Wednesday, 2 October 2019
Crime Policy: Motion
“That Seanad Éireann:
notes:- the increased presence of organised criminal gangs operating throughout the State;
- the fear that exists in local communities as a result of the increased prevalence of organised crime and criminal gangs in the State;
- the increased prevalence of drug use and drug related crime across the country;
- the impact of increased drug use and drug related crime on communities;
- the terrible legacy and continued existence of criminality in the border region;
- the continued existence of illicit trade between border counties and Northern Ireland;
- the prolonged thuggery that was allowed to carry on in County Cavan;
- the fear that exists in communities in border counties as a result of increased criminal activity;
- the unprecedented increase in the requirement to deploy armed Gardaí to different communities that would never previously have had a need for armed Gardaí;
- the absence of any garda stations in large areas of rural communities and the impact these closures have had on communities;
- the failure of the Government to respond adequately and in a timely manner to the need for extra and more visible gardaí on the ground;recognises:- the support that exists for An Garda Síochána and the fight against crime;
- the success of An Garda Síochána in fighting certain types of crime provided they are given political priority by Government;
- the work of the Armed Support Units;
- the work of the Criminal Assets Bureau; andcalls for:- the establishment of a statutory cross-border multidisciplinary agency to target criminal activity at the border region;
- the formulation of an effective strategy to combat the worsening drugs crises;
- increased surveillance of drug distribution networks and legislative changes to facilitate action against those who are using children as part of those networks;
- the provision of increased numbers of Drugs Task Forces;
- budget provision that will enable the Gardaí to implement targeted intelligence driven operations against organised crime, gangland murders, drug trafficking and other criminal activity;
- the promotion of a community-based policing strategy to address the underlying causes of crime and to provide reassurance to communities experiencing the fear of crime, particularly in rural communities.”
I welcome the Minister to the House. I acknowledge the presence of Councillor John O'Leary along with his friend from Waterford, and welcome them to the Chamber.
There is an escalating crime problem with gangs of organised criminals, once the preserve of the cities, now operating in towns never before affected by such criminality. Increased drug use and drug-related crime is impacting on every town. Armed support units are now being deployed with increased frequency. People and communities are living in fear.
Fianna Fáil recognises the success of An Garda Síochána in fighting certain types of crime, provided they are given political priority by Government. The Government has become complacent and we hope this motion and the ensuing debate will help to counteract it. The increased presence of organised criminal gangs operating throughout the county is concerning. Organised crime and gangland violence were once the preserve of the cities but this is no longer the case. Longford, Drogheda and, most recently, my constituency of Cavan-Monaghan were all affected. While many of these gangs have links to the drugs community in which they are carrying out these attacks, they do not fear law enforcement. The use of guns is sending shock waves through communities and many attacks taking place in settled residential areas often happen in broad daylight. Too many lives have been lost.
A study from the European monitoring centre for drugs and drug addiction reported at the beginning of the summer that cocaine use in Ireland is now the third highest in Europe. According to the most recent statistics from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, there has been a 16.5% increase in recorded incidence of drug offences compared with the same period last year. Fianna Fail is calling on Government to establish a national drugs education and awareness campaign. It is vitally important that happens immediately. People taking drugs must understand the connection between their actions and organised crime.
The prolonged thuggery that was allowed in County Cavan also highlights the need for increased resources for An Garda Síochána, particularly in the Border region. This is all the more pressing as we face the prospect of a hard Brexit. Policing in the Border area has particular challenges that require a collaborative approach between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI. We are assured an armed support unit has been set up in the Border region, albeit it took a long time to do it and I understand that those members are being taken from elsewhere. We are also assured that a task force is in place to deal with cross-Border crime.
In 2015, Fianna Fáil brought forward legislation seeking to establish a statutory cross-Border multidisciplinary agency to root out cross-Border criminality. Now, more than ever, such a body is needed. The Government must resource the Garda Síochána to ensure that they can implement targeted intelligence-driven operations against organised crime, drug trafficking and other related crimes. It will take one simple action to address the issues, that is, resources. Without resources we are going nowhere. We need Garda on the beat. As I observe criminality currently, our policing seems to be reactionary. Following the recent deaths that occurred in Drogheda, the reaction was to flood the area immediately with gardaí. The same happened in Dublin and in Limerick in years gone by. This clearly illustrates that there are insufficient gardaí on the beat. If we had enough on the beat, these incidents would not happen at the frequency they are. I refer to preventative rather than reactionary policy.
I can give examples of what I am talking about in County Monaghan. Some 15 years ago in Clones Garda station, there were 16 gardaí, four sergeants, and one detective. Today there are only two gardaí and one sergeant. In Monaghan, the numbers have been depleted to a point where they are struggling to get gardaí out to respond to incidents as they happen. Clearly, this is having an adverse effect not just on our community but on the gardaí themselves. Garda morale is very low.
Recently to add insult to all of that, at a time we are less than 30 days away from Brexit, the Cavan-Monaghan divisional headquarters, which are located in Monaghan, have been downgraded and are being relocated to Drogheda. If one looks at the three counties concerned, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth, Monaghan is in the centre. Surely from an operational perspective, it would make more sense to have Monaghan designated as a divisional headquarters. Our fear of what will happen is that large towns such as Dundalk and Drogheda, where there is the most activity is where most gardaí will be located. That will be at the expense of counties Cavan and Monaghan. I sincerely hope this new plan works but I have grave concerns that it will not. We clearly need more resources. We need more gardaí on the beat. Preventative policing is the way forward. What disappoints me from talking to people in the community and in the Garda Síochána is that there has been little consultation with those who work at the coalface day in, day out. They have had no input into this plan whatsoever and that is very disappointing because some members of the Garda have served in the Cavan-Monaghan division for more than 30 years. When a plan is being devised, surely those on the ground who deal with the issues day in, day out should have been consulted. From that point of view, it is time that the Government took crime more seriously and properly resourced the Garda by way of personnel, vehicles and IT. Unless we do that, this upward trend of criminality will continue.
I second the motion, which was moved very eloquently by my colleague, Senator Gallagher who has a great deal of experience in law enforcement. I welcome the Minister to the House and wish him well in his important job, which in fairness he is performing in a very even-handed manner.
I wish to be constructive. We have an escalating crime problem in rural Ireland. Incidents are happening in rural towns all over the country that ten or 20 years ago we would have associated with major urban centres. What was common in Dublin is now common in Kerry, Limerick or Donegal. That is lamentable.
