surprise that my Sinn Féin colleagues are seeking to delete all words after "between April and December 2012", which include, "noting the very limited powers of the local authorities" to enter lands where there is nuisance, trespass or pollution. I do not understand the reason there is a need to leave out these words unless Sinn Féin considers it had to amend something. It would be better if the amendment simply contained the additions, unless it is the case that we are looking once again to the neighbouring island for inspiration, which may be somewhat galling politically for those of a Republican tinge. Apart from this, I do not see anything offensive in the motion. I would be even happier supporting Sinn Féin if it had not cut out that part of it.
I do not see the logic of cutting it out given that they are prepared to accept the first paragraph in which attention is drawn to the very useful-----
Could the interruptions be made a little louder in the interests of those who are nearly 70? The first paragraph deals with an initiative from the United Kingdom and the Association of Town Centre Management which is very useful. I hope it will be adopted. I understand there is to be a pilot scheme in respect of which I would ask that the House be provided with further information on where it will operate. It appears it will be analogous to the green flag scheme which was promoted by An Taisce to raise environmental awareness. There is a clear relationship between the idea and structure of a green flag and purple flag scheme. It is a very good idea. I hope it works. It may encourage local communities to create the reality on the ground that our cities and towns are safe places to walk, after which the flags could be awarded. The important thing is the creation of those safe areas.
There has been exaggeration in respect of the situation in Dublin. I walk home almost every night from here via O'Connell Street back to North Great George's Street. I do not notice very much that is negative. Significant efforts and strides have been made in policing. There are those who use drugs. They are usually unfortunates and one can be forced to engage with them. Usually, that is just the interruption of a conversation which is irritating, but if one just goes on one's way, one may see something happening but may not be affected by people causing a nuisance. Nevertheless, the situation must be monitored. It is probably worse on the Liffey boardwalk. The boardwalk is a lovely development and it is a pity that it would be spoiled not just for our visitors but for ourselves.
The resolution refers to Garda transport, which is very important, but ordinary transport for people in rural areas must also be considered. I listened to people from two villages in the midlands whose bus services are being cut to one bus per day. It will make it extremely difficult to take advantage of employment opportunities in neighbouring towns. One cannot expect communities to do all this alone if they are deprived of services. They cannot make bricks without straw. We must examine carefully the provision of transport links in areas where they are uneconomical. There has been a great deal of comment on Mr. Danny Healy Rae's suggestion that people should be allowed to get boozed up because they live in the country, which is the wrong approach. We need, however, to do something about transport.
I will conclude on the issue of Garda station closures. The Minister referred to smart policing, which is not only a very patronising notion but patently false. It is like the appalling Danske Bank advertisement which notifies the withdrawal of human service and in a constipated voice-over states "welcome to the new normal". We need community policing but it is being eradicated. We need police stations and to be told the truth. I have been lied to consistently about Fitzgibbon Street Garda station and told that it was merely being redecorated. It did not need redecoration and in reality was being closed down. We have been told that everyone should welcome smart policing and other developments. I ask the Minister to explain why if everyone should welcome it, consumers, communities and the Garda itself do not welcome such developments. The soldiers on the ground - the people at the coal face - do not want it. The Minister should not patronise us by telling us this is smart policing as Danske Bank would. We do not buy it.
I commend my Labour Party colleagues for tabling a reflective and sensible Private Members' motion. They always come up with useful motions, but this is a particularly good one. I had no idea what the purple flag was until Senator Cáit Keane explained it was a concept pioneered in the United Kingdom. Councillor Johnny Flynn in Ennis has been promoting the idea. Mr. Flynn has a very strong sense of community and has been deeply embedded in his local community in County Clare for many years. As a former chief fire officer, he understands the importance of community activity. It is that aspect of the motion I wish to pick up on.
