Seanad debates

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Antisocial Behaviour

10:30 am

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Deputy James Browne, to the House. The Minister of State is a regular contributor to this House and attender on all occasions, and that is appreciated.

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I thank the Minister of State for coming here today to discuss this all-important topic.

I welcome, first of all, the increase in funding to do with Garda recruitment and Garda numbers in budget 2022 and acknowledge the work that the Minister of State and the Department have been doing in this regard. Listening to local radio and reading local newspapers, there has been an increase in minor crime, such as break-ins. In my area, there were five cars broken into recently. There were some very valuable items taken out of the boots of people's cars. You would say when something is in a boot that people would not know that it is there. Certainly, from listening to the radio, reading the newspapers and speaking to residents in different areas, it is in every town and village. It not just in cities. While there are increased numbers of gardaí, there are a number of retirements as well. I would like a debate on how the extra resources that have been allocated in this budget will be used to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour.

Photo of James BrowneJames Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach.

On behalf of the Minister, Deputy McEntee, I thank the Senator for raising this important issue on antisocial behaviour. It is a matter that is important to Senator Maria Byrne, who has raised it on a number of occasions.

The Government recognises the great harm that can be done to communities living with antisocial behaviour. We are committed to ensuring that antisocial behaviour is tackled head-on and that An Garda Síochána is provided with the necessary resources to do so.The Senator will be aware that the Garda Commissioner is responsible under law for the management and administration of An Garda Síochána, which includes the planning and deployment of Garda resources in response to crime trends. The Minister for Justice has no role in such directions.

Prioritising visible policing in rural and urban communities will ensure community policing is at the forefront of our police service and an integral strand of our social contract with the public. An Garda Síochána continues to implement high-visibility policing plans to address public disorder related issues and antisocial behaviour, with a particular overt and targeted policing of public places at times when public order incidents and antisocial behaviour typically increase. For example, An Garda Síochána has put in place Operation Citizen in Dublin city centre which is aimed at reassuring the public that Dublin city is safe through high-visibility patrolling, particularly at hot-spot locations and also through community engagement. The Garda mobile unit was located on O'Connell Street last weekend. This was well received and I understand this will continue for the duration of the operation.

I am, of course, aware of recent incidents of antisocial behaviour on public transport. A key element of An Garda Síochána 's community policing role involves ongoing, extensive Garda engagement with transport operators and a range of regional and local operations have been put in place to address the antisocial behaviour incidents on public transport that have occurred in recent times.

I am pleased that budget 2022 provided an unprecedented allocation of over €2 billion in funding, reflecting the commitment of the Government to ensuring our communities are safe and that An Garda Síochána has the necessary resources for effective policing. I am happy to confirm that 450 gardaí will be recruited by the end of this year and that funding provided for next year fully supports the sustained recruitment of Garda members and staff, with provision for the recruitment of an additional 800 Garda members and 400 Garda staff in 2022, amounting to an additional 1,200 personnel. The 400 additional Garda staff are very important in that their recruitment will allow for gardaí deployed to administrative duties to be returned to operational duties. Approximately 800 gardaí have been already moved from administrative to operational duties. As I said, the additional 400 Garda staff will help further that aim. This increase in the number of Garda members and staff will deliver significant growth in operational policing hours nationwide and in improved services to the public generally. Redeployment of gardaí from administrative and support roles will also continue next year.

The Senator will be aware that the Garda Commissioner is also introducing a new Garda operating model designed to make each division the central unit of policing administration as the current smaller district model is struggling to deal with the modern crime environment. This model will provide a more comprehensive and inclusive policing service and will help further strengthen the focus on community policing. We can all be very proud of An Garda Síochána, which has been operational since the foundation of the State. It is a community-based policing service, which came to the fore during the Covid-19 pandemic in terms of being absolutely instrumental in ensuring that our communities were protected and that the more vulnerable were looked after.

I welcome the budget 2022 allocation of €2 million to the community safety innovation fund. The intention is that the operation of the fund will be reviewed and that further allocations will be part of the normal budgetary process. This fund will be open to bodies involved in community safety and will support them in addressing local needs and opportunities for innovation not provided for in other funds managed by Departments and agencies.

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive response. There is an issue with regard to safety cameras in that, I am told, residents associations do not have access to funding for them. Perhaps that could be looked at by the Minister. When cameras and extra lighting are provided in areas, it helps people to feel safe and also it helps the gardaí in their role.

I pay tribute to An Garda Síochána which is doing a great job under difficult circumstances. The reduction in Garda numbers in certain areas is leading to petty crime. People are upset about this. I ask that consideration be given to the installation of more cameras and to the provision of additional community policing. I would like to see more gardaí on the streets. Perhaps the current recruitment of the additional staff for the offices will help in the return of more gardaí to our streets.

Photo of James BrowneJames Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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On behalf of the Minister, I, again, thank the Senator for raising this important matter. The Government is committed to tackling antisocial behaviour. As Minister of State at the Department of Justice, I was honoured to set up the antisocial behaviour forum, which has met on a regular basis since its establishment last year. Earlier this year, it produced recommendations around scramblers, both in terms of tackling, on a community basis, why the scramblers are being misused by young people and to try to direct their energies to more positive activities but also in terms of recommendations around road traffic laws to see if Garda powers can be strengthened where, despite interventions, people are still insisting on misusing scramblers, particularly in our cities. The antisocial behaviour forum has set up a sub-task force around knife crime. We are looking at what other areas it might tackle as well.

In addition, three pilot local community safety partnerships have been established. These are designed to take a holistic approach to safety issues in partnership with the communities. The work of the community safety partnerships is similar to the work of the local community development committees, LCDCs, in terms of bringing together all of the different actors within a community to address crime. An Garda Síochána can only do so much. We need to tackle the underlying issues and we need to bring in the HSE, the local authorities, Tusla and other relevant bodies to help take on any issue around antisocial behaviour.