Many people in isolated rural areas are living in fear. We have experienced some tragic events involving elderly people trying to defend themselves, as best they can. Many of them are living in fear and that is no way for people to live. The greatest scourge of all is the expansion of the drugs trade. Most people get their information about drugs from reading newspapers and watching television. We form an image of the typical drug dealer. Members will be aware that I have some personal experience of addiction issues, although not drugs, but through that, I encounter many people recovering from drug addiction.The stories I heard in group sessions or therapy opened my eyes. One reads in the paper about people being apprehended by the Garda with large amounts of class A drugs while travelling, who are then put away for ten years, and one thinks they are the worst type of criminal. I have learned that those people come from respectable homes. They are decent individuals who have become addicted. The people who prey on such addicts will give them latitude in the early days, in order to establish and confirm that addiction by giving them unlimited access to drugs. They will then start upping the price. People using class A drugs require a lot of money which they do not have. Some people have sold their cars or even their houses to pay for drugs. Their parents have been threatened. People's cars have been burned out in their driveways because these serious crime operators will always get their money, and always follow through on their threats. If they threaten to beat up someone's daughter or burn one's father's car, they will do it. They will eventually get paid, at which point they will go away. The Minister knows better than do I how many lives they have wrecked. We must deal with the people at the top, rather than the victims or addicts who are caught every day of the week carrying small or large amounts of drugs. Most of them are addicts and few are professional criminals. The professional criminals are living in the style of princes and kings long ago. They must be rooted out because they are destroying the whole fabric of society in city, town, and country.
There also has been an upsurge of paramilitary activity lately, which was referred to in yesterday's debate on Brexit. I will not repeat what I said then. With the danger of a hard Brexit, these paramilitary thugs are setting up to come out of their caves or holes and will make their presence felt. It gives me no pleasure to be a harbinger of doom, but any type of hard border is going to be a serious factor for our Defence Forces, the Army and the Garda. We should spare no expense to ensure the Good Friday Agreement is upheld, and if we have to be geared up on a strong crime attack basis, then so be it.
I refer to the statistics on crime, which are not great. The recorded instances of drug offences have risen by 15% nationally in the last two years, while attempted murders are up 20%, weapon and explosives offences are up 14%, and kidnapping and related offences are up 22%. Many of these increases are due the ongoing feuds in places like Longford and Drogheda, to which my colleague has referred.
I revert to the drugs problem, although I acknowledge crime is not all about one issue. We need to raise education and awareness, as we are still a long way from where we should be. Because of my situation, I have some insight into how the whole thing operates, which was a big surprise to me. The Minister and the Garda have pulled off some great achievements in targeting and preventing crimes and assassinations, on which I congratulate them. The Minister must keep funding and supporting the Garda. I was never a man for law and order but the older one gets, the more one appreciates the quiet life. The Garda Representative Association, GRA, is a great organisation, which my colleague Senator Gallagher and I know well through our nomination to the Labour Panel. We know the members of the Defence Forces as well and they are all wonderful people. I have full admiration for them and ask that they are given full support.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Seanad Éireann" and substitute the following:"notes:- that tackling organised crime is a key priority for the Government and An Garda Síochána;recognises:
- that An Garda Síochána has the necessary resources, intelligence and determination to successfully combat organised criminal activity in the State;
- that An Garda Síochána is carefully monitoring the activities of criminal groups, and is implementing strong policing measures to disrupt and dismantle all organised crime networks;
- that multi-disciplinary approaches are used by An Garda Síochána to ensure the activities of individuals and groups involved in criminality are effectively targeted and that such approaches include the use of money-laundering legislation and focused intelligence-led operations by Garda specialist units, including the Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, the National Economic Crime Bureau, the National Bureau of Criminal Investigations, with support as required from the Security and Intelligence section and close cooperation with the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB);
- the ongoing cooperation between An Garda Síochána and other law enforcement agencies on this island and in other jurisdictions in the fight against organised crime;
- the work of the Joint Agency Task Force, which is a multi-agency coordination structure, in tackling organised and cross-jurisdictional crime;
- that the latest crime statistics released by the Central Statistics Office show that there was a decrease of over 40% in the number of recorded homicide incidents in the second quarter of 2019 compared to the same period in 2018;
- that since the Regency Hotel incident in 2016, An Garda Síochána believe that their intelligence-led approach to policing has saved at least 64 lives, in operations resulting in more than 651 arrests, seizures of over 100 firearms as well as 3,300 rounds of ammunition and €9.8 million in cash;
- that Garda activity to tackle burglary and property-related crime has, up to May 2019, led to approximately 10,000 arrests and over 11,500 criminal charges, covering offences including burglary, handling stolen property, possession of firearms and drugs offences;
- that in 2018 CAB brought 30 new Proceeds of Crime proceedings before the High Court, up from 28 in 2017 and 13 in 2016, and that this is the largest number of new cases ever commenced by the Bureau in a single year;
- that the money returned to the State as a result of CAB actions was in excess of €5.6 million in 2018, up from €4.3 million in 2017 and €3.8 million in 2016;
- that CAB is supported in its work by a nationwide network of about 400 trained Asset Profilers who work hand-in-hand with local Garda Management and communities towards the objective of identifying suspected criminally derived wealth and denying and depriving criminals of assets;
- the ongoing and close cooperation between An Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in the investigation of the abduction and vicious assault perpetrated on Kevin Lunney, Chief Operating Officer at Quinn Industrial Holdings (QIH);
- that QIH is a major employer in the area and it is abundantly clear that the criminals who carried out the attack against Kevin Lunney are not supported by communities in the region;
- that in response to previous incidents against employees and property of QIH, a joint Garda/PSNI operation was put in place, with a dedicated Senior Investigating Officer on both sides of the border assigned to deal with incidents as they arise;
- that a number of arrests have been made by Gardaí in relation to previous incidents relating to employees and property of QIH and that in some cases files have been forwarded to the DPP and while no charges have been directed at this time, investigations of these prior incidents are ongoing;
- the commitment in the Programme for a Partnership Government to close engagement between An Garda Síochána and local communities;- the record investment in An Garda Síochána with €1.76 billion allocated to the Garda vote for 2019, as well as capital investment amounting to €92 million this year;supports:
- that policing in the border region has always presented particular challenges that necessitate a collaborative approach to policing with law enforcement agencies north and south of the border;
- that there is close and ongoing cooperation between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI in respect of all aspects of policing not only in countering the ongoing threat posed by paramilitary groups, but also in combating organised crime;
- that the Joint Agency Task Force has made significant progress in tackling cross-border criminal activity across a range of crime areas, not just in the traditional smuggling activities, but also rural and farm crime, organised burglary and drug crime;
- the joint response by An Garda Síochána and the PSNI to the spate of ATM thefts this year on both sides of the border and both services’ recent success in securing arrests on foot of these crimes;
- that the recent passage of the Criminal Justice (International Co-Operation) Act 2019 will allow An Garda Síochána to participate in Joint Investigation Teams outside the State;
- that measures have been put in place by An Garda Síochána and the PSNI to mitigate the threat of further attacks against directors and employees of QIH;
- that recent intelligence-led operations have resulted in significant drugs seizures by An Garda Síochána, including a seizure of heroin with an estimated value of €1 million (subject to analysis) in Dublin and Meath on Sunday, 1st September, 2019 and that this seizure was part of a joint operation involving members of the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau and the United Kingdom National Crime Agency;
