Wednesday, 27 September 2023
Crime and Policing: Motion
“That Seanad Éireann: recognises that:- protecting citizens is a founding duty of the State and policing has a defining role in that basic function;notes that:
- incidents of violence, crime and anti-social behaviour in our capital city and large urban areas such as Galway and Athlone are increasingly worrying for the public;
- high-profile incidents of violence, crime and anti-social behaviour in our capital reflect badly on our country as a whole;
- crime and anti-social behaviour is an issue and a concern in every part of our country;
- communities feel unsafe and are seeking a more visible policing presence;- the Programme for Government commits to prioritising visible policing in both rural and urban communities and ensuring more visible community policing, in line with the Report of the Commission on the Future of Policing;acknowledges that:
- community policing, where members of An Garda Síochána are known to, and have, a relationship with local businesses, services and citizens, including young people, is essential for building stronger, safer communities;- public trust in An Garda Síochána is essential for ensuing safe communities and requires on-going sufficient resources, powers and reform;calls:
- retention of members is increasingly difficult for An Garda Síochána;
- low morale, lack of work-life balance, fears for personal safety and unmanageable rosters are contributing to retention issues in An Garda Síochána;
- ongoing recruitment cannot fully compensate for the loss of members of the force;- on the Minister for Justice to outline a clear plan to address retention of members of An Garda Síochána;
- for the resolution of the ongoing dispute over Garda rosters;
- for the provision of adequate resources and Garda numbers right across the country in both urban and rural areas;
- for increased resources for community policing in both urban and rural areas;
- on An Garda Síochána to implement the small area policing model;
- on the Department of Justice to explore the use of juvenile community service as an effective form of restorative justice;
- for a dedicated transport unit within An Garda Síochána; and
- for plans to address the drugs crisis, which is particularly impacting young people, and the development of a clear plan for prevention of a life of crime.
I welcome the Minister to the House to discuss this important matter. Unfortunately, matters relating to An Garda Síochána are developing as we speak. It is very worrying that 99% of the Garda Representative Association, GRA members balloted had no confidence in the Garda Commissioner. That is very worrying development considering the GRA membership makes up around 11,000 of the approximately 14,000-strong Garda force. I hope the Commissioner has not lost the dressing room, as it were. It is not a good look. I ask the Minister to intervene personally in the dispute to try to bring the two sides together to find a resolution to this problem because we are on a very dangerous road, the destination of which is not positive as things stand. Leadership in any area of life, whether business or elsewhere, is about bringing people with you. Unfortunately, that is not happening with the GRA and the Commissioner at the moment. I have confidence that with the Minister at the helm, taking responsibility for this current impasse, she will be able to bring together the two sides to find a resolution because, ultimately, there will be a resolution.
There are a number of issues relating to the ongoing problems. The one to the fore is the Garda roster. Management is proposing to add a fifth unit, in its view, to bring greater visibility of gardaí on the beat at peak times. That is very welcome. Others would say the sad reality is that there is not a sufficient number of personnel on the ground at the moment to be able to facilitate a fifth unit. In my own county of Monaghan, we are so short of gardaí that we do not even have a dedicated drugs force in Cavan-Monaghan. It sounds crazy but it is true. Community policing was to the fore during the pandemic when gardaí in many ways reconnected with the public because they had the time to do so, but those numbers are dwindling to try to beef up this fifth unit. There are other problems too, including the policing model where Cavan-Monaghan is lumped in with County Louth. I do not think that will work. I welcome the fact that a review is ongoing and the decision has been reversed for a number of counties, namely, Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim. Donegal has been left on its own and that is positive. In Monaghan, and indeed, in Cavan, we are fearful that being lumped in with Louth will mean the vast majority of personnel will be sent towards Dundalk and Drogheda where the need is perceived as greatest.
Those are some concerns. Unfortunately, people are walking away from the force. In the first four months of this year, 59 people resigned from An Garda Síochána. If that trend continues, we will lose 140 through resignations this year. Something is wrong. I call on the Minister to do a review of why people are leaving the force and what the issues are that mean people are leaving and others are not joining. My time is short as I only have four minutes. There are many issues and I ask the Minister to intervene personally to try to find a resolution to this problem.
