Seanad debates

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Closed-Circuit Television Systems Provision

10:30 am

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, to the House.

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I tabled my Commencement matter as I seek clarification, under the current legislation, regarding the community CCTV scheme pertaining to County Cork. In particular, I would like to know who controls the data and when the schemes will be operational.

I brought this important issue to the floor of the Seanad because several towns in County Cork, including Bandon, have been approved for CCTV systems. Unfortunately, even though a contract has been signed for the past three years, agreement between the local authority and the Department of Justice and Equality as to who controls, owns and operates the data and who pays for the operation of the system has never been clarified. We are dealing with a scenario where a scheme was put in place that gives the local authority the ability to purchase equipment and sign contracts, which they have done. We now have a system but no operational budget has been put in place and the big issue is who controls the data. Is it the Garda Síochána, the Department of Justice and Equality or the local authority?

In the current environment, we are subject to the general data protection regulation, GDPR, and other regulations. The lack of clarification by either the Department or the local authority on this issue means that no CCTV system is operating in Bandon today, which is unfortunate. We have talked about this issue for over a decade yet the systems still have not been delivered. It is unfortunate that local government and the big government in Dublin cannot sit down and sort out the issues that would enable the rolling out of the CCTV system. It is not about making sure that Big Brother is watching society. It is about making sure that when there are anti-social behaviour or litter issues, we can deal with them on the ground. I am very disappointed that we do not have clarity on these issues.

I have read the latest county manager's report that a feasibility study has been put in place on how much it actually costs to run and control the system. Do we need another report three years later without having schemes in place? Enough feasibility studies have been done and we need action. A deep and meaningful conversation must take place immediately between the Department and the local authority in Cork to ensure that the CCTV systems, for which the contracts have been signed, are delivered on the ground, thus benefiting society as a whole.

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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I am taking this Commencement matter on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality. His reply is quite long and I may not get through it all.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue. The Minister wishes to acknowledge the importance that many communities attach to CCTV and the sense of security it can bring. He also confirms that An Garda Síochána has previously indicated to his Department that it utilises CCTV in almost every criminal investigation, during major public events and sporting occasions, in the investigation of road traffic incidents and in many other areas requiring police action. The Garda considers CCTV to be particularly effective when the cameras are visible and their presence evident in a way that raises awareness among would-be offenders. The Minister agrees with the Senator on the importance and value of this issue. The law on CCTV is of long standing.

Community CCTV, as referred to by the Senator, is governed by section 38(3)(c) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and the Garda Síochána (CCTV) Order 2006. This legal framework requires that any proposed community CCTV scheme must do the following: be approved by the local joint policing committee; have the prior support of the relevant local authority, which must also act as data controller; and have the authorisation of the Garda Commissioner. This is the legal basis for all community CCTV schemes, regardless of how they are funded. These key legal requirements, including the legal requirement for local authorities to act as data controller, have not changed since 2006.The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, wants to be clear that this long-standing statutory framework does not place an obligation on local authorities to take part in community CCTV. However, if a local authority decides that it is not prepared to act as data controller for community CCTV, this prevents community CCTV schemes from operating in its functional area.

In effect, the current legislative structure is an enabling one which empowers local communities and local authorities to establish a community CCTV system, to which the Garda has appropriate access. This is provided they meet the statutory requirements, including that the local authority is prepared to assume responsibility as data controller.

It may also be of reassurance for the Senator to know that the Data Protection Commission issued a note in November 2018 confirming that there is a legal basis for community-based CCTV and that the general data protection regulation does not introduce new barriers in that regard. The Data Protection Commission confirmed that:

Data protection legislation does not stand in the way of the roll-out of community-based CCTV schemes that have been authorised by the Garda Commissioner. Once the local authority in the administrative area concerned is willing to take on and deliver on its responsibilities as a data controller for the schemes concerned, there is no legal impediment under data protection legislation to the scheme commencing.

During 2019, the Data Protection Commission released general guidance on CCTV on its website, which the Minister would recommend to all those with an interest in this area.

I could read on. I have about ten pages here.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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The script has been circulated and the Minister of State might run over time. The Senator will have the script anyway.

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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There is another piece at the end that might make things clearer to the Senator.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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The Minister of State should go to the end in that case.

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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The Minister believes that there may be additional interest for financial support in this area. I can confirm that the grant aid scheme remains open for applications from interested groups in 2019.

I am delighted to announce that the Minister has recently approved the extension of the CCTV grant aid scheme for a further year in 2020. The Minister hopes that this point is of assistance to the Senator, who had inquired about deadlines in that respect.

The Minister emphasises that grant funding can be considered only for CCTV schemes which meet the legal requirements for CCTV. He encourages all Senators to join him in providing information on the availability of this funding to all interested groups.

The answer is quite long and I am sorry I cannot go through it all.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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That is all right.

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for the response. We are very much aware of the grants available. I believe Cork County Council has drawn down nine of those grants. Four of them are in limbo at the moment over the running costs and who controls the data. Cork County Council has taken a different view from any other local authority. It has an issue with the data and the running costs. The four schemes, particularly the one in Bandon, have been impacted by that. It is a unique situation.

I call for deep and meaningful discussions between the Department of Justice and Equality and Cork County Council to get a solution to this problem. The legislation is there and we have the will and the budget. We need that interaction between the Department of Justice and Equality officials and Cork County Council officials to overcome the problem. This is nothing more than big government not talking to local government and not having an understanding of the issues on the ground. As a result, Bandon does not have a CCTV system in place even though contracts for some of these schemes were signed three years ago. We have the budget and the grant approval. We now need that deep and meaningful conversation. Otherwise we will just be sending emails and doing feasibility reports with nothing happening on the ground.

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, understands specific questions raised by the Senator relating to data control for community-based CCTV schemes in Cork. The Senator will appreciate that all the Minister can do is set out the legal framework. The law on community CCTV is clear and has not changed since 2006. The data control for community CCTV schemes is the responsibility of the local authority. I understand some of the issues the Senator raised and I will endeavour to bring them back to the Minister for more in-depth conversation with the Senator on why the four schemes in Cork have not been put in place. I am sorry if the reply did not give the Senator the specific information he sought. I will ask the Minister to intervene.