- that major drug seizures represent a significant blow to criminal gangs and that the success of recent operations demonstrates the effectiveness of the various law enforcement bodies within this State working together with their international counterparts;
that the Drug Related Intimidation Reporting Programme, developed by An Garda Síochána and the National Family Support Network (NFSN), responds to the needs of drug users and family members experiencing drug-related intimidation;
- that Ireland's National Drug Strategy (NDS), Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery – A health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017-2025, is unique among national drugs strategies of EU Member States in recognising the need to address drug-related debt intimidation at a community level;
- the important work of local Joint Policing Committees (JPCs) in promoting community safety and acting as vital fora for exchanging information in the fight against local crime; and- the work of the Joint Agency Task Force, led by senior officers from An Garda Síochána, the PSNI, the Revenue Commissioners and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs and with the operational support of CAB and the National Crime Agency, which seeks to increase the effectiveness of operational law enforcement actions in tackling organised and cross-jurisdictional crime and enhance the safety of all communities on the island of Ireland;
- the increased Garda resources which have been allocated by the Garda Commissioner to the Louth Division and the Dublin Metropolitan Region as part of the strategy to address organised criminality arising from the supply of illegal drugs;
- the decision of the Garda Commissioner to base an Armed Support Unit in Cavan and the steps he has recently taken to make it operational;
- the Government's plans to achieve an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021, comprising 15,000 Garda members, 2,000 Reserve members and 4,000 civilians;
- the Government's four-year, high-level plan to implement the Report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, A Policing Service for the Future, which will help maintain and enhance more visible policing and greater community engagement, address current challenges and enable An Garda Síochána to meet future challenges;
- the emphasis in the Garda Modernisation and Renewal Programme 2016 – 2021 on further developing and supporting the policing ethos of the organisation so that Gardaí spend more time in the community, gaining public confidence and trust and providing a greater sense of security;
- the rollout of the new operating model of An Garda Síochána, meeting a key commitment in A Policing Service for the Future, which will increase the number and visibility of front-line Gardaí and deliver a more localised service based on community needs;
- the joint Cross Border Policing Strategy, launched by An Garda Síochána and the PSNI in 2010 and renewed in 2016, which aims to improve public safety and disrupt criminal activity and enhance the policing capability of both police services on the island of Ireland;
- the key objectives of the National Rural Safety Forum, launched recently by the Minister, co-chaired by An Garda Síochána and the Irish Farmers Association, to provide community reassurance, to develop and utilize a nation-wide communications network for the distribution of crime prevention advice, to increase engagement within communities and to prevent crime and to reduce the opportunity for crime;
- the commitment to a health-led response to drugs as contained in the Programme for a Partnership Government;
- the implementation of the whole-of-Government strategy to address drug and alcohol misuse, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery, a health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017-2025, and the active engagement with all stakeholders, especially at the community level;
- the Government's commitment to implement and report on progress on the 50 strategic actions in the National Drugs Strategy on an annual basis through the national oversight structures and to develop an evaluation framework for a mid-term review of the strategy in 2020;
- the Minister for Justice and Equality's intention to examine the possibility of introducing a specific offence of grooming children, through inducements such as the provision of drugs or by other means, for the commission of drug-related crime, with a view to combatting any potential exploitation of children by organised criminal groups.”
It is always good to debate these issues and have a discussion on them in the House. I welcome the Minister back to the House. He is a frequent visitor here, though we are now back in our old refurbished Chamber.
I acknowledge Senator O'Sullivan in particular. We all admire the way he has spoken out about addiction and the help he has given people who have found themselves in that situation. If we had more brave people like him, who are prepared to share their stories, society would be a better and far more understanding place for all the people who are struggling to live.
He is right about making assumptions when one reads something in the newspaper about people who are caught with class A drugs and sentenced. They are the victims, to a large extent. The dangerous people, who prey on and destroy the lives of vulnerable people, are further up the food chain. The kingpins and bosses live on yachts, often out of the country, totally removing themselves from any responsibility. I ask middle-class Irish people who use recreational drugs to think before they buy, because they are fuelling this type of menace in society. Just because someone takes cocaine at a party does not mean he or she is not doing anyone any harm. Besides the harm such people are doing to themselves, they are also harming society by fuelling and funding organised crime.
I recently engaged with the "Think Before You Buy Campaign", which I was introduced to through my colleague Councillor Ted Leddy. It is run by Safer Blanchardstown, which is a great organisation. I spoke at one of its events a few years ago as a substitute for the Minister, and was honoured to do so. The organisation has run advertisement campaigns to enlighten people as to the damage they are doing by purchasing recreational drugs. Such a campaign should be rolled out on a national basis. Safer Blanchardstown is arranging to meet the Garda Commissioner in the coming weeks. Perhaps when the Minister gets an opportunity, he might also sit down with the organisation to hear about the research and work it is doing, and what an awareness campaign can achieve.
Things have calmed down since Deputy Flanagan became the Minister for Justice and Equality. The new Commissioner of An Garda Síochána, Mr. Drew Harris, has hit the ground running over the past 12 months. He is a no-nonsense Commissioner, and is going about his business in a professional way. No one is protected. He is doing a straightforward and simple job, which is reorganising An Garda Síochána, bringing it into the 21st century, and implementing the recommendations of the report on the future of policing in Ireland that was launched a year or so ago. He is doing what Deputy Jim O'Callaghan, those on the other side, and all of us have been calling for for some time, which is making An Garda Síochána fit for purpose. We do not want a top-heavy management structure in An Garda Síochána. There are some regional concerns such as in my own area, where the divisional headquarters will be in Ennis, but that does not mean the people of Tipperary will be any less well served. We all want to see more boots on the ground, and more police and gardaí dealing with crime, as opposed to more superintendents and chief superintendents. The Commissioner might not get everything right, but he is making a fair stab at it. On each of the three occasions on which he has attended meetings of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality there has been a full and frank engagement with members. He has been completely open on the manner in which he is going about his business. He is working to instil confidence among the public in An Garda Síochána by ensuring the force lives up to its responsibilities and that gardaí live up to the oath of office they took when they became members of that prestigious organisation. Unfortunately, there have been instances in the past where some gardaí did not serve the public in the manner in which they should have and were not fair minded in their dealings with people. We are now moving into a new era in policing. The 2018 behaviour and attitudes survey, a survey that is conducted annually, found that well in excess of 80% of the public had confidence in the force. That is almost a world best in citizens having confidence in their police force. This achievement is to be commended and the result of members of the Garda working hard in the communities in which they serve.
It is regrettable that the Garda College in Templemore was closed for a time, but difficult decisions had to be made. I welcome its reopening, with some 800 new recruits undergoing training there last year. These young and enthusiastic recruits reflect modern Ireland and will go on to give distinctive service in communities.
The Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, was set up by the then Minister for Justice, Nora Owen, in the wake of the murder of Veronica Guerin in 1996. It continues to enjoy particular success in fighting organised crime. Last year alone, it returned €5.4 million to the Exchequer via seizures of the proceeds of such crime. The return the previous year was more than €4 million, with €3.8 million recouped in 2016. Year on year, it is becoming more successful in its activities. That success is due in no small part to the law change we introduced last year to reduce the threshold of the assets value CAB could seize.
