Wednesday, 11 December 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I thank the Minister of State. Unfortunately, I am very disappointed to have to say that incidents of anti-social behaviour appear to be on the increase on many of our train routes, including the Sligo to Dublin line. Irish Rail management has admitted as much and conceded to The Irish Timeslate last year that, "[B]oth employee reports and customer feedback do confirm that there has been an increase in the number of anti-social behaviour incidents over the past 18 months". According to figures recently obtained by the Longford Leaderunder a freedom of information request, 86 alleged incidents of anti-social behaviour occurred on the Sligo to Dublin Connolly network over the past two years, an average of two incidents a week on the line. That is unacceptable by any measure. Anyone who, like me, uses that train regularly has witnessed some form of anti-social behaviour.
As we know, anti-social behaviour can take many forms. It can include verbal abuse, intimidation, drunkenness, vandalism, drug use and assaults. Yesterday, I listened to an interview with a Sligo solicitor on Ocean FM who expressed safety concerns for passengers on the Sligo to Dublin route. Having witnessed a number of incidents in recent years, the solicitor noted that the most recent involved an altercation between a teenager and two drunken men on the train which led to gardaí boarding the train. I read a newspaper report yesterday that stated that Irish Rail received several complaints of harassment on the Dublin to Westport line. This is clearly unacceptable.
It is an intolerable situation and it begs the question as to what exactly Irish Rail is doing to combat this thuggish behaviour, whether it is on the Sligo line or any other network. We simply cannot have a situation whereby decent, law-abiding people are paying good money for rail fares only to be terrorised when they get on board. I join in the calls for additional security to deal with the scourge of disruptive passengers.
As the Minister of State knows, many proposals have been floated, including the introduction of security personnel, as seen on the Luas, and specialised Garda units. There have even been calls for a dedicated transport police unit to be put in place.
I understand that Irish Rail has plans to introduce a text alert system along with the installation of CCTV in all carriages. We have to protect all of our rail passengers from this appalling behaviour. I look forward to the Minister of State outlining what Irish Rail is doing and what other measures it could put in place to deal with this widespread problem.
I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross. I thank Senator Feighan for his question on what is a very serious matter and one that has very much come to the fore in recent times. While the vast majority of public transport passenger journeys occur without incident, the safety and security of public transport passengers and staff, including arrangements to deal with anti-social behaviour, are important matters that, first and foremost, must be managed by every public transport company, in conjunction with An Garda Síochána, where appropriate. Furthermore, while the Minister, Deputy Ross, and I are of course concerned about ensuring that the necessary arrangements are in place to ensure the safety of all passengers and staff across the entire transport network, including the Sligo to Dublin rail line, the allocation of all Garda resources, including the manner in which Garda personnel are deployed, is solely a decision for the Garda Commissioner and his management team.
Following representations from the National Bus and Rail Union on this matter, officials from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport wrote to the three CIÉ companies seeking their views on the issue of anti-social behaviour and ensuring the safety of passengers and staff. In their responses, all three companies stressed their strong and close working relationships with An Garda Síochána. larnród Éireann confirmed that its annual spend on security rose from €4.1 million in 2017 to €4.5 million in 2018 and is projected to rise again this year to €4.7 million. The company has successively increased security personnel in mobile on-board teams and static security at stations over the past 18 to 24 months. Furthermore, CCTV is available on the vast majority of trains and has successfully been used on numerous occasions in securing prosecutions. CCTV coverage is also in place in stations.
The Minister, Deputy Ross, wrote to the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, to seek his views on how the issue of anti-social behaviour on our public transport system could best be addressed. Last month, the Minister, Deputy Ross, received a response from the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, outlining the recommendations of a report that he had received from An Garda Síochána on the issue of anti-social behaviour. The letter advised that An Garda Síochána does not propose to establish a specialist or dedicated unit of the force to police the rail network and further stated that effective local community policing efforts can meet the policing needs of the rail network and its stakeholders.
As part of this, An Garda Síochána's superintendent of community engagement and public safety liaises regularly with the chairman of the Railway Safety Advisory Council and will attend future meetings, as requested, of the RSAC, which includes representatives of the rail companies and trade unions. The superintendent has also undertaken to arrange meetings between local Garda management and public transport providers in respect of any identified locations where significant crime and anti-social behaviour persist. Such meetings will enable discussion of the delivery of an appropriate policing response in collaboration with transport providers.
Gardaí will be assigned responsibility and accountability for the community policing of a relevant area under the new community policing framework, which is currently being rolled out. A local community garda will be assigned responsibility for liaison with transport services' local site managers in identified hotspots. The superintendent of community engagement and public safety is to arrange delivery of crime prevention advice to local transport service providers, where requested, via the network of national crime prevention officers.Furthermore, the Minister, Deputy Ross, has been advised that the superintendent will provide advice on community policing engagement, crime prevention, diversity and hate crime to management and staff at the main public transport providers, as was done in a presentation to Transdev, which operates the Luas, in a presentation in January of this year.
The Railway Safety Advisory Council and the Garda have agreed to keep these actions under review and subject to an annual meeting between the council and the superintendent of community engagement and public safety. The partnership approach between An Garda Síochána and the rail companies to promote high visibility and strong community engagement on the rail network resulted in Operation Twintrack on 13 September where gardaí were deployed to 12 rail stations nationally, along with high-visibility patrolling of rail stations and Luas routes.
Iarnród Éireann is introducing customer service officers on board all intercity routes. While the primarily focus of these roles is customer service, they will ensure that customers can alert personnel on board to any issues and allow for security or Garda resources to be sought as required.
Clearly the top priority for Irish Rail should be the protection, health and safety of its passengers. I look forward to Irish Rail continuing to place this at the very top of its agenda. There needs to be zero tolerance for persons carrying out anti-social behaviour on our rail network. I hope Irish Rail will take that into account.
On another note, I raise a less serious issue which it is still very important. I hope Irish Rail is actively addressing the patchy quality of its on-board Wi-Fi service. Paying customers deserve a better service and I will raise the matter in due course at the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport, of which I am a member.