Neighbourhood Watch and community policing are very important. I do not want to see gardaí in stations, I want to see them circulating and having a presence in communities. I do not want to see them manning phones in Garda stations because we want to tick a box to show that stations are open. In reality, most people download whatever forms they need from the Internet and we do not need a necklace of Garda stations in every county such as we had 50 years ago. Society has moved on. The vast majority - what I call the silent middle ground who do not bang on every day about things that make common sense - agrees that the location of some Garda stations did not make sense. I speak from direct experience. My parish lost a Garda station in the last round of cutbacks. It did not make sense to have a station located in Lahinch, two miles from the district headquarters in Ennistymon. It was lunacy to require it to be manned for so many hours a day. There was a Garda station in Inagh, five miles from Ennistymon, notwithstanding that there was another Garda station in Ennis, also five miles away. It was a waste of resources. People want sensible decisions to be made which, though they appear on the surface to be tough, are the right ones. The Government has a mandate to do that. I acknowledge that the Government is making tough decisions. To be fair to our colleagues in Fianna Fáil, I point out that its Members are acknowledging the benefits of the motion. We are trying to create a collaborative conversation on the practical steps communities can take to make society safer and to make people feel safe.
Many gardaí retired last February. They are very active people who want to make a contribution. I suggest to the Minister that we establish a revitalised community alert and neighbourhood watch programme to be led by retired gardaí who have knowledge of their local communities. They have intelligence and wherewithal gathered over their years in the Garda and would be only too delighted to play their part voluntarily to assist the community. I know several retired gardaí in County Clare who are deeply embedded in voluntary community work in the areas of housing, GAA and other important endeavours. If the call was made to these people to roll up their sleeves and assist the community to develop an effective community alert system, it could be done.
People may not like to hear the words "smart policing" but there are hundreds of thousands of smart phones in this country. There are iPads, there is Facebook and other social media and for all its woes this does bring huge benefits. I know of several communities in which there is a text message system in operation such that if a strange car is seen a text alert goes out to a group of people. There are many technological initiatives of which we can take advantage.
I presume I have approximately two more minutes to speak.
A great deal can be done. Similarly the media have a role to play, in particular the local media which I would consider to be the backbone of rural Ireland. In Clare there is a Garda report every Monday on our local radio station's flagship current affairs programme which is highly effective in helping to deal with crime. As a society we need to start thinking outside the box, realising that we do not have the resources we had five years ago and never will have and we need to use the human resource of our retired public servants, who love their communities and want to contribute to them. As a Government we have a responsibility to identify how we can channel that type of passion and enthusiasm not just into policing but into the other strands of community work.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I am sorry that the Minister of State for Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy McGinley has left because he is a fellow Donegal man and would have shared my concern about the recent spate of burglaries in Donegal and their fall-out. I am from the rural part of the county and now live in an urban part, Letterkenny. Donegal, like many other counties has rural and urban divides with different policing issues pertaining to each area. Community policing did not start in Ireland nor did it start recently. It has been going on for many years and probably came out of America and developed in the UK when the race riots flared up in the early 1980s. The British police had to look at themselves and ask why there were being targeted by the community they were there to protect. They had to embrace a community policing policy which this country has adapted and is developing as it goes along. Statistics show that Ireland is like New Zealand, in having a similar population and rural-urban divide but we have 600 stations whereas in New Zealand there are 400. We have 13,000 officers as against 8,700 in New Zealand which has embraced community policing. In the UK, apart from Scotland, there are 1,400 stations. We have just under half that number although the population of the UK is 15 times ours. Community policing is very important and it will develop. It is not a question of having more Garda stations in an area. My father-in-law, God rest him, was a garda who lived in the station and my wife was born there, as were all of her brothers and sisters. As she says that was in the old days when most of the stations in Ireland were occupied by a garda and his family. We have moved on from that. It may be that in tourist areas a Garda station is open for the month of August, for tourists but not for the remaining 11 months. The community would have to prove that the numbers stacked up to have it open for 12 months.