I thank the Minister for coming to the House to debate the Fianna Fáil motion on crime and antisocial behaviour. I commend her, the Department, the gardaí and everyone who works to try and make our communities and our country safer. However, it would be completely disingenuous of me not to tell the Minister straight to her face that the people in Dublin city who I speak to every day, who I live with and who I engage with and talk to all the time, are really quite angry and upset over the level of antisocial behaviour and crime in Dublin city.They are sick to the back teeth of listening to antisocial behaviour and crime being linked directly with Dublin city on a daily basis. It is not the fault of the media; it is just a reality. People in Dublin want to live in a place they feel safe. Children want to walk to school feeling safe like in any other village or town in the country. People want to go to work and feel safe. They want to go out and socialise and feel safe. People of all ages in Dublin city do not feel like the city is safe. They are also quite annoyed at being told that it is a safe city and Ireland is a safe country, but there is a perceived lack of safety. That is really irritating people because the reality of it is that far too many citizens, visitors and workers have experienced antisocial behaviour and crime. They have been victims of it.
I would like the Minister to champion two specific asks. The first is small area policing and the second is real consequences for those who undermine public safety and the fabric of our society by undertaking acts of crime and antisocial behaviour. In terms of small area policing, we are specifically asking that the role of the community garda be absolutely confirmed and that community gardaí be assigned on a small area basis. We had this model a number of years back in the north inner city. Where community gardaí are assigned to an area, they know the people living and working in the area. They will know who is a stranger coming through an area. That has a real effect on support from the community for the gardaí, but also the Garda's effectiveness. They actually know who is who. One of the issues that came out of many of the investigations into crime and antisocial behaviour in the inner city over the summer was that many of the perpetrators were not from the inner city. They did not live there. They actually had no business being there. The reason they were there was that they were not known. They were able to get up to these activities and there was not an auntie or grannie or garda who would actually know who they were and tap them on the shoulder. It is really important, not just in the city but right around the country, that we have gardaí assigned on a geographic basis. I know the Garda is under pressure to recruit. We need to support it in that recruitment and we do.
I appreciate the extra funding the Minister has made available. It really is welcome, and the overtime is welcome. However, the Garda needs to move beyond this high-visibility policing. Gardaí are being taken, and I know this for a fact, from Cabra and Phibsborough through the Bridewell and Mountjoy into the inner city to create this high-visibility policing. That serves a purpose but in the long term, it will not work. What it does is take gardaí out of Cabra, Phibsborough and the surrounding areas. The Minister has our support to have effective policing and where that policing is in place, we want the perpetrators to experience real consequence for their actions.
The Minister is very welcome to the House. I thank her for coming in because as she well knows, this is a very important motion. It is important for us as a House to absolutely give her all our support to ensure we have effective policing on our streets and supports for our Garda Síochána.
There has been an increase in crime and antisocial behaviour throughout the country. We have seen the highlighted examples that make the media, but every week in local towns and areas, as we saw last week in Senator Cassells' area in Navan, we see serious crime and random attacks on people for doing absolutely nothing.
We have to pull back and ask what has gone wrong when there is no fear of policing. Society is to a certain degree not breaking down, but it is falling to a point that people are not afraid of getting in trouble with the gardaí or getting caught. It goes across all crimes whether it is sexual offences, and I know great work is being done there, attacks on the street or house burglaries. I know a lot is being done but we are at a point now where communities are feeling unsafe. People feel unsafe walking down the streets. I would not walk through many areas in Dublin city centre. I fear people would not walk around many towns and villages around the country because of antisocial behaviour.
I would love for all of us here to work together. It is for the Department of Justice to work with the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth to really advance the connections between community police officers and our youth workers. We need to ensure they are not just with juvenile liaison officers, JLOs, who are separate to that, but a softer thing; people who are there before they get in trouble to encourage them to trust and know the gardaí. People should have other activities in which to be getting involved because idle minds and idle hands cause trouble. If we are looking after our young people and supporting them towards other positive activities but not finding out why young and older people are completely disaffected by our law and not paying heed to fears of society, we have a problem and we need to examine the root causes.
I am very glad that we as a House will hopefully pass the motion today to support the recruitment and retention of further gardaí, which I know is a high priority of the Minister's. We have fantastic gardaí. In my local area we are constantly starved of gardaí. In the Cooley Peninsula in north Louth, we have one Garda car and not enough gardaí to cover the area. If someone is arrested in Carlingford on a night out that is it; that is the end of policing in the entire peninsula because they have to bring their prisoner to Dundalk. The chances of getting arrested are slim when there are no gardaí to make arrests and put people in prison. I am glad we have this opportunity to speak today because it is hugely important for the fabric of society that our communities feel safe.