Since the shooting at the Regency Hotel in Dublin, we have seen a determined effort by An Garda Síochána to deal with organised crime in Dublin. The force has had enormous success in dismantling the Kinahan crime gang, with dozens of arrests. In Limerick, likewise, gardaí have been successful in destroying the crime gangs that blighted the city for years and gave it its reputation as "stab city". That label was totally unfair, given that the vast majority of people living there are decent, honest and hard-working. The small group of thugs who were holding the city to ransom are now mostly behind bars, leading to a significant reduction in crime and making Limerick a safe place in which to live. I agree with Senator Gallagher that when gardaí have the money and resources they need, their efforts in combating organised crime are working. Limerick is one example and we are seeing the same happen in Dublin. There are other pockets of organised criminal activity, Drogheda being a case in point. What is happening in counties Cavan and Monaghan recently is totally unacceptable and has been condemned by everybody. Resources must be provided to enable gardaí to dismantle such pockets of criminality.
The Government is committed to resourcing and modernising An Garda Síochána. In the course of his tenure the Minister for Justice and Equality has had significant success in that regard. In the process he has restored confidence within the Department in its stewardship on justice issues, something that was needed. He is implementing incrementally the reforms and recommendations set out in the various reports on the workings of the Department. That is not an easy job when one is dealing with a structure that has been in existence for many decades. It speaks volumes about the quiet, determined way in which the Minister, supported by the Government, is doing his job that An Garda Síochána, the Department and the Garda Commissioner are no longer in the headlines.
I welcome the motion as affording us an opportunity to discuss the issue of crime. We must all make a greater effort to achieve better outcomes. As good as the achievements of the Government are in this area, there is a great deal more that needs to and will be done. The issue of the threat posed by Brexit is for another day. I commend the Government amendment to the House.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil sé tiomanta ó thaobh na ceisteanna seo. It is important when talking about communities under a heading like this to remember that they are made up of the people who live, suffer and endure in them. I am sure nobody in this House or elsewhere would intend to do so, but we must be careful not to blanket everybody in these areas together or paint them all in a particular way. It is precisely because they are strong communities made up of good people that they need the type of investment in community safety that will prevent criminals from preying on them. Sometimes we throw out terms like "Border communities" and the "lawlessness" in the same sentence. I am not questioning that there are severe issues to tackle, but we should always remember that at the heart of these communities, stories and debates are many good people.
Sinn Féin has been consistently clear and firm on the need for the Garda and the PSNI to be adequately resourced to deal robustly with the threat posed to people throughout the country by organised criminals and opportunistic criminals. Our members live in the communities most affected by criminal gangs and see at first hand the impact of their activities on people in going about their everyday business and trying to provide a safe and secure life for themselves, their children and families. The criminals preying on communities are a scourge on society, especially in areas already experiencing high levels of deprivation. They operate through a reign of fear and intimidation.
The motion tabled by Fianna Fáil and the amendment tabled by Fine Gael both reflect the gravity of the threat posed by criminals and the measures required to face it. It would not have been too difficult for both parties to have agreed to a motion which all of us in this House could support. It would have allowed us to present a united message to the people we represent that the Garda will not tolerate the activities of these gangs. A united position would have assured people that politicians are fully behind them as they encounter the gangs on the streets of their towns and villages. However, in the absence of an agreed proposal, Sinn Féin will support Fianna Fáil's motion.
My party supported the establishment of a joint agency task force under the Fresh Start agreement. The Minister played a role in securing that agreement between the Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and the main parties in the North. The purpose of the task force was to target organised criminals, North and South. It was led by senior officers from An Garda Síochána and the PSNI and officials of the Revenue Commissioners in this state and HM Revenue and Customs in the North. The task force incorporated a strategic oversight group to identify strategic priorities and an operations co-ordination group to organise and oversee joint policing operations tackling criminals and direct resources to that purpose. Is the Minister content that the task force has been effective in meeting the challenges, particularly in Border communities?I do not ask this in an adversarial way. I am asking the Minister to give us a considered view on that, and if there is anything we in the Seanad and those of us who sit on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality can do to look at the task force and try to assist in enabling it in a way that delivers greater community safety and protection for those communities most impacted. In the current context, as has been outlined very ably by Senators Gallagher and Conway, if we asked those communities whether the task force was making a practical and tangible difference to them at this time, they would probably say it was not, but it could and it should. This is where we need to get to in the course of our work.
What lessons can be learned from the task force operation in tackling the gangs more effectively? We need more officers recruited into the Garda and into the PSNI. We also need to be assured that the additional personnel will be put to good use to combat the criminals effectively and not to police checkpoints along the Border. Additional resources will be needed to complement the intelligence gathering and investigative capacity of both organisations. We have raised any number of times the closure of Garda stations, especially in rural areas. There is a slight irony in the lamenting of the absence of Garda resources in rural areas by the very same people who were responsible for closing so many of those stations, but we are where we are.
Sinn Féin is a strong advocate for community and neighbourhood policing teams and for the promotion of strong and genuine policing with a community ethos and practice, and with human rights compliance at its heart. This involves a genuine partnership between the community, the key agencies and the police. For it to be effective requires a joint identification of policing priorities aligned to joint problem solving and an attempt to deal effectively with these matters at a grassroots community level.
-----I commend our recent report from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality. I believe that Senator Conway is the only other member of that committee currently in the Chamber. We carried out a comprehensive series of hearings into community policing and rural crime.
It is an excellent report and I commend it to Members. I am sure the Minister is familiar with it. In some ways we have already done that work, so let it be a guide and a tool for gardaí and for the Department of Justice and Equality in policing rural areas more effectively and for listening to the needs of people on the ground.
Many of my colleagues have raised the issue of the Garda armed response unit and the scourge of drugs and armed gangs. Probably one of the commonest experiences of criminal activity is the issue of illegal moneylending and threats to people as a result, which has also been raised by Deputy Martin Ferris in the other House. When we speak of vulnerable communities being victims of these criminals, it is precisely that vulnerability the criminals prey on. They lend to mothers because in many cases it is women who head the families and they are preyed upon by these criminals who lend money and then demand extortionate rates back. They threaten violence and intimidation and, in some cases, carry the violence through. It is another issue that will relate to many people outside these Houses. While we have the Minister in the House, perhaps he could address this issue.
The Garda and the PSNI must appreciate the central role the community can play in helping to tackle criminality. This will only happen if the communities feel confident and empowered to assist the police in every way. This very much depends on the police investing resources and personnel into well-organised and planned community-based policing. It also means investing in community-led safety initiatives that come from the grassroots, such as Neighbourhood Watch schemes, text alert programmes and, crucially, in our urban centres and increasingly in rural areas, restorative justice projects.
Progress in defeating armed criminal gangs is slow, but nonetheless I concede that some progress has been made. Evidence from the public is crucial in this operation. In this context we need to look at possible measures to protect witnesses as one method of ensuring these guys are in prison and taken off the streets. A united front of politicians, police and community is one sure way of eradicating the scourge of criminality and restoring peace to the streets and peace of mind for the communities that are targeted.
I assure the Leader of the House that had the amendment come in the form of a stand-alone motion, I am sure it would have gained our full support. We had to make a call on this. Given what we are facing and the expectation from the community, the original Fianna Fáil motion holds the greater weight and this is why Sinn Féin supports that motion. I would love to have been able to support both.
