Tuesday, 20 September 2022
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
An Garda Síochána
I spoke about this matter on the Order of Business on 13 July before the summer recess. It is now being raised as a Commencement matter at a time when I feel we are about to have a much wider discussion on the need for an increased Garda presence in our communities.
The widely shared horrific scenes of gangs of joyriding thugs in a housing estate in Cherry Orchard have shocked many, but for many others, it is an all-too-familiar sight and shock has long since given way to resignation. Ordinary law-abiding citizens in certain parts of this country are terrorised day in, day out by low-life criminal hooligans who have no respect for their communities, the people in them or the law. It would seem that there are some areas that have been declared unofficial no-go zones even by An Garda Síochána. Faced with the challenges of policing these areas, the decision has been made not to police them at all or just barely.
The role of gardaí as guardians of the peace should not be limited by post code. Every effort must be made by the Government to ensure that the force is adequately manned, trained and equipped to carry out this role. Every street of the capital would be made much safer if there was a pair of gardaí marching down the street every 30 to 40 minutes. Certain streets do not need this. Others probably need more. If we had as many patrol cars out cracking down on violent crime as we did rounding up non-Covid-compliant persons, this would be a much safer country.
This summer, the residents of Laytown were subjected to a vicious brawl that saw golf clubs and baseball bats being used as weapons. It came less than a month after a mass protest in Bettystown over the lack of a Garda station for what is one of the country's busiest coastal areas. Laytown Garda station is not even close to being fully manned. Most of the area is served by the station in Ashbourne, a full 33 km away. If that station is busy, an emergency call can be taken by the Garda station in Kildare town, almost 100 km away. This is unacceptable in a developed country like Ireland and it is a kick in the face for the people of the area, who deserve a minimum standard of policing. Either we need a brand new 24-7 Garda station in the area or a Minister needs to speak to the Garda Commissioner and ensure that Laytown Garda station is transformed into a 24-hour active service.
On behalf of the Minister for Justice, I thank the Senator for raising this important matter and requesting that the Minister establish a new Garda station to serve the areas of Laytown and Bettystown.
The Senator will appreciate that the Garda Commissioner is, by law, responsible for the management and administration of Garda business and for determining the deployment of gardaí throughout the State. The Minister is assured that Garda management keeps the distribution of resources under continual review in the context of policing priorities and crime trends to ensure they are used optimally.
The Office of Public Works, OPW, has responsibility for the provision and maintenance of Garda accommodation. Works in respect of that accommodation are progressed by the Garda authorities, working in close co-operation with the OPW.The Minister for Justice has no direct role in these matters. The Government is committed to ensuring that An Garda Síochána has the resources it needs, not least in the context of a growing population. An unprecedented allocation of more than €2 billion was provided in budget 2022 by the Government. The Government will continue to support An Garda Síochána in recruiting Garda members and Garda staff through the upcoming budget and over the coming years. A key pillar of the programme for Government, Our Shared Future, is building stronger and safer communities. Prioritising visible policing in rural communities will ensure community policing is at the forefront of our police service and is an integral strand of our social contract with the public.
I understand that the Laytown district, consisting of Laytown and Duleek subdistricts, was created in 2008 arising from the county boundary realignment project emanating from the Garda Síochána Act 2005, which saw the introduction of joint policing committees. Laytown Garda station operates on a paired system with Duleek Garda station. This enables a 24-7 service to be provided between two subdistricts. I also understand that additional support is provided, as required, from district headquarters at Ashbourne Garda station, which is operational on a 24-7 basis. In addition, there is a marked patrol car to respond to calls 24-7 and when numbers allow, there is a second patrol car utilised as a second responding vehicle.
I am aware that the Garda Commissioner visited Laytown Garda station on 20 July this year where he met local Garda management and members of the station party. Matters of facilities, resourcing and criminality, including public order and the boundary between the Meath and Louth divisions, were discussed at this meeting. I am informed by the Garda authorities that there are draft plans to enhance the policing service provided from Laytown Garda station and to examine options to upgrade the station. These plans are yet to be finalised, however, and it is not possible to confirm specific details at this time. The Minister looks forward to updating Senator Keogan again on these matters in due course.
I thank the Minister of State. To be quite honest, I am a little taken aback by this response. I tabled this matter previously and the Minister came back to me to say it was not her responsibility. This is her constituency, however. This is her area. The people of the Ashbourne area and Laytown-Bettystown coastal area deserve a 24-hour station.
The area in which the current Laytown Garda station is situated is the middle of a housing estate. There is no way it can upgrade that facility there. In 2009, Fianna Fáil announced it was going to build a brand new Garda station over there. That never materialised either. There have been many promises along the way for the people of the coast. That area has grown substantially over the past five to ten years. Duleek has also grown substantially, but particularly the east coast of County Meath from Southgate right across to Julianstown. It needs a full-time Garda station. I would not be here asking for it if it was not something we need. We have a Garda station in Duleek that is manned part time. It is not a full-time station; it is a part-time station. The needs of the coast are far greater, however. The time it takes members of the Garda in Ashbourne to get to a case on the coast can sometimes be up to one hour. The Minister of State's response mentioned visible policing in rural areas; it does not happen. It did not happen yesterday in Cherry Orchard and it is certainly not happening in County Meath. The Garda needs to do better. It needs to get more boots on the ground and have more visibility to ensure that communities are safe. People want to be safe. They do not want to see what happened yesterday happen in their communities.
I thank the Senator for raising this important matter. I will bring her concerns to the attention of the Minister. I understand that as of 31 August 2022, the latest date for which figures are available, Laytown Garda station currently has a strength of one inspector, three sergeants and 15 gardaí, all of whom are uniformed personnel providing a front-line policing service to the Laytown, Bettystown and Mornington areas of east Meath.
I am advised that on weekdays, the member from the district who opens the station in the morning conducts beat patrols for the remainder of his or her tour of duty in the Laytown-Bettystown area in support of Laytown personnel. I am informed by Garda management that an active management plan is in place at weekends, which is deployed at 7 a.m. on Saturdays and remains in place until 9 p.m. on Sunday to deter illegal parking. Members are briefed to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to traffic and public order issues with fixed-charge penalty notices being utilised, where appropriate.
More broadly, it is important to emphasise that as recommended by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, responsibility for community safety does not rest solely with An Garda Síochána or the Department of Justice but rather as a whole-of-government approach.This principle is at the centre of the Government's new policing policy on community safety, which will be given a statutory basis. A new policing, security and community safety Bill proposes to establish and support a system of community safety at local level throughout the country. New local community safety partnerships will bring all services and the community together at local authority level, replacing the existing joint policing committees to serve as a comprehensive forum for discussion and decisions on community priorities. The Minister will continue to drive the ongoing concerted activity towards nationwide policy roll-out following the conclusion of the current pilot period at the end of 2023.