Thursday, 22 September 2022
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I welcome the Minister for Justice to the House and thank her for taking time out of her busy schedule in her busy Department to take the first matter, which is a very important topic and which was debated in the House only yesterday and on Tuesday. I ask Senator Seery Kearney to commence the debate. The Senator has four minutes.
I thank the Minister. I appreciate her coming here in person. It shows her commitment, the response that she has made all week and the commitment that is there for the community in Cherry Orchard.
We have seen the videos online of what happened and they are horrific. I want to begin by condemning the actions against the two gardaí who went in there. They were treated in the most disgraceful and dangerous way and that is appalling. I express concern for them.
I have been working with community groups in the Cherry Orchard area for quite some time. When one first meets the groups, they will point over to the shadow of the prison walls. Within that community, one is looking over at a huge wall of a prison. One is looking into a community that has one shop that is the ground floor of a converted house. It is not even is a purpose-built shop. There are no main facilities. There is the beacon of light that is the St. Ultan's school and a complex and they have childcare. They have a whole heap of supports that are extraordinary and the people there are extraordinary. There is the work of the equestrian centre and the youth justice programme that is there. However, they are all working in a situation with the gardaí who are based in Ballyfermot Garda station to try at all times to support that community against what is a small minority of organised criminals working in that area and controlling much of what occurs in the area.
People show great initiative. They go out and they work. Some I have spoken to who have bricks through their windows when they take the initiative in their community, for example, when they get concerned and go out and clear the playground of drug paraphernalia. They experience repercussion. They experience intimidation as a consequence of that.
I wrote to the Minister earlier in the year when we were drawing together a group of all the public representatives for the community and I was given a reasonably comprehensive and impressive policing plan and told of meetings, etc., that were going on. I appreciate that the narrative and, quite probably, the truth is that it was retaliation for action by the Garda over the weekend that there was this sudden display of arrogance and contempt for the rule of law but one car coming from Ballyfermot Garda station with two female officers into what was clearly a frightening situation stands in marked contrast to the policing plan that I saw earlier in the year.
According to the discussions I have had on the ground, there are inadequate resources and yet we have a Commissioner who believes that there are adequate resources. I suppose there is a disconnect between the perception in Garda management and the reality and experience on the ground. We need bespoke responses for communities that already feel marginalised, on the edge of society and forgotten and that fear we are losing youth workers. I appreciate that is bigger than the Department. As I said, I will come back to it. We need a cross-departmental task force to respond.
In terms of increased funding this year, they were invited to apply for the Garda youth diversion fund. They got €45,000, which on any day is a good result, but they need a great deal more than that. They need even more resources. I ask for a concerted effort to treat this in the same way that we have other intervention programmes and to dramatically intervene here.
I thank the Senator for raising this issue. As the Senator said, it is not the first time she has raised this. Obviously, this is an ongoing concern for members of the community.
If I could, I will start by supporting the Senator in condemning what happened the other evening. It is utterly unacceptable that any community should have to put up with this kind of behaviour, as the Senator said, on their doorsteps where people go to work, where children play and where people live, but it is also not acceptable that members of An Garda Síochána, who are just doing their best to keep people safe, would be attacked in this kind of way. I want to convey my best wishes to both members of An Garda Síochána following what they went through. I wish them well.
We will always support communities affected by anti-social behaviour and this type of behaviour. I want to be clear to those who are responsible, irrespective of what age they are and irrespective of other issues that are going on and, obviously, the wider response that is needed, that it cannot and will not be tolerated. The Garda is working closely with the local team on the ground and with the community to make sure that those who are responsible are caught and that there are repercussions.
Some people said during the week there is no point in asking people to come forward or go to the Garda because they are afraid but if gardaí do not have the information that they need when this type of behaviour and activity happens, they cannot do their job. There are confidential ways in which people can come forward and I would appeal to members of the community if there is information that they have to come forward so that we can respond to this effectively.
Separately, I have asked the Garda Commissioner to look at what more we can do on anti-social behaviour, to look at the laws that we have and how they are being implemented, and to look at progress that is being made, be it in the area of scramblers or the whole-of-community response. That is something he is already doing on which he will come back to me. It is not specific to Cherry Orchard but part of a wider discussion around anti-social behaviour that we must have.