I welcome the opportunity to be in the Seanad to listen to the Senators' views. I acknowledge the importance of the motion. I very much value the contributions of the Senators who have spoken. Having read the motion, I believe the issue is further strengthened by the countermotion proposed by Senator Conway, which speaks for itself. In the time available to me I do not intend to speak on every aspect of the countermotion, but I acknowledge what Senator Conway has said in that regard.
The countermotion highlights better the scope of An Garda Síochána's response to crime in the State, underpinned by the provision of unprecedented resources to An Garda Síochána by the Government. As Senator Ó Donnghaile said in his contribution, while we might differ today in some of our opinions on these issues, we are all working towards achieving the same goal, which is safer communities for our citizens. I am pleased, therefore, to participate in what is a wholly constructive debate.
Senators will be aware that the programme for Government underlines the need for close engagement between An Garda Síochána and local communities, and this is an essential feature of the strong community policing ethos that has long been central to policing in this jurisdiction.
The recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, as developed in the Government's four-year implementation plan, includes a primary focus on community policing, with a range of actions set out to increase further the extent of An Garda Síochána's direct involvement with and in the community. This includes the roll-out of the new operating model of An Garda Síochána, which will increase the number and visibility of front-line gardaí and will undoubtedly deliver a more localised service based on community needs. I will discuss this in more detail later in my contribution. I must note, however, that Senator Gallagher, who proposed the motion, has left the Chamber. I am sure that Senator Murnane O'Connor will pass on my comments with regard to Senator Gallagher's submission.
It is also worth noting in our contributions that the perception of crime generally is often very different from actual levels of crime.
In the Garda public attitudes survey for the first quarter of 2019, when respondents were asked about crime nationally, 71% perceived crime nationally as a very serious or serious problem, compared with only 16% who considered local crime to be a very serious or serious problem. It is important that we are all conscious about the impact that fear of crime can have on people's lives and, in that sense, it is essential that our public utterances at all times reflect the facts. That was the opening comment of Senator Ó Donnghaile's contribution, and I agree with him.
This brings me to cross Border co-operation, and I acknowledge the interest of Senator Ó Donnghaile and other Senators in this area. Senators will be aware that policing in the Border region has always presented particular challenges that necessitate a collaborative approach to policing with law enforcement agencies north and south of the Border. Many Senators will remember the time when co-operation between police forces in the North and the South was practically non-existent. A huge gain from our peace process and the related police reform that occurred in Northern Ireland is that we are now living in a golden age of co-operation between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI. That co-operation is saving lives, preventing crimes and ensuring that criminals face justice. The importance of this co-operation has been particularly emphasised in recent weeks by the abhorrent attack on Mr. Kevin Lunney, who is a businessman in the Border region. I was in Cavan and Fermanagh last week and I met the Chief Constable of the PSNI, Mr. Simon Byrne, and the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, for discussions on cross-Border crime issues. I also met the local chief superintendent, John O'Reilly in Cavan. I addressed a case conference involving An Garda Síochána national units and the PSNI that was under way in Cavan town. A joint operation has been in place for some time arising from a number of incidents that have taken place in the area and the horrific attack on Mr. Lunney, whom I also met.That is being addressed through a joint investigation and the sharing of information and evidence between An Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI.
There are specific calls in the Fianna Fáil motion for the establishment of a cross-border multidisciplinary agency to target criminal activity. However, a successful multi-agency cross-border task force is in place to tackle cross-Border crime. The joint agency task force was established in November 2015 by the British and Irish Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive under the Fresh Start agreement as part of a concerted and enhanced effort to tackle organised and cross-Border jurisdictional crime. Senator Ó Donnghaile referred to it in his constructive commentary. Joint policing is not only policing between the PSNI and the Garda Síochána and it also involves other agencies and organisations. The strategic oversight group of the task force is chaired jointly at senior management level by An Garda Síochána and the PSNI. It also includes senior personnel in relevant agencies, including the Revenue Commissioners and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs. The Criminal Assets Bureau and the National Crime Agency are all closely involved with the joint agency task force. The task force has made strong progress in tackling cross-Border criminal activity across a range of crime areas, including not just traditional smuggling activities but also rural and farm crimes, organised burglary and drug crime.
The regrettable absence of an Executive in Northern Ireland means that the work of the task force is less visible than it might have been. I was asked what Senators might do. They should continue to engage with their colleagues north of the Border to ensure that every effort can be made to restore the Executive and Assembly in Northern Ireland. Last week, when a joint press conference was arranged I was on my own because I did not have a colleague from north of the Border; there is no Minister for justice with whom I can liaise on a regular basis. I regret that as working together in a collaborative forum is the key to success, particularly in areas that straddle jurisdictions. The task was designed to report to justice ministers, North and South, and it is my hope that the restoration of power sharing in Northern Ireland will allow the task force to reach its full potential.
I acknowledge Senator Robbie Gallagher's comments about Border communities. He knows about them as he was born and lives there. He is there on a daily basis.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan was correct when he referred to the importance of the integrity of Good Friday Agreement in all its parts. I welcome the support of Senators on a cross-party basis in that regard, as we must ensure we continue to amplify our twin objectives in the context of Brexit, irrespective of what happens. We need to acknowledge and maintain the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts and protect our Single Market as members of the European Union.
Last week, I attended the cross-Border conference on organised crime, held this year in County Cavan. This annual event is aimed at enhancing co-operation between law enforcement agencies on both sides of the Border, particularly in with respect to cross-Border organised criminality and related issues. This conference gave members of the task force the opportunity to consider in detail the necessary improvements and innovations, including international co-operation, which can be taken to strengthen the effectiveness of the task force. I am not opposed in principle to the establishment of a CAB-style cross-Border agency but I am satisfied that the existing co-operative arrangements are effective in the main. Advancing any new proposal would require detailed negotiation and engagement with the British Government, which has responsibility for some of the key agencies involved. It would be party to any new international agreement that is concluded. It is something we cannot do of our own volition because it will involve the signing of an international treaty and the active engagement of the British Government on the one hand and the Northern Ireland Executive as well. We sadly know it currently is not functioning.
The creation of a new multi-agency body must require the support of the political institutions in the North to succeed. We know this from the Good Friday Agreement and all subsequent agreements, be it Weston Park, St. Andrew's, Stormont or Fresh Start. These agreements will only proceed to be implemented if they have the full support of everybody involved, particularly the parties in Northern Ireland. The absence of political institutions in Northern Ireland de facto renders the new proposal practically impossible to advance. I urge Fianna Fáil Senators to acknowledge this fact. The proposal would need to be discussed in detail with the Garda Commissioner and his counterparts in Northern Ireland and Great Britain. It would need careful consideration also in the context of the withdrawal of the UK from the EU.
The Garda Commissioner made a decision to establish an additional armed support unit in Cavan that became operational on Monday. I acknowledge the support of Senators, and Senator Gallagher in particular, in this regard. That work will complement the work of those based in Ballyshannon and Dundalk in the northern region. The decision is an operational matter for the Garda Commissioner but it is one we can all welcome. Senators will be aware there are a number of successful Garda operations in place to disrupt the activities of criminal gangs throughout the State. It should be noted that the most recent crime statistics released by the CSO indicate a decrease of more than 40% in the number of recorded homicide incidents in the second quarter of 2019 when compared with the same period in 2018. The CSO figures also identify a decrease of almost 10% in burglary and related offences nationally at the end of the second quarter of 2019 when compared with the same period last year. It is only right that we continue to acknowledge the fine work of An Garda Síochána in helping to achieve these reductions.
