Wednesday, 15 June 2022
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
An Garda Síochána
I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for taking this very important matter. Before I get on to it I acknowledge the Glendalough man who is in the Chair. It is a role that would be very suitable for him in the future but I am sure it is the Lower House he is interested in.
I will leave it between ye.
Moving on to a more serious matter, I refer to the need for the Minister for Justice to make a statement on the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland in respect of the review of structures within An Garda Síochána with particular reference to the proposed amalgamation of superintendent roles in Galway and west Galway and the extent to which this may impact negatively on the Government policy of providing increased funding to ensure the deployment of appropriate numbers of gardaí in all areas so communities are safe. To broaden it out, there are concerns in Galway city and west Galway and I ask if the Minister, Deputy Harris, could confirm that the introduction of the new Garda operating model in the Galway division will not result in the closure or downgrading of any Garda station in Galway city. The Minister will be aware that Mill Street, Salthill and Oranmore are in this region currently. The previous Minister for Justice, Deputy Flanagan, commented that the new operating model would result in significantly more sergeants and inspectors on the ground. Recently, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said the new operating model "... will see us deliver a more responsive, more efficient and better service to local communities" and "will mean increased numbers of Gardaí working on the frontline". How will this be apparent as the new model is introduced in the Galway division? Under the new model, the Garda has committed to ensuring superintendents will be in locations throughout a division and not all located in divisional headquarters. Will the Minister provide clarity on which stations the superintendents will be located in within the Galway division?
Furthermore, as he will be aware, under the new operating model, each division is to have a number of superintendents in charge of community engagement. How many such superintendents will there be in the Galway division and can the Minister provide clarity on the geographic areas that will be covered by each of the community engagements teams? I am aware the Minister might not have all the detail with him this morning but I thank him for his time. If he could liaise with the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, and get back to me by email that would be appreciated.
Before the changes are made at divisional level, I understand a change will come in on 4 September. The change impact assessments were to be conducted at a local level to ascertain what needs to be done to enable implementation of the new Garda model. Has this been completed within the Galway division and can the impact of the assessment be made known? A number of questions have arisen in Galway and we are all well aware gardaí on the ground are vital. I await the Minister's response.
I thank the Senator. I interject to say we have already merged with Wexford and he is right to raise certain issues today because there is still a bit of work to be done on the amalgamations, specifically that of the divisions of Wicklow and Wexford.The jury is still out on how that is working out on the ground so the Senator is right to raise the issue.
I thank the Acting Chairperson and it is great to see Wicklow so well represented here. I thank Senator Crowe for reminding all of us of that fact and for raising what is an important matter. My colleague, the Minister for Justice, sends her sincere apologies and asked me to provide the Senator with this update. I will also undertake to follow up and provide the Minister, Deputy McEntee, with the transcript of this debate and to provide the Senator with the detail that he has understandably sought. The Minister, Deputy McEntee, will come back to the Senator on that issue.
As Senator Crowe is aware, one of the core principles identified by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland is that An Garda Síochána should be structured and managed to support front-line policing. As recommended by the commission and endorsed by the Government, An Garda Síochána is currently in the process of transitioning to a new and modern operating model. The new operating model structures require a change from the existing geographic model to a new functional-focused model. Specifically, this means the operating model will result in the enlargement of Garda divisions, reducing the existing number of divisions from 28 to 19. The Senator will be aware that Galway will remain as a stand-alone Garda division.
Each of the 19 divisions will be made up of four functional areas as follows: community engagement; crime; performance assurance; and business services. Each of the functional areas will be led by a superintendent, with the exception of business services, which is led by an assistant principal. An Garda Síochána is engaged in implementing the business services functional area across all of its divisions.
The Minister, Deputy McEntee, is advised that the Galway division is among the first Garda divisions selected to fully implement and align to the operating model. All services will be managed and co-ordinated at divisional level as opposed to district level. All Garda stations will be aligned to the community engagement functional areas. Garda members and staff will continue to be geographically dispersed across the division. The Minister, Deputy McEntee, is also informed that the Galway division has already fully established the business services functional area, led by an assistant principal. This has led to a reduction in the administration activities held by operational Garda members and superintendents as recommended by the commission, which can only be good news for policing. The following community engagement functional areas have been approved for the Galway division, each of which will be headed by a superintendent: Galway city; Galway county west; and Galway county east.
Each community engagement superintendent will be responsible for: community engagement; crime prevention; incident investigation; victim support; incident response; general visibility; engagement policing; and community policing activities. The continuing phased roll-out of the new Garda operating model will greatly benefit the Garda organisation, supporting the redeployment of gardaí from non-core duties to front-line policing across the country. It will create larger divisions with more resources, increased Garda visibility in communities, a wider range of locally delivered policing services, and a strong focus on community policing. The model will also facilitate more effective streamlining of administrative processes and reduce bureaucracy. On the specifics on Galway above and beyond what I have been provided with here, we will get that information in writing for Senator Crowe.
I thank the Minister for his detailed response. I welcome the information on the four different areas and that an assistant principal will be appointed to the business services area. I take it that will lead to more gardaí on the ground because there will be civilian staff across that section. That is welcome and it is a road we need to travel further down because, no more than any other city or county, there is a huge shortage of gardaí all over the country and particularly in Galway city, even though we have increased the numbers.
I am concerned about Galway county west and the geographical division therein. I say that because I understand that they will link Clifden and Oughterard with the Oranmore and Athenry district. As the Minister will know, it is 70 or 80 miles from Connemara over to Athenry and I would question the workings of that. That needs to be thought through and more detail is needed on it. I would be concerned about that and the message needs to be about visibility within the community and boots on the ground. I am concerned about Salthill Garda station and a superintendent not being there. What I mean by that is that over 35,000 people in the Connemara area would all be linked in to Galway county west as far as I understand the redivision, and the superintendent would be in the Oranmore region. That raises a concern for me.
I thank the Senator again for raising this important matter and I will pass on his comments and views to the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee. The Government, which we both support and are members of, continues to prioritise unprecedented resource allocation to An Garda Síochána. This is about making sure the operating model ensures that those resources deliver in the best possible way for communities. The Garda budget provided by the Government is over €2 billion for the current year, and as the Senator will be aware, An Garda Síochána registered strong interest in its latest recruitment competition earlier this year, with over 10,000 applications received. Additionally and importantly, over 800 Garda members have been redeployed in recent years from administrative duties to front-line policing roles, where their expertise can be utilised fully in line with the commission's recommendations.
The Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, is assured that Garda management keeps the distribution of resources under continual review in the context of policing priorities and crime trends to ensure their optimum use. The Minister has also informed me, so I can inform the Senator, that there are no plans to change the staffing or resource levels of Salthill Garda station or to change its opening hours from the current 24 hours.