Fianna Fáil has decided to use its Private Members' time to focus on crime, policing and the area of justice in the country. The direction in which policing is going and the state in which An Garda Síochána is currently is of genuine concern to us. Just today, we had Central Statistics Office, CSO, crime figures that show homicide is up 31%, robbery is up 20% and sexual offences are up 1%. They are worrying statistics. We see scenes from our capital city, which reflect on the entire country in terms of antisocial behaviour, thuggery and attacks on tourists and people. That is not just in Dublin, however. We see this an Athlone, Galway and smaller towns and villages across the country. Crime is a problem in every part of our country and there needs to be a significant focus on it.
There was certainly a tipping point when Mr. Stephen Termini, the US tourist, was attacked in Dublin during the summer. That put crime and antisocial behaviour front and centre for every citizen. The fact that for the first time ever the US Embassy issued a warning for American tourists visiting this country to take care because there were safety concerns in our capital is a black mark for all of us right across the country and something we should hopefully never see happen again. However, it should be a point at which we say, "This is a problem and we need to address it." I know the Minister took steps following that to increase visibility of policing in the capital and that is very welcome. This issue of the increase of crime and antisocial behaviour in Dublin has been highlighted for the past number of years, however, particularly since the Covid-19 pandemic and what happened afterwards. It is our lived experience walking through the capital city that it is not as safe as it used to be. I lived here for a number of years and I have seen a marked change, particularly as somebody who comes here to work every week for a couple of days. I can see the change in the city with my own eyes. It was a mistake to say that generally the place is safe because that was in direct contradiction to people's lived experience in the capital and those of us who work here for part of the week.
We also saw reports during the week of an increase in retail theft and businesses saying that every day of the week in every part of the country, people are stealing from their shops with little or no consequence, and that is having a real impact on business as well.It is the view of many of us that, to be fair to the Minister, she has only been in the Department for three years and this is a problem that has grown over a number of years. It predates her tenure and speaks to previous Governments that, to a certain extent, the ball has been dropped on policing and that is why we are having the challenges with An Garda Síochána.
Regarding the rostering issues, the fact that we are now in a situation where 99% of gardaí who were balloted have expressed no confidence in the Commissioner is a serious problem. A hands-off approach is not acceptable. If there is a serious issue within the health service and the Minister is asked about it, he does not just say that is a matter for the HSE, sit back and say it will be resolved by somebody else. The Minister of the day needs to deal with the issue using a hands-on approach, and engage with gardaí to find a solution because now we see that there is potential for a withdrawal of services on budget day. That reminds us of previous actions that were taken and the impact it had on communities. We do not want to see a withdrawal of services. We do not want to see gardaí having to take that particular action. The fact that they are having a special meeting in Kilkenny to discuss their options shows there is a serious problem within An Garda Síochána.
There has been an under-resourcing of the Garda over a number of years and we are trying to catch up on that now. I acknowledge the significant investment in recent years. I also acknowledge the Minister's work on domestic violence and violence against women. That has been a fantastic element of the work of the Department. It has made a great difference and it is something to be very proud of. We must focus on day-to-day policing and people feeling safe on the street, protecting businesses from retail theft, and looking at serious violence on the streets. There are parts of the country where it is not safe to walk and that needs to be addressed.
I entirely support everything that is in the motion tabled by the Fianna Fáil Senators here today. I want to say at the outset, however, that I have full confidence in the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána. This House should respect him and support him because he is bringing about effective change in a force which I, as a former Minister for Justice, know needs reform and change. Different rosters are needed. He should not be in a position where he has to take the flak for reforms that are badly needed.
I remember when I proposed the introduction of a Garda Reserve, with all-party support, GRA representatives saying they would wait in the long grass for me. I ask people to remember that we must support the institutions of the State and the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána is one of them. He deserves support. He deserves the support of the Government and he deserves parliamentary support.
Events last week around this House do call for some comment. Thugs sought to intimidate and to prevent access to Leinster House of Members of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann, visitors, and staff and to impede the functioning of this Parliament. That was disgraceful and wrong. People talk about constitutional rights. Could I read into the record one provision of the Constitution? It is "The right of the citizens to assemble peaceably and without arms." First of all, it has to be peaceful. Second, it states "Provision may be made by law to prevent or control meetings which are determined in accordance with law to be calculated to cause a breach of the peace or to be a danger or nuisance to the general public and to prevent or control meetings in the vicinity of either House of the Oireachtas." That is in our Constitution. I was surprised and disappointed to hear people saying that to protect this House from the kind of behaviour that we saw the other day somehow was to call for a diminution of constitutional rights. The basic law of this land says that access to this House is required, particularly for Members who are free from arrest in coming here. The general rule is that the Members of the Oireachtas, the proceedings of the Oireachtas, and the Houses of the Oireachtas are required to be protected by An Garda Síochána. It is not an option.