It is important to stress, as the Senator outlined, that it has not been felt but there was, based on many concerns that the Senator and others have raised, an increased presence in the area. There have been a number of operations in the area. In particular Operation Préachán, which started in the late summer, has resulted in seven people being arrested only in the past few weeks and brought before the courts with strict bail conditions. There were curfews in place on some of the individuals. It is that type of policing that we need to see continue. It is that type of clear determined response that the community need to see happening and continue on an ongoing basis.
There is support from the public order unit for the Dublin Metropolitan Region and many of the other policing units but I appreciate, and I will take the feedback that the Senator is giving me, that people are perhaps not seeing it as much on the ground even though there has been an increased presence and an increased number of gardaí for the area, not only since Monday but over the past number of months in response to some of the concerns that the Senator and others in the community have been raising. I have been given a commitment from the local chief superintendent, Chief Superintendent Murphy, that his increase in resources will continue until this issue is addressed.
This is symptomatic of a wider societal problem. The Senator outlined that there was one shop in the area and few resources. For a community of this size, it is not adequate. We all need to respond collectively, not only a criminal justice response but working with the community. There are fantastic members in the community. Dublin City Council has a regeneration plan for the area. We need to get that up and running. We need to have the full support of Dublin City Council, of the justice sector and the local Garda, but also the community. That is something that I am working to bring together. I will work with Senator Seery Kearney and others to make sure that that happens.
I will outline - and I can give the figures to the Senator - the youth justice strategy to which she referred. The overall funding trebled last year and there was an increase of €6.7 million provided through the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne. That has allowed us to significantly expand on the types of resources and the programmes that are there to try to get to the root of things and stop it from getting to the point of scenes such as we saw on Monday last.
Specifically, for this area, there was approximately €300,000 last year. There is €148,000 for two full-time youth justice workers and one part-time project manager. In June, there was additional funding of more than €92,000 for a family support worker and one new early intervention worker. The Cherry Orchard Developing Youth, CODY, which is in Cherry Orchard, received further funding of almost €63,000. That is specifically to work with young people involved in the anti-social use of scramblers and quad-bikes and related crime. These type of projects take time. It is not an overnight fix.However, the more investment like that we can have, the more we will get to people at a younger age and the better it is for them and, most importantly, for the community.
It is important to look at it from two aspects: the community response and how to support the community in the wider picture, and also the Garda and its response. I assure the Senator there will be an increased presence. The Garda will continue to do the work it has been doing. It will make it very clear that this type of behaviour is not acceptable but, also, that where crimes are being committed there are repercussions and that people are held responsible. I will continue to work very closely with Senator Carey as we try to respond in the most effective way possible.
We will get my name right one of these days. I thank the Minister for that response. With the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, I visited the youth justice programme there which was extraordinarily creative through Covid when it had to go out to meet young people. It had to change how it engaged with young people who were used to either visiting the centre and then did not want people coming to their homes. The programme was creative in working with the youth. Certainly, putting considerable resources into that would be very important because we need to give the young people that can get attracted to crime an alternative. It is very attractive to be a somebody in certain cohorts and to be supplied with jackets and runners. Mothers have spoken to me about how they combat that. They are working two or three jobs to try to combat the attraction for their young people. It is very important that we combat that in a very intentional way. We have been talking about the Minister coming down to visit the area. I know all of that is in train and I am very grateful. I am anxious to progress that and work, in particular, with the parish priest there, Fr. Michael Murtagh, who has been very good.
I thank the Senator for the invitation. I will be in the area to respond and meet with the Senator, others and the community. This needs to be a holistic and long-term response. It cannot just be overnight and in the coming weeks.
The Senator touched on a longer-term and wider issue which is organised crime. People are preying on young people because they can give them nice things and show them a life that they think is wonderful which really leads them down only one path which is to prison that the Senator mentioned or even worse. I hope to publish legislation in the coming weeks on which we have been working around the coercion of minors, to try to prevent younger people being captured into this life which is very difficult to get out of. It means that communities such as this are in a constant spiral of never being able to get out. It is part of the wider problem with which we need to deal. Obviously I look forward to working with the Senator on that legislation and making sure we can progress it. I thank the Senator for raising this issue and I look forward to meeting with her and members of the community in the coming week or so.