Since November 2015, there has been a targeted response by An Garda Síochána to burglary and burglary-related crime. The scale of Garda activity as of 23 May has produced in the region of 1,879 arrests and 2,188 charges, covering a range of offences which, in addition to burglary, have included the handling of stolen property, possession of firearms and drug offences. Recent crime statistics also identified a decrease of 9.8% in burglary and related offences nationally at the end of the second quarter of 2019 when compared with last year. These statistics also indicate that incidence of theft from person has decreased by in excess of 10% and I welcome this positive news. However, there is no question of anybody sitting on any laurels.
Senators will also be familiar with the Garda operations Hybrid and Stratus, which have been deployed by the Garda Commissioner in response to organised crime and feud-related violence in Dublin and Drogheda, respectively. These operations have resulted in a significant number of arrests and individuals being brought before the courts. With respect to the new operating model announced by the Commissioner recently, management and co-ordination of services in this new model will be transferred from the current district superintendent level to a divisional model. This will assist in freeing Garda resources nationwide. In practical terms, it will mean less duplication and bureaucracy at senior levels while chief superintendents will be given greater decision-making power. The new model will streamline administrative services and reduce bureaucracy; provide more sergeants and inspectors on the ground, protecting and supporting our communities; shift more power and decision making from Garda headquarters to chief superintendents closer to the communities they serve; and thereby ensure we have a more localised and responsive police service reflecting local needs.
I reject what Senator Gallagher said about downgrades and a lack of consultation. I take his comments as being a direct and express criticism of the Garda Commissioner, although it was not his intention. I am concerned about suggestions that the merging of divisions will result in diminished policing services on the ground. The Senator said he is hearing of this from communities. I suggest to him and his colleagues that they might deploy a bit of leadership in communities by explaining the new divisional model to their constituents rather than immediately adopting words like "downgrade" or "retrograde", leading to further speculation.
I hear Senators and, in the Lower House, Deputies talking about the merging of areas as though no two counties can be under the same chief superintendent. There are already divisions with more than one county in several locations around the State. I represent the constituency of Laois-Offaly. Since the foundation of the State, both counties have been policed from a Garda headquarters in Portlaoise. Did anyone ever tell me when Mr. Brian Cowen from Tullamore was Taoiseach that Tullamore was suffering because the chief superintendent was situated in an office in Portlaoise? It was never mentioned. I ask Senator Gallagher and others to look through the Dáil record of debates on policing and crime. It was never said in the "downgrade" terms that I am now hearing. That term feeds nicely into the political climate-----
-----the Garda plan drawn up by the Garda Commissioner, Mr. Drew Harris, and his team has the full support of independent bodies like the Policing Authority and the Garda Síochána Inspectorate. It represents an integral part of the reform proposals as outlined in the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, chaired by the expert, Ms Kathleen O'Toole.
I do not believe that there is evidence to suggest that the location of a divisional headquarters in one county is diminishing of policing in another. The operating model will enhance the investigation of crime by delivering a greater range of specialised services in local areas such as the investigation of sexual crime, domestic violence related crimes, and new forms of crime that we have not prosecuted previously, including cybercrime and economic crime. I do not subscribe to the view that this is a downgrade of policing in Cavan and Monaghan, in Carlow and Kilkenny, or in other parts of the country.
I will refer briefly to the national drugs strategy. I acknowledge the work that Senator Ned O'Sullivan has done over a number of years, quietly and without the glare of publicity, on the issue of national drugs policy and the scourge that drugs present in society. Recent intelligence-led operations have resulted in significant drug seizures by the Garda, including in the Ballyfermot and Park West area last Friday where the Garda made a seizure of approximately €3.5 million worth of drugs and a number of arrests were made. Another recent successful operation resulted in a seizure of heroin with an estimated value of €1 million in Dublin and Meath on Sunday, 1 September. This seizure was part of a joint operation involving members of the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau and the UK National Crime Agency.
Unfortunately, drug related intimidation within what are often our most vulnerable communities exists and is a serious issue that must be addressed by our criminal justice system. Community policing initiatives and building trust with communities are integral to tackling this issue successfully. The Garda remains resolute in its determination to act against those within society who pose a significant threat to the welfare and well-being of our citizens and the communities they serve. The continued disruption of the supply of all illicit drugs remains a priority for all of the agencies involved. Ireland's national drugs strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery: A health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017-2025, is unique among national drugs strategies across EU member states and recognises the need to address drug related debt intimidation at community level.
The Garda is involved in a variety of activities at local level, including the local and regional drug and alcohol task forces; Garda youth diversion projects, which support the operation of the statutory diversion programme; the Garda schools programme; and proactive operations designed to address drug supply in communities.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan made particular reference to rural crime. I agree with him. I acknowledge the recent launch at the National Ploughing Championships of the national rural safety forum. Through it, we can see the hallmark of policing activity in a community-engaged, collaborative approach with such bodies as the GAA, Macra na Feirme, Muintir na Tíre, the IFA and rural bodies, which have come together to form a task force to promote rural safety, particularly as we head into the winter months. Where communities experience intimidation, joint policing committees have an important role in facilitating consultation, co-operation and synergy on policing and crime issues. Senator Gallagher spoke of a downgrade of Garda activity in County Monaghan, but I assure him and other Senators that the Garda Commissioner or a senior member of his team will attend the local joint policing committee at the earliest opportunity between now and Christmas to explain fully the new innovative strategy. Active engagement and leadership by elected members on joint policing committees is important.
I acknowledge what Senators Ó Donnghaile, Conway and others have done on the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality. I assure the Senators that I take seriously the reports of that committee and am happy to engage further with it on the important and valuable report that was published earlier this year and that we had an opportunity of debating at plenary level in the Dáil before the recess.
I will close by acknowledging the importance of this motion. I thank the Fianna Fáil Members for raising this most important issue. Of course, I acknowledge that there is more work to do in this area. Organised crime is an ongoing challenge in all jurisdictions and the ever-evolving nature of criminal activity and the increasingly sophisticated avenues of pursuing organised crime are such that the response by law enforcement agencies must continue to evolve, deepen and intensify over time. The Garda Commissioner is wholeheartedly committed to harnessing the new Garda model. I am disappointed by criticism in the Seanad of the Garda Commissioner, since I know that he is committed to bringing out the best of the new model of policing and to tackling organised crime on the front line. The Government is committed to continuing with its priority of supporting the Garda Commissioner to that end. In that regard, unprecedented funding of €1.76 billion has been allocated by the Government to the Garda Vote for this year as well as capital investment amounting to €92 million, which is a 50% increase on the 2018 figure. The Government remains committed to achieving a Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021. The ongoing programme of recruitment will provide the Commissioner with the resources needed to deploy increasing numbers of gardaí to deliver a visible, effective and responsive policing service throughout the country. These requirements will be kept under ongoing review by Garda management with a view towards addressing any policing requirement that may arise from time to time. I am confident that this continuing investment in Garda resources by the Government, together with the ongoing reform process within the Garda, will result in an improved policing service for all of our communities, irrespective of where they are, urban or rural.