I would say in relation to those who arranged the security precautions last week that they were wholly inadequate and badly managed. We were excluded from getting in and out of here by unnecessary traffic restrictions for a group of about 150 or 160 people who were mindless thugs with a variety of grievances, for example, "Ballybrack Says No" and problems with vaccines, immigrants and everything else.
People say that this is the rise of the new right. I do not think there is very much "right" or "left" about what they said, but I do ask every single Member of this House here today to take up The Irish Timesbefore the day is out. On the same page as where I am writing about Dublin city, they will find an article by Kathy Sheridan, which states in great detail precisely what was done by one of the hard left in the House to the Tánaiste of the day in her car at a demonstration. I will not repeat the language here, but it was foul and abusive, to which she and her colleagues were subjected on that occasion. Not merely that, but threats were made to them. The policing on that occasion was very poor indeed. I am glad that Ministers now have Garda drivers and security men and women restored to them because that is something which should never have been allowed happen. If we go back to what happened afterwards, a kidnapping charge was put against one Member of the House and others, which was a ridiculous overreaction. The Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 makes what happened there an offence. It gives every guard the right to order people who behave like that and the people who were outside the gates of this place to disperse.
The Offences Against the State Act 1939, two years after the excerpt from the Constitution that I just cited was enacted, stated that a member of An Garda Síochána could call on any demonstration in this area to disperse and it is an offence not to do so. I want this House protected. Senator Boyhan and I had the opportunity the day before all that happened to call to the attention of the authorities in this House the dangers to which Members were being subjected. I have no problem with a group of kids from a school coming and standing outside Leinster House with placards or picketing type demonstrations, which are perfectly good but given the behaviour we saw, the precautions we saw taken were inadequate, bad policing, and should not have been and it should not have been done. I do not want to criticise the individual gardaí, but somebody majorly misunderstood the nature of the occasion and the reaction of An Garda Síochána, which was to close this place down for six hours, was wholly wrong. I want to put that on the record.
I am with the Commissioner. I stand by the Commissioner. I stand up for the Commissioner. I think the Minister does likewise. If we are having some dispute about rosters it has nothing to do with confidence in the Commissioner. That is all industrial relations. It is a sad day indeed when the institutions of this State are reduced to votes of no confidence in a man who is doing Trojan work to bring about very badly needed reforms in An Garda Síochána.
The Minister is very welcome. I acknowledge the record investment in An Garda Síochána under her leadership. Budget 2023 brought An Garda Síochána's total allocation to some €2.14 billion, an increase of €240 million in annual funding, nearly 20% over the 2020 budget.
I also acknowledge the increase in numbers in Templemore after the hiatus of Covid, and the fact that 100 new gardaí have attested so far this year, 470 are in active training and two more classes are due there in October and December. The Minister will be there in a few weeks' time for the graduation of another class. We are on track to have between 700 and 800 new recruits into the college in 2023.
Gangland killings have fallen dramatically. There were no gangland killings this year compared to brutal years we have seen, including during the Celtic tiger years.
In 2023 the Government sanctioned the roll-out of the three-year expansion plan for the Garda liaison network to increase the global footprint of An Garda Síochána to tackle organised and transnational crime. Two new regional liaison posts were created in Washington DC and Bogotá, Colombia, based in the Irish embassies.The Government has also approved the expansion of the Garda liaison network to Bangkok and Abu Dhabi. It will sign a special co-operation agreement with the Colombian national police in the coming weeks.
I would like to acknowledge the exceptional work carried out by the Garda, Defence Forces, Revenue and customs in the seizure of some €157 million worth of cocaine on a vessel brought into Cork Harbour in hazardous conditions. The Garda was hugely involved in what was a cross-agency operation. The scourge of cocaine is an issue that is not talked about enough. It impacts many different communities up and down our country. Some people can be casual users and think nothing of it, but unfortunately cocaine is having a huge impact on supporting and furthering international crime, in particular gangland crime. It is important that we acknowledge that and do what we can to stamp it out.
