Thursday, 16 June 2022
Garda Síochána (Amendment) Bill 2022: Committee and Remaining Stages
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 3, line 17, after "member" where it secondly occurs to insert "not below the rank of Sergeant".
I have referred to this in my earlier remarks. I am sure the Minister is familiar with the rationale given that the same amendment was moved in the Dáil yesterday.
Since the Minister is here, I just want to make the point I made in my Second Stage contribution and echo the comments of Senator Wall. In this House, we should applaud the members of An Garda Síochána who were on the front line during Covid and performed heroically on behalf of all of us. The Upper House of the Oireachtas should acknowledge that.
The Minister will know full well what I am going to say next. It is now incumbent on An Garda Síochána, working with the Department of Justice, to have a very high level of Garda visibility on our streets, especially in our capital city and Cork city. I spoke earlier about the rise of antisocial behaviour, the incidence of public order offences and violence against people. It is important that the Government and Members of the Upper House stand with members of An Garda Síochána. I remember the joint policing committee when I was in Cork City Council. We need to see more gardaí on the street. It is critical. The level of antisocial behaviour in parts of Cork and Dublin is unacceptable. We can blame it on a myriad of factors and put forward excuses, but we need a strong Garda presence on our streets. I realise I am digressing a little but I believe this is important. On Monday, when I go to my joint policing committee meeting, the rise of antisocial behaviour will take up a significant proportion of it, as will the need for more gardaí.To be fair to the Minister, she has responded in Dublin and Cork. We need to see high-profile policing and, dare I say it, our courts need to take action on the matter as well. I acknowledge we cannot discuss sentencing and so on here today, but it is important to put that on the record of the House.
As somebody whose grandfather was a garda for almost all of his career a long time ago, I echo those comments. It is important the message go out from this House that we fully support our gardaí in everything they do in trying to keep our streets and communities safe. There is an element of parts of urban areas, in particular, that are not quite no-go zones but are heading in that direction, whereby people do not feel comfortable sometimes even in daytime but especially in the evening and when it is dark, if not so much now then at least during the winter. It is important that we re-establish in those areas, given that many areas are very safe, a significant Garda presence and let the message go out regarding this kind of menacing and antisocial behaviour and these elements of gangland-type activity, which often involve young people who may see it as some kind of fun activity or whatever. That menacing presence in parts of our cities emerged earlier during Covid when there was much less passive surveillance on the streets. Pubs were shut and retail had to close early, and an awful lot of the streets effectively became empty and, therefore, playgrounds for people to do things they would not normally have been able to do.
Some of that activity has continued, and it is important that this House send out the message that it is not okay and that we need to resource the Garda appropriately. The Minister is doing that, but we need to enhance the Garda presence on the streets to tackle this behaviour and make clear it is not acceptable. It will then, I hope, just go away because it will not be tolerated.
This issue is especially significant in my county and county town, where issues have been reported in the media. We need to see gardaí on the streets and additional resources need to be put in place in order that people will feel more secure in our county town. We have a great town, a great county, great people and great businesses, and we are just looking for that little bit of additional support. Ours is one of the pilot areas for the community safety partnership, which is up and running. It is a great initiative and I compliment the Minister on it. It will make a lot of positive changes. Only in the past day or so, the community house was put in place by the local authority where there are issues in the town. All the State agencies are getting involved to tackle any serious crime in the area. We need that bit of extra support.
I concur with colleagues that it is important for all of us to stress how grateful we are to An Garda Síochána for the work it does, not least throughout Covid. I do not think there was a day off for anybody and Garda members stood up where they were asked and went above and beyond their duties. On my behalf, I thank them for that.
I fully agree with all the Senators that the more visibility there is, the safer people will feel and will actually be. About 250 new recruits have come out of Templemore in two attestations in recent months, while a further group will come out in the next week or two. Moreover, the Commissioner has given a commitment that from September, 200 recruits will begin training in Templemore every 12 weeks, which is a very welcome development. The introduction of the new operating model is key in ensuring those gardaí who should be on front-line duty and on the beat are where they are. The phased introduction of civilian staff to do background and office work, which is often done by gardaí who should be out and about, will, over the coming months and years, help ensure we have greater visibility on the ground. I acknowledge the specific areas the Senators mentioned and agree it is important more gardaí be deployed to those counties as well.