I would appreciate it if the Acting Chairman indicated to me when the end of my four minutes was approaching.This is a timely debate. I thank our Fianna Fáil colleagues for the motion. Gangland crime is not restricted only to Dublin and areas that are considered to be cities. The nature of the drugs trade in Ireland and elsewhere means that gang crime and all that goes with it has seeped out to my own home town of Drogheda. Drogheda has been beset by a drugs war in the last year, precipitated by a shooting in the town last summer. The Minister knows this. He has visited Drogheda on many occasions. Up to 100 gang-related incidents have been recorded by An Garda Síochana locally in the past year or so. This includes shootings, alleged kidnappings, pipe bomb attacks, and drug debt intimidation. August saw our first fatality. Drug debt intimidation has destroyed the fabric of some of Drogheda's communities. It has created an environment of unprecedented tension, where people are looking over their shoulders and everyone is under suspicion. Local gardaí have done all they can with limited resources. We have to wait, as the Minister knows too well, for a brazen shooting in broad daylight in the Hardmans Gardens area of Drogheda in April for the Commissioner and the Department to commit to deploying badly needed additional Garda resources in the form of 25 additional personnel in the town.
The dogs on the street know who is running these gangs and who is involved, yet it seems that the powers the Oireachtas provides to the system in the context of the Criminal Justice Act 2009 are not being used to properly manage and prosecute individuals who are responsible for directing organised crime. The people of Drogheda demand action. They demand that the people responsible for these concerted actions, and for the organisation and operation of these crime gangs be taken off the streets and brought to justice. This is a failure of the system. I would appreciate if the Minister could elaborate on his views about the Criminal Justice Act's efficacy. He is required under law to present a report to this House. It is in black and white that not a single person has been brought before the Special Criminal Court charged with the crime of directing a criminal gang. I understand that individuals who are involved in organised crime are often convicted of lesser offences and taken off the street and deprived of their liberty. However, the law was introduced in 2009 for good reason. The Minister will be reluctant to comment on an independent agency, which I understand, but there appears to be a reluctance on the part of the Director of Public Prosectuions, DPP, to use the legislation there. That suggests that there is a weakness in the legislation. Because of that reluctance, ordinary people in Drogheda and other communities across the country beset by the effects of organised crime are suffering. That should not be the case, and I hope the Minister agrees. Is it the case that our anti-gang crime legislation needs to be reviewed?
The Minister will be aware of the situation on the north side of Dublin, which I have raised here constantly and consistently over the last year. It has spiralled out of control when murders, gun crime, pipe bombs, shootings outside shopping centres in daylight or murders outside primary schools are part of a list of incidents that have taken place in the Dublin 17, 13 and 5 in the past 12 months. I have consistently tried to be constructive and I have asked the Minister and his Cabinet colleagues to replicate what they did in the north inner city. He has consistently refused. The Mulvey report was produced in respect of the north inner city, and a sit-down initiative was taken by the Government to get every agency, political representative and stakeholder to come up with a set of proposals that would not only police away the problem but understand the reasons for the problem.
What I have been asking for, in an effort to be constructive, is for a Mulvey-style report to engage agencies such as Northside Partnership, Preparing for Life in Darndale, local schools and community groups and residents' associations to come up with the reasons such gangland crime, violence and murder are happening and come up with constructive solutions so we can police our way out of it.
Having said that, on my initiative and that of the Clongriffin community association, there has been a campaign for a new Garda station in the Dublin 13 and 17 areas. I am pleased this has been agreed to and this station will be in situin a number of years. However, the Minister must agree that it cannot be normalised for children to grow up seeing Garda tape in their area because of another shooting. It cannot be normal for a child to go to a primary school having to step around a crime scene or a murder. In my community, which I try to represent to the best of my ability, this is happening far too often. I do not accept that if it happened in any other part of the country, it would be considered acceptable, but for some reason on the north side of Dublin, it is almost coming to be accepted that this is the way it is. However, that is not the way it is. It is a proud part of the country and the city and it deserves answers. I appeal to the Minister and Government to set aside party political divisions, conclude that there is a problem here and commission a report over a period of months, bringing together every stakeholder who cares about the area in a room to come up with a set of proposals that might educate, lift and empower the community out of the situation. Policing is part of the solution, but not alone. Once again, I plead with the Minister to replicate what he did in the north east inner city on this part of the north side as then we might get solutions and a community that feels that the State is working on its behalf. Young people are making decisions. I am sure there is a young person making a decision today regarding whether he or she goes down the route of gangland crime or involve himself or herself in the mainstream economy and society. Those decisions are made every day. It is empowering for a person to get a gun in his or her hand so we must ask how we get to a point where communities find better solutions and choices for young people. We can do that together but every time I raise this, I do not get an answer. I find that desperately disappointing when the Government found the energy to do it in one part of the city. I implore the Minister to please do the same in the Dublin 17, Dublin 13 and Dublin 5 areas.
I was going to begin from a different perspective but I will pick up on Senator Ó Ríordáin's point. This is something that I have considered. A model is already in vogue called the community safety and policing forum and the joint policing committees which I believe can be revamped and rethought to accommodate some of the things Senator Ó Ríordáin has spoken about and giving meaningful roles to people along with An Garda Síochána rather than just going through the usual reports from city manager to county manager to the garda crime figures. I ask that the Minister examine this with the Garda Commissioner. There is a need to bring in community involvement and stakeholders, although I do not like using that word, such as community organisations, education bodies, sporting clubs and civic leaders and bodies to tackle some of the issues we discuss each week at our policing forums and committees.
We are lucky that we have a Minister for Justice and Equality who understands and recognises the importance of policing and of community. What we are trying to put together, and what we are doing, is to have a response to crime. None of the Members opposite mentioned the success rate of An Garda Síochána in detection and combating crime.While we have a number of issues in my own city of Cork, God knows, if one listened to local radio stations over the past two weeks, one would swear Cork was at a standstill, when in fact it is the opposite. This week, in Douglas, two new community gardaí will be put in place, which I welcome. I also welcome the reopening of the Garda stations in Douglas and Bishopstown. These announcements are significant movements and demonstrate positivity. We also have, in tandem with the Government and An Garda Síochána, personal and societal responsibilities. People spoke about criminality and whatever, but many people know who these people, the perpetrators of crimes, are.
In welcoming the new model of community policing and the policing model announced by the Garda Commissioner, Mr. Harris, the Minister is right to say that localised policing is based on community needs. That is why in my contribution I have spoken about the aspect of the joint policing committees and the community safety fora. It is the localised aspect and those in the community who know the answer and who want to bring about change and enhance their societies and communities.
The Members opposite come to the House every day and ask for more gardaí, cars, equipment, resources - the list goes on. I remind Senators Gallagher and Murnane O'Connor that the taxpayers pay €3 million a week on the interest on the money borrowed to bail out the banks because of their Government's recklessness. That is their legacy.