There were videos from Galway a number of weeks ago over a particular weekend. I thank the Minister for meeting me and city councillors and the mayor of Galway City, Councillor Eddie Hoare, and Councillors Frank Fahy from Galway and Clodagh Higgins from Limerick a few days after that. The videos painted a picture of Galway that is not a reality. It was a reality on those days, and I would like to commend An Garda Síochána on its work in identifying, apprehending and bringing people to prosecution over the past number of weeks in Galway. The videos certainly painted a poor picture of the city and it is not the Galway I know. It is certainly not the Galway I want to see in the future. I would like to acknowledge the engagement of the Minister with the Garda and its proactive role in policing, finding, bringing to justice and prosecuting people. There are ongoing cases. These were intra and inter-family feuds that were heightened by social media. What happened was not good enough. As I said, it happened in broad daylight in the middle of Galway city. The events were serious and, quite rightly, the Garda stamped down quite quickly and effectively on that.
The future of policing reforms have been the subject of some concern. I ask that the Minister consider how they operate and to liaise with the Garda. I have concerns. To move away from the geographical model of policing that we had has meant that in my area gardaí travel from Oranmore in the east of Galway city to Rosmuc, which takes them an hour and ten minutes with blue lights flashing, in order to reach the scene of a crime. Unfortunately, that is the reality gardaí face. I spoke to a garda this week who told me the new model is a disaster. I asked whether it was a common view and, unfortunately, he said it is. People want to know that a garda is within a short distance of them and that when they ring the Garda, a garda will come quickly. Unfortunately, under the new model that is not happening.
At a joint policing committee meeting, I said I saw no reason the bulk of Connemara is under the jurisdiction of Oranmore, which is across Galway city. At the meeting, I asked whether that was because there was a new building in Oranmore. The chief superintendent at the time told me that was one of the reasons. That is not good enough in terms of decision making. I know the Minister did not decide on this, but Connemara should be under the jurisdiction of a Garda station in Connemara not Oranmore. Such a decision is nonsensical and does not work.
The new headquarters are in Renmore, then we have Oranmore and Millstreet on the east of the Corrib. Councillor Clodagh Higgins brought concerns to the Minister regarding whether Salthill Garda station will continue as a 24-7 station. It makes no sense to me that the infrastructure is on the east of the city and not the west in Connemara. I ask that the Minister liaise with the Garda in Galway to determine how it can justify that decision as working because, unfortunately, I do not think it is.
From the outset, I would like to make the point that it is good we have the opportunity to debate this motion, and I thank Fianna Fáil for bring it forward. Just in case there is any confusion in the Chamber or among the general public, Fine Gael has been in government for 12 years. Fianna Fáil has been in coalition with it since June 2020 and before that it propped it up in a supply and confidence arrangement. Effectively, it holds some of the responsibility for the crime we see and the confidence crisis in the Garda.
Fianna Fáil is entitled to bring forward the motion, but it has to share some responsibility for those issues. If it is in Government and supports the Government in the manner in which Fianna Fáil has, it automatically follows that it must carry the can of the consequences of the decisions the Government has made. It would give the motion more meaning and credibility if there was an acceptance of responsibility for the years it has supported Fine Gael in government.
From the perspective of Sinn Féin, I would like to identify the elements of the crisis which mean that people certainly feel less safe now in their homes. There is a perception that the city is less safe. Rightly or wrongly, that is definitely the perception among communities. It is because of Government decisions. There are fewer gardaí now than when Fine Gael took power. There are fewer Garda stations. There is a serious morale problem in the Garda which is reflected in its approach to the recruitment and retention of personnel.
The motion of censure from the Garda representative body arises from the low levels of morale that are in the force and the belief that they are not being listened to. The Government cannot just sit back on that. It must urgently respond to the issues raised by the motion. The exit from public services like the Garda is also taking place in other agents of the State. We are seeing the same happen in the Defence Forces. This morning, we spoke about the fact that there are eight naval boats but we have the capacity to have only two out in force. We are seeing the same with nurses and teachers, who are leaving Ireland and going abroad to work.
We have a serious problem with retention and recruitment in our public services. We also have a lack of gardaí in specialised units in Limerick and Dublin dealing with burglary and domestic violence. I am speaking on behalf of Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile, but from Sinn Féin's perspective what we would like to do to resolve the crisis in the Garda is prioritise keeping communities safe by protecting them from crime and commence the biggest recruitment drive in the history of the State. We want to publish the Garda Reserve regulations to allow recruitment to resume and increase the recruitment classes by reviewing the training allowance and recruitment restrictions. We would appoint a retention task force to report to the Government within weeks and move gardaí away from non-core duties. There are also other more immediate measures that need to be implemented.