We must review the role of community policing in Ireland and embrace it, not run it down. I am reluctant to point at Sinn Féin but it has embraced community policing to such an extent in Northern Ireland that it is enthusiastically closing the rural stations there. In one instance, Bushmills, which is a rural area much like rural Donegal, Cavan or Mayo, when the locals tried to keep the police station open Sinn Féin refused to support them.
Sinn Féin is on the policing boards and is campaigning in Fermanagh and Tyrone to close the stations. Rural stations, much like those beside which I grew up, Lifford, Raphoe, St. Johnston and Convoy serve the same type of community but on the other side of the Border Sinn Féin is very enthusiastic about community policing which I applaud.
There is a soundbite in the South that the Garda stations must be kept open. There is no future in gardaí sitting in the station. The future is in the gardaí being on the street. This has been proved this week in Donegal where the gardaí made many arrests in connection with the robberies of the past two weeks, much to the disgust of certain politicians such as the Deputy who predicted that there would be no one arrested for these crimes. I read an article today about Buncrana where the local policing committee said that the gardaí had received many calls in the past week or two from members of the public with information on robberies and that is the way forward. Having more Garda stations will not help that situation. I respect Senator Norris's view that a smart phone is not the way forward. I agree that smart policing is the way forward, in conjunction with a smart phone and a laptop and the technology that is available.
It is important that the police get out on the street and know the people. Years ago the rural garda did not have a mobile phone, or maybe not even a telephone in the station. He did not have a car, he had a bicycle and a torch. Now they have facilities and do not have to be in the station.
This would perhaps be a very suitable discussion for an Adjournment debate. Will Senator Harte please move to conclude his contribution and address the Chair if possible because while the interaction with Senator Ó Clochartaigh is entertaining it is not relevant to the debate?
I have no issue with Senator Ó Clochartaigh but I want to state a few facts. Everyone has a role in policing in the community, from taxi drivers to the postman, the garda, the teacher and the ordinary guy in the street. Everyone has eyes and ears and people are beginning to realise this. They have mobile phones and if they see a suspicious car they can photograph the licence plate and send it to the local garda or keep it. That facility was not available five years ago. That is the important part of community policing. It is not a question of policing but of the community, aided by the gardaí. The future of community policing is important as was proved this week in Donegal where the gardaí stepped up to the mark with the help of the public in each area who were cognisant of things going on that were not normal in their areas.
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.
I am confident that as a result of the response we received from the Minister we will see positive responses. However, I stress and urge that Garda numbers should be kept at the optimum, in line with budgets. That is the most important aspect of our motion. Senator Conway echoed my point that the Community Alert and Neighbourhood Watch initiatives should be re-energised by a further Government initiative. These initiatives have been in existence since 1985. I was involved in setting up Community Alert and Neighbourhood Watch groups in my own town and in the rural areas around Carrick-on-Suir. Like every organisation, the people who get involved initially grow older and people move on. An initiative from the Government on this particular item would not cost a great amount of money but it would re-emphasise and refocus communities and the attention of the present Government to stay on top of the crime issue. I refer in particular to rural Ireland.
- John Crown
- David Cullinane
- Mark Daly
- Marc MacSharry
- Paschal Mooney
- RÃ³nÃ¡n Mullen
- David Norris
- Trevor Ã“ Clochartaigh
- LabhrÃ¡s Ã“ MurchÃº
- Darragh O'Brien
- Denis O'Donovan
- Kathryn Reilly
- Jim Walsh
- Diarmuid Wilson
- Ivana Bacik
- Sean Barrett
- Paul Bradford
- Terry Brennan
- Eamonn Coghlan
- Paul Coghlan
- Michael Comiskey
- Martin Conway
- Maurice Cummins
- Michael D'Arcy
- John Gilroy
- Jimmy Harte
- Fidelma Healy Eames
- James Heffernan
- Lorraine Higgins
- CaÃt Keane
- John Kelly
- Denis Landy
- Marie Maloney
- Mary Moran
- Tony Mulcahy
- Michael Mullins
- Catherine Noone
- Susan O'Keeffe
- Pat O'Neill
- Tom Shehan
- John Whelan