Wednesday, 9 July 2014
I welcome the Minister to the House. The small areas policing programme, which has been in operation in Dublin for five years, has had considerable success. The programme reconnects An Garda Síochána, whose mission statement is to serve and protect, with the communities. The programme has been very successful in reducing petty crime, making people feel safe in their homes, and giving them assurances that the members of An Garda Síochána not only know them but work to protect them.
For decades, whether in urban or rural areas, everybody knew their local gardaí because they lived primarily in the communities. Many members of the force lived in the stations. There was always a garda living in most Garda stations. As that was phased out they lived within the community but, unfortunately, the police service has become more upwardly mobile with members living outside their jurisdiction and commuting to work. That is not the fault of any member of An Garda Síochána; it is just modern living. There was a time when teachers, gardaí and doctors lived in their parishes. That is no longer the case but it is not as essential for teachers or those in other professions to have as much of a knowledge of the area in which they work as it is for gardaí.
This excellent programme has had remarkable success. A recent newspaper article applauded the gardaí. Unfortunately, the Garda has been a much maligned organisation recently but under the surface, so to speak, its members are doing remarkably good work. I would like this programme to be rolled out nationally, starting with it being piloted in each county. It would be an excellent initiative in my county of Clare, for example, that would empower what is already a fantastic Garda force in County Clare by giving it the task of reconnecting in a direct way with the communities. It would work very well if it was formalised, particularly in cities such as Limerick, Cork, Galway and others. Taking a professional approach that sees the programme being part of policing policy would enhance community policing and give the general public a renewed sense of pride, engagement and opportunity in that they would believe the gardaí know them. We often hear it said, rightly or wrongly, that people no longer know the gardaí in their communities. With resources that have been cut to the bone the members of the force have done their best but a programme such as this one, which is well resourced and funded, could be a significant step forward in terms of partnership between An Garda Síochána and our communities.
I thank Senator Conway for raising this matter. I appreciate the concerns raised and his highlighting of this programme.
The House will be aware that the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, throughout the Garda organisation. This allocation of resources is constantly monitored by the Commissioner and her senior management team in the context of demographics, crime trends, policing needs and other operational strategies in place on a district, divisional and regional level. That is done to ensure optimum use is made of Garda resources.
The small areas policing programme being developed within the Dublin metropolitan region is a community policing areas project. Aspects of it will be familiar to the Senator. Aspects of it are already in place throughout the country but this is a comprehensive programme. It sees the Dublin metropolitan region being divided into a series of community policing areas, known as CPAs, with a view to allocating responsibility for a specific geographical area to a team of nominated community gardaí. These community policing areas are in line with the Central Statistics Office's small area populations, electoral areas and Garda district and sub-district boundaries. There are no additional costs associated with this project. It is effectively a reorganisation.
The particular project the Senator has raised is in its infancy but a good deal of work has been done to ensure we get a better and more efficient Garda response in local areas to the particular policing challenges identified in local communities. It is very much about highlighting the need to work with local communities, which is essential for effective local community policing. It is being rolled out in the north inner city in particular and includes the following: liaising closely with the community; providing a consistent community policing service to that particular area; working with stakeholders in the area; the creation of a stakeholder database within the CPA; identifying areas that require particular attention; identifying local community groups; and identifying the particular demographics and issues in that area.
Each community policing team is responsible for all policing within their assigned areas, including the monitoring of crime trends. That monitoring is done through youth diversion programmes, for example, and it is important to have that kind of data, identify what is happening in an area, intervene and work with the different groups, whether it is groups of young people or local business people, in a particular area.
As the Senator is aware, we are implementing a comprehensive programme of justice and policing reform. I have already said that the spectrum of issues that must be addressed is complex and deep-rooted, not just relating to high-level issues such as oversight, change management and the role of whistleblowers but also to matters of basic policing, and a number of basic policing issues were identified in the Guerin report, and local administration that need attention.
I am pleased with this new community-based approach to policing. It is an important development in fostering engagement between local communities and the gardaí in targeting the concerns of local residents. We hear constantly that people want their concerns responded to by local gardaí, and it is a cost effective approach.
The Government is very supportive of this new initiative and approach to policing. This particular model is at an early stage, although many elements of it are in operation in different communities throughout Ireland. We will see how this precise model works before we could consider extending it.
We should explore the scope of extending the small area policing plan to other priority areas. I will have discussions with the Acting Garda Commissioner on the development of the model and how it could be rolled out. It is a progressive model, it is what local residents want and has the potential to deal with crime and decrease the instance of crime in particular areas.
I thank the Minister for coming here to take this Adjournment matter and welcome her very positive response. We all want the Garda Síochána embedded in and connected with the community and that the community feels that it is. This programme is a fantastic way of achieving that aim. Go raibh maith agat.