I would point to Sinn Féin's document, Keeping Communities Safe, in which we have called for more gardaí with a higher profile on the streets of Dublin. The recommendation in the report on the Commission on the Future of Policing should be implemented in order to free up more gardaí for front line duties.
The community safety wardens scheme should have established effective grassroots communication with State and community services, including youth workers. We know Dublin's inner city has been without a local drug and alcohol task force for over a year. That is not good enough. We also need to focus on diversionary processes. When it comes to crime and crime statistics, there is a lot of talk about gardaí and the need to enforce the law. However, we also need to prevent people from getting involved in criminality and leaving education early. A lot of resources need to be provided to encourage people into different paths in life.
On the protest last Wednesday, which led to a lot of Members and everybody else who works in these institutions feeling nervous about coming and going from our place of work, it is important to recognise that Members of the House and the Lower House stood with the same individuals who were involved in that protest only a couple of weeks ago and said they were interested only in preserving conservative values. Those same individuals who are terrorising librarians, forcing libraries to be shut, were involved in what happened on Wednesday. Members of this House and the Lower House stood with them when they were outside protesting about books.It is important that we all carry the job we have in this House with responsibility. If we flirt with the far right and open that Pandora's box, it will be very hard to put back on the lid. Those Members who lamented what happened on Wednesday and who stood with those same individuals only a matter of a few weeks ago, should reflect on that.
Before I call Senator Cassells, I want to welcome and say bonjourto Annie Vidal, a Deputy from the French Parliament. My French is pretty poor. I ask Senator Boyhan to stop causing an interruption. I thank Ms Vidal for coming here. This is the 225th anniversary of the Year of the French and I know there were big events in Deputy Flaherty's area to commemorate the assistance the French gave us 225 years ago. It did not quite work 225 years ago, however. We appreciate France's support on Brexit and its ongoing support in Europe. This is also the 175th anniversary of the first flying of the Irish flag, which was donated to us by the women of Paris, who created the Tricolour 175 years ago on 7 March. We thank France for helping us with our national flag, which we proudly fly over this Parliament. I thank Ms Vidal for visiting us. I thank Deputy Flaherty for bringing the Deputy from France here.
The Minister is welcome to the Chamber. Back in 2017, at a meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts, of which I was a member, we had the then Garda Commissioner, Nóirín O'Sullivan, before us, and she spoke of her belief that the streets were inherently safe and of how there was not an issue in the country. Her comments came in the same week that the local newspaper of the Minister and myself, the Meath Chronicle, carried a front-page story of still images of our then Mayor of Navan, Councillor Tommy Reilly, pulling a gang of thugs off his son, who was being violently beaten to a pulp outside their shop in Navan, which made national news. Senator Kyne has said that one incident does not define a town but if we fast forward six years, the latest viral video of crime doing the rounds on Facebook and YouTube is again in Navan, where two thugs challenged workmen a couple of weeks ago on the main street in the town. These men were going about doing their jobs in broad daylight and they were threatened by one of these thugs who wielded a hammer to one man's head, before one of their colleagues intervened, duly picked up a shovel, floored him to the back of the head and left him on the ground. That video was viewed by hundreds of thousands of people, to the extent that I had friends of mine who work in major multinationals here whose bosses in the US had seen the video asking them if they were from this town where people are going around wielding hammers and flattening people in the back of their heads with shovels. What is worrying is that this scenario of being able to freely walk down the main street of a provincial town and carry on like that is becoming acceptable and the norm.
The Minister is well aware of these issues because she has visited met the traders in Navan. She has held numerous meetings, she has engaged to try to tackle these issues head-on and she has met the victims of these crimes. I do not feel unsafe in my town. I was raised in the centre of Navan, I walk the streets of my town late at night and I do not feel a sense of fear. However, I am conscious of the citizens of my town who have that sense of fear because they see these videos and they feel fearful that they are not able to walk the town and that unlawfulness is pervasive. That has been allowed because of a growth in minor criminal activities. We have a scenario where theft, not just in Dublin city centre but in towns like Navan, is on the rise. General antisocial behaviour and intimidatory tactics are also on the rise. The Minister saw herself how in the town there are general misdemeanours such as the growth in graffiti and so forth. There is a sense among the criminals that they can get away with it. I do not want that growth in minor criminal activity leading to a scenario where the town of Drogheda, our near neighbours and the second biggest town in the province alongside Navan, had to have a special action plan because more high-scale, professional and criminal groups took a stranglehold of the centre of that town. I do not want the same situation for my town of Navan, where those minor criminal operators suddenly have a sense that they can elevate themselves onto a bigger stage and where those who operate in peddling drugs and so forth in gangland crime come in and take control. We have seen the impact when public order units are deployed in towns; it dissuades such crime.
