Seanad debates

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

5:40 pm

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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In light of the proven effectiveness of crime prevention text alerts in both urban and rural trials, consideration should be given to a centralised grant fund to allow residents' associations and communities to begin their own crime prevention text alert trials. It has been stated that the Minister's Department does not directly fund such schemes, but that does not preclude the Minister from considering a centrally funded pilot scheme, given the success of individual trials to date in areas such as Beaumont and Santry. Trials of community text alerts in both urban and rural areas have been very successful. They are effective as a 21st-century equivalent of the Neighbourhood Watch scheme. If a burglar enters a house through an open window a text is sent to all residents in the vicinity to warn them of the burglary and advising them to check their windows. It is common sense, as burglaries often happen in clusters. These alerts work as a deterrent if signs are placed in windows, much like the Neighbourhood Watch signs in the past. I ask the Minister to consider issuing a one-off grant in order to aid either community groups or An Garda Síochána in setting up these services. The one-off cost would pay dividends for communities, towns and villages by preventing crime and encouraging people to be active, alert and vigilant with regard to their own areas.

Photo of Dinny McGinleyDinny McGinley (Donegal South West, Fine Gael)
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I wish to thank the Senator for raising this matter on the Adjournment. I am speaking on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, who regrets that he is unable to be present due to other business.

An Garda Síochána has a strong tradition of working closely with local communities to enhance community safety through a wide range of policing measures and participation in programmes such as Community Alert and Neighbourhood Watch. This commitment was underlined in guidelines launched last year by the Garda Commissioner and the Minister, which provided advice on how to set up or revitalise community crime prevention schemes. The introduction of the Garda text alert scheme is a recent development building on this long-standing tradition. The background to the scheme is that it was developed as a pilot programme with the support of a number of community networks, including Community Alert, Neighbourhood Watch and the Irish Farmers' Association. Based on the successful feedback from the pilot, the scheme was launched nationally by the Garda Commissioner in September 2013. The scheme provides a further mechanism by which An Garda Síochána can provide crime prevention information to community groups. Guidelines for establishing and operating community text alert schemes have been published and are available on the Garda website. Further information and advice on establishing such schemes is available from local community gardaí.

The Garda guidelines have been produced to assist local communities in establishing a standardised and efficient method of receiving communication by text message or e-mail from An Garda Síochána. In this context, the Minister considers it important to channel community crime prevention efforts and the dissemination of information about criminal incidents or threats within the framework of the Garda guidelines and with the benefit of Garda insight and verification.

In so far as the question of funding is concerned, the Department of Justice and Equality has for many years provided funding for the Community Alert programme operated by Muintir na Tíre. Funding totalling €152,000 was provided by the Department in 2013. This supports the employment and associated costs of the national co-ordinator and development officers for the programme, which in turn supports in the region of 1,300 groups nationally. The work of Community Alert is highly valued and it is intended to provide a similar level of funding in 2014. The available funding does not permit the provision of financial support for the setting up of text alert schemes. In practice, the costs arising for each scheme are usually comparatively modest and are typically covered through local sponsorship, collections and contributions, in common with many similar community-based endeavours around the country.

The Minister is of the view that the finite resources available to him are best employed in providing the essential central supports for the national co-ordinator and development officers who help to establish and support community crime prevention schemes. Putting in place a grant scheme to make individual payments to the potentially large number of such groups, together with the associated administration costs, would dilute those central resources and undermine the overall operation of the scheme.

On behalf of the Minister I thank the Senator for raising this issue and for giving him an opportunity to voice his continued support for the work done by the Garda Síochána and communities in partnership to respond to crime. It also important to note that these community crime prevention measures complement and support an extremely robust operational response by An Garda Síochána to tackle burglary and property crime around the country. These measures, particularly Operation Fiacla, are targeted, intelligence-led operations focusing on the mobile gangs involved in burglary and preying on householders. The successful impact of these operations can be seen in thousands of arrests and prosecutions for burglary which have taken place and in the recorded crime figures showing that burglary has fallen since their introduction, decreasing by more than 7% last year. The Minister appreciates that these figures may be of little comfort to those who have recently undergone the traumatic experience of being burgled, but he felt it important to cite them in order to illustrate the success and determination of Garda efforts to reduce these crimes and to bring perpetrators to justice.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State. I am happy with the response. It is a comfort to know the Minister is so supportive of neighbourhood schemes such as this proposed scheme.