As much as €167 million per week or €725 million per month is the promised spend by those opposite. They bankrupted this country once and I assure them that we will not let them bankrupt it again.
I welcome the specialisation of An Garda Síochána in many cities and areas around the issues of sexual and domestic violence, crime, drugs and criminality. Creating specialised units to tackle crime is the way to go.
Senator Ó Donnghaile asked for a message about law and order. We, on this side of the House, are the party of law and order. We have always stood up for the Garda. In fact, we founded An Garda Síochána. We have been the party that has always stood by the State and we will continue to do so.
Community policing is critical to the work of An Garda Síochána. It is very important that we continue to invest in community policing. I understand that there is uncertainty surrounding Brexit and that there are pressing issues in many parts of the country. The Minister mentioned the issues concerning Drogheda and Cavan. There is a need, however, in the next allocation for An Garda Síochána to recognise the importance of the second city of our country.
I welcome the closer involvement and engagement between An Garda Síochána and PSNI. It is very important that that work continues. In addition, the work that the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, is doing with the Minister for Justice and Equality on the national drugs strategy to reduce harm, is something on which we need to see a greater and continuing emphasis. We must never become lax about drugs misuse and tackling the drugs related issues in urban and rural communities. The Minister, in his countermotion, spoke about the need to take on intimidatory behaviour, and I agree with that absolutely.
The delivery of more front-line gardaí with a higher visible presence, along with responsive community policing in communities, is what people want. The Minister is right when he says that people do not want to know who the Garda chief superintendent is or where the divisional headquarters are. They want to see community policing and a policing presence on the streets like we have seen regularly. They also want to see An Garda Síochána continuing to apprehend criminals, to detect crime and to put people behind bars. In addition, there is an obligation on society to adopt a different perspective on prison in terms of providing rehabilitation, custodial sentences and so on.
This Minister, during his tenure, has overseen the reopening of the Garda College in Templemore, recruitment to An Garda Síochána, a level of civilianisation of Garda stations that has not been done before that allows for more gardaí and resources, and more resources being given to An Garda Síochána. That is his legacy. We need collaboratively to send the message that crime does not pay, that we stand with our members of An Garda Síochána throughout this country, and that we will continue to work with PSNI in the North of this country. I urge the Minister to continue his good work. We have reopened Templemore and there are more gardaí on our streets. The highest ever Garda budget in the history of the State, achieved in the past two years, is the Minister's legacy.
All of us must work together. This is not the blame game here. To start that now after being in power for nearly a decade worries me. It worries me that this keeps coming up all the time. All of us working together is the only way we will solve our problems.
Crime impacts all of us. Just because it happens in another town or street does not mean we are immune to its ramifications. When criminal gangs roam the country, burgling and causing damage, we all live in fear. When we watch the news and see and hear horrific stories, we all live in fear. In the past decade we have seen the stretching of the resources of our police force. There are good men and women in the force, and they can only what they can. They cannot do it all.
Rural crime has affected all of us, directly or indirectly, and we cannot continue to let thugs and bandits run this country. As homes are burgled, machinery and tools are stolen and people are assaulted and killed, we are all living in fear and we need to take back control of our towns and villages, motorways and streets. A visible Garda presence is vital for all small rural villages and towns - a strong show of action, joined-up thinking and all of us working together to condemn criminality wherever it occurs. That is the only way forward.
Senator Buttimer spoke about the joint policing committees. I am on one of them and have been for years. I see how hard gardaí and communities work. I am part of a community group that works and promotes co-operation and would only praise the Garda. I see that the biggest issue coming from the meetings of the joint policing committees is resources. It is resources, resources, resources.
It is. If the Leader cannot see that, then there is a problem. He should talk to anyone who goes to the meetings. I never miss a meeting. I go to them all to make sure that I am there for the community and I am there to help to help gardaí in any way that I can.
While I appreciate that gardaí do a great job, and that is not even in question, and while the new location of superintendents and other management may make sense, gardaí themselves may not have fully known this in their own areas, so I believe that one of the biggest issues is communication. It is not about the blame game. I know the Minister is doing his best, and I can say that, being from a neighbouring county. It is all of us working together that will solve this, not the blame game. It is sad that every time I come to the House, all I hear from Senator Buttimer is blame, blame, blame. I can tell the Minister that we in Fianna Fáil will work with him to try to sort out the issues to give people what they want, namely, the confidence to know that they are safe. It is a case of all of us working together to make sure that people feel safe in their homes. I guarantee him that I will work with him on that and so will the Fianna Fáil Party.
I thank the Minister for his contribution. The reality is that no one should resist change as change is good in any organisation. Anyone who resists change for the sake of it is doing that organisation a disservice.When it comes to this plan, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. The jury is very much out in that regard. The Minister noted in his contribution that the Garda Commissioner will now brief joint policing committees, JPCs, on the plan. It would have been a good idea if he had visited all the JPCs before he announced his plan.
I can only listen to the information out there. I listen to the criticism from the Garda Representative Association, the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors and the Association of Garda Superintendents. All of these people work on the ground in the Border area, day in, day out. As I said in my earlier contribution, some of them have done so for periods of more than 30 years. It is disappointing to listen to their comments and hear their frustration with the lack of consultation.
I will throw out a small piece of information regarding resources. As I said earlier, 15 years ago four sergeants, 16 gardaí and one detective were stationed in Clones Garda station. Today there are three gardaí and one sergeant in that station. Emyvale and Scotstown Garda stations have one patrol car to share between them. In Monaghan district, which covers Monaghan town and the surrounding area, there are two uniform vehicles, one Garda patrol car and one Garda van. I understand that only 2% or 3% of the personnel at the local station are legally qualified to drive that van. There have been no driving courses for more than 12 months. These are the basics. I will add another statistic. In the north Monaghan area on any given weeknight there is one patrol car covering the area from Scotshouse on the Cavan border to Annyalla in north County Monaghan. That covers three northern counties; Tyrone, Armagh and Fermanagh.
We are less than a month away from Brexit and we are talking about resources. Someone needs to get real. It is great to have a plan, but to implement that plan the Minister will need resources. He will need gardaí on the ground. Those resources are not currently there. That is not my opinion - that is fact. I hope the plan succeeds. I am very nervous that it will not.
There is a feeling among the community in Cavan and Monaghan that the Cavan-Monaghan Garda division will now be the poor relation. The chief superintendent will be in Drogheda and we in Monaghan, who share a divisional headquarters with County Cavan, will be the poor relation. Resources will always go to the area that needs them the most. The squeaky wheel always gets more grease. They are the concerns of the people. I certainly hope we are all wrong and that this plan will be a success, but I have grave concerns.
Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Paudie Coffey, Martin Conway, Frank Feighan, Maura Hopkins, Billy Lawless, Tim Lombard, Ian Marshall, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, James Reilly, Neale Richmond.
Ivana Bacik, Lorraine Clifford Lee, Rose Conway Walsh, Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt, Maire Devine, Robbie Gallagher, Colette Kelleher, Terry Leyden, Pádraig MacLochlainn, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Gerald Nash, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Ned O'Sullivan, Diarmuid Wilson.