My main point is that the model is broken. I agree with Senator McDowell, and I have confidence in the Garda Commissioner whom we met in Navan. I refer to the new model that has been introduced in policing divisions, where counties Meath and Westmeath are merged. Westmeath has a population of 96,000, whereas Meath has a population of 223,000, yet Westmeath has double the number of gardaí as our county. The model is broken and it is broken along with so many aspects of our society. It is broken in health as well, where we have a scenario where the HSE would want to shut the main hospital in the county town of Meath. While gardaí and health officials are experts in their areas, they are not experts when it comes to planning societies and towns. When I ask those people if they look at the future planning documents for counties like Meath, Louth or Galway, they answer that they do not do so because it is not within their remit to do so; they operate in silos. However, it is our job as public representatives to make those points. While the Minister will say to us that it is the Garda Commissioner's job to police, it is our job as public representatives to bring the reality of what is happening on the ground to the Minister. We must say that if the model is broken, and it clearly is, then there has to be a change. It is simply not right that a county with 220,000 people has half the number of gardaí that a county of 96,000 people has. The Garda Commissioner might say that is okay but it is not okay and it leaves a scenario, as I have pointed out to the Minister, where we are not able to man those extra divisions in large towns like Navan.
I want to be positive with the Minister in the onerous job she has. Equally so, I want to say that the model has to change because it is not fitting the challenges we face.
I have to apologise. I have to be in Brussels this evening so the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, will take over for the latter part of the debate. I wanted to hear as many colleagues as possible and hopefully I will be able to stay for a bit longer. I thank Members for the opportunity to outline how I believe we are making a real difference when it comes to building stronger and safer communities.
From the outset as Minister for Justice, I have been determined to keep people safe, and to ensure that people are safe and that they feel safe. That has always been at the centre of my work, and there are and always will be challenges with that. Our communities want more gardaí and I want to say clearly that I want more gardaí. There is more we can do to ensure people are safe and that they feel safe, whether it is in our towns and cities or in our rural areas, and I am committed to making sure that is the case. Just as I will not stand here and pretend that there is not more we can do, I will not stand here either and say that nothing has been done.
Investment in An Garda Síochána and across the justice sector is increasing and is at record levels. Budget 2023 brought An Garda Síochána's total allocation to €2.14 billion, which is a 20% increase in just the past three years. This is supporting the Garda in the excellent work it does in many areas, such as tackling gangland crime. We only have to turn on the news from the past 24 hours to hear of the successes of the Garda, which we are all thankful for. I sincerely thank and acknowledge all of those involved in yesterday's huge operation, which is probably the most significant drugs haul and seizure ever in the country. I acknowledge the hard work and dedication of An Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces and many others involved in that operation. I want to acknowledge the number of international coalitions that have been built to tackle gangland crime, which operates with little respect for borders, as it does for people.Gangland murders have fallen dramatically but I acknowledge that unfortunately the figures this week indicate there are still homicides where numbers have increased. Killings are now largely driven by domestic abuse. We are making progress in this area through our zero tolerance plan. We have tougher laws and stronger sentences. We are developing new refuge spaces. We are building the long-term structures to tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, to challenge and change the attitudes which underpin it, to help victims. We have just advertised for the position of CEO for the new domestic violence agency that will put in place the structures so that no matter who is Minister or what the focus of the day is, this will remain on the agenda and remain a priority. This is the long-term reform that is needed to tackle these deep-rooted problems. That is what we are all saying here today. It is not a short-term fix, it is about how we put in place the long-term structures to deal with things in the longer term.
