Tuesday, 16 June 2015
I thank the Minister of State for attending. In recent times, one of the most consistent problems that we have been told of is the lack of Garda manpower. To its credit, the Government has reopened Templemore and garda training is ongoing, but we are running to stand still, that is, to keep the number of gardaí at 13,000. It would make sense for retiring gardaí to be kept on on a part-time basis as community gardaí as a cost-effective way of policing communities. Often, retiring gardaí are young compared with the average age of retirement and could augment our community policing structures, giving us the benefit of their expertise while improving the perception of community policing on our streets and making people feel safer.
There is no question of a perception of there being fewer gardaí on our streets. It is certainly something that I hear about in Dublin. I have noticed it. This would be a great way to balance that perception through tangible examples of gardaí on the beat in their communities. Even if just 500 retiring gardaí - one or two per station - were employed on a part-time basis, it would cost between €7 million and €15 million per annum. The money would be well spent and have a useful effect. I would be interested to know the Minister of State's thoughts on this suggestion in light of the number of low-cost measures that have been implemented, for example, the successful text alert scheme. If this proposal were implemented, it could have a positive impact on urban and rural communities.
I thank Senator Noone for tabling this Commencement matter. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, also wishes to thank her and regrets being unable to attend for the debate. However, I am happy to take it on her behalf.
Community policing is an important part of policing. Indeed, it is a central feature of current policing policy and members of community policing are encouraged to engage with the local communities to which they are assigned. Policing policy is predicated on the prevention of public order offences and crime, including violence against persons and property, and the maintenance of an environment that is conducive to the improvement of residents' quality of life. This strategy will continue to be central to the delivery of a quality policing service. Community policing deserves dedicated and motivated gardaí who are willing to give 100% to protect the communities they serve. On that basis, all members assigned to community policing units operate on a full-time basis and there are therefore no plans to retain retiring gardaí on a part-time basis as community gardaí.
It is of course the case that all gardaí have a role to play in addressing community policing issues as and when the need arises. In that sense, community policing involves far more than a single unit within the Garda Síochána, a point highlighted by the Garda Inspectorate in its third report, "Policing in Ireland: Looking Forward". The inspectorate stated in the report that community policing is a fundamental policing philosophy and that there is a strong foundation for it in Ireland. The Garda Síochána now operates a new model of community policing which aims to build on and enhance progress so far. The Minister has said she fully supports this renewed emphasis on community policing, particularly in light of the priority given to it in the programme for Government. The model is about renewing, reinvigorating and restructuring the community policing function within An Garda Síochána to deliver a consistent national structure to the community policing function, a more co-ordinated and efficient Garda service to the community and a spread of good practice and quality of service in community policing on a national basis. The model is providing a structured and cohesive approach to community policing nationally. The national strategies for neighbourhood watch and community alert, both of which were launched in 2007, also inform the organisation on how best to implement future crime prevention and community policing programmes. The model is built around ten core components, or pillars, which serve to inform everything gardaí do in their interactions with the community. The ten pillars are: partnership, enforcement, problem solving, crime prevention and reduction, accountability, visibility, accessibility, collaborative engagement, empowerment and improved response.
Community gardaí will be proactive in building positive partnerships through initiatives such as Neighbourhood Watch, Community Alert, Garda clinics, Supporting Safer Communities campaigns and Garda station open days. Flexible engagement practices are required to cater for community groups and can ultimately lead to a community being empowered. The establishment of partnerships at local level should be seen as a co-operative effort to facilitate problem solving. A national community policing office has been established within the Garda community relations section to develop and oversee the implementation programme, and the Garda Síochána national model of community policing report is available on the Garda website. Guidelines for the delivery of a community policing service are being developed to enhance and update the national model of community policing. They will take into account feedback on the implementation of the national model in the context of a changing landscape across Garda divisions and districts. The guidelines offer a renewed focus on the delivery of a community policing service under the pillars of law enforcement, crime prevention and community engagement using existing resources.
The Senator may be aware that members of An Garda Síochána who joined the force prior to 1 April 2004 may retire on full pension once they have served for at least 30 years and reached 50 years of age. Members who joined the force on or after 1 April 2004 may retire on full pension once they have served at least 30 years and reached 55 years of age. In both cases, members must retire once they have reached 60 years of age. There is no barrier to retired members joining the Garda Reserve once they meet certain eligibility criteria, such as the age limit of 60, and have received an exemplary, very good or good discharge from the Garda Síochána. As the Senator will be aware, the Garda Reserve was established to enhance the links between the Garda Síochána and local communities through the deployment of locally recruited volunteers who operate in support of full-time colleagues. There are currently 1,064 attested reserve gardaí, with a further 43 at various stages of training. Garda Reserve members make a real and tangible contribution to policing right across the country and I am fully supportive of its continued development. Recruitment to the Garda Reserve and the training of new reserve gardaí is ongoing. The Minister would be delighted to see retired members of An Garda Síochána using their knowledge and expertise as Garda Reserve members.
I note the Minister's response and the fact that it constitutes a useful explanatory memorandum on community policing. I hear where she is coming from in the sense that we deserve dedicated and motivated gardaí who are willing to give 100% to protect the communities they serve. The Garda Reserve was mentioned, and I gather that is on a part-time basis in any case. The Garda Reserve could be deployed to be more involved in community policing. I appreciate the response, which is perhaps something on which I could have a word with the Minister when I see her later.
I thank the Senator again. It is a very topical issue. The Minister has considered it but she said that at this time consideration is not being given to keeping on retiring gardaí on a part-time basis as community gardaí. It is important that members who are assigned to community policing units operate on a full-time basis and are fully dedicated to the very important work. However, I take on board the points Senator Noone has made, which I will convey to the Minister, and I am sure she will have further engagement with the Senator.