The Government's policy on community safety is simple. To speak to some of the points that have just been made, it is built on two pillars. First, nobody knows better than a local community what needs to be done to increase safety in their area and to tackle antisocial behaviour or issues like the scenes we have seen in Navan, which are absolutely appalling and which nobody could but condemn. Second, the most effective policing is at a local level. We all want to know our local garda, to be able to engage or pick up the phone, and for gardaí in turn to know exactly who is in their community. That is why we are introducing the community safety partnerships. This is about people being safe and feeling safe, but having ownership of that, with responsibility not just lying with the Department of Justice or An Garda Síochána. It requires the State agencies and organisations, for example Tusla, local businesses, education providers, enterprise workers and youth services, all working together with the local community and of course our local representatives, bringing everyone around the table to find solutions. It is, again, about drawing up our own community safety plans in our own area. Whether it is Navan, Cavan or other areas in Dublin, all members will have a part to play in this. As I said, nobody knows their own area better than those who live in it.
From next year, every area of the country will have a community safety partnership which will draw up its own safety plan. Ahead of the national roll-out I established three pilots in the inner city in Dublin, Longford and Waterford. We had an urban area and a mix of urban and rural to make sure we had a proper spread. When I commenced the partnership pilot scheme the goal was very simple, that we would empower communities and give them ownership of their own safety while obviously working very closely with the arms of the State. The north inner city plan which was published only this month is a perfect example of this approach. There are practical and very pragmatic actions on how to improve community safety. These include recommendations around Garda presence and how the Garda would work and engage with the community. There is a focus on enhanced youth services, business taking initiatives such as the new community safety wardens, and the local authority playing its part too. It will not be perfect. It will not be perfect in every county. However, it is another example of a long-term reform to tackle deep-rooted problems.
Along with the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, I am committed to further extending the youth diversion programmes. They were mentioned by colleagues. They do invaluable, effective work right across the country including with those who are at risk of getting involved in crime and those who are involved in crime already and are very clearly down a particular path. We have funding of almost €30 million supporting these projects. That is an increase of about 67% in the past three years alone. By next year for the first time the youth diversion programmes will cover the entire country. We want to build on those programmes and in particular to get to the hard-to-reach young people who do not necessarily fall into that net. This session, I will be progressing the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill, the legislation which will underpin the partnerships I have just mentioned nationally. I look forward to discussing the Bill with Senators as it moves through the Houses this term.
A visible Garda presence is of course central to all of this and to community policing. Throughout my time as Minister for Justice and in many of the debates in these Houses, I am always struck although not surprised by the high regard in which the Garda is held by each and every one of us. That was most evident during the centenary celebrations last year. As I said at the outset, people want more gardaí, not less of them. Certainly I am part of that. Unfortunately we had to close the Garda College during the pandemic. That is something people forget or choose to ignore, but it is a fact that when the college is not open we cannot have recruits coming out of it. It was closed before but for very different reasons which we will not dwell on. My party was proud to reopen it and to renew the tradition of training gardaí in Templemore. Now we are seeing that reinvigorated process. Some 500 people completed or began their training last year after the Covid-enforced pause in numbers in Templemore. Those numbers continue now to increase. We have attestations every three months with 135 in February and 154 in May. We had another class of 174, the largest class since Covid, entering the college at the end of July. We are building momentum around recruitment. Some 100 new gardaí have attested so far this year. Another 470 will be in active training and we have two more classes in October and December. Those numbers are continuously increasing. We also have plans in place for a new recruitment campaign for the Garda Reserve which is extremely important to support the Garda and help create and increase visibility in our communities. We are also examining all options to see how we can help with recruitment and retention, including the entry age, retirement age and other measures. We are doing exit interviews as well to look at the reasons people are leaving and find out what more we can do. Yes, we have full employment and a certain number of gardaí are leaving because they want to and because they have other opportunities. There are others who are not happy and we have to acknowledge that and see what more I can do in my role and working closely with the Garda Commissioner and An Garda Síochána.
I know An Garda Síochána is going through a period of significant reform at the moment. I would be the first here to acknowledge that any type of change or reform is not easy. I want to sincerely thank members of An Garda Síochána for implementing this reform but also for giving me their feedback. I get this when I go around the stations, my Department does as well. The senior leadership feed back on how these reforms are working or, in some instances, how they feel they are not working, how they can be changed, amended. There have been a series of changes including around the operating model, the number of counties and the structure there, and around the online systems they have to use. There is a new change coming in October, which I think is the third or fourth. There is continuous engagement to understand what is working and what is not, while at the same time making sure the reform and the change happen. They were brought in for a reason and it is important that we do not lose sight of that.
One of the main benefits of the new operating model is the new community policing structures, having community policing teams across the country. As we increase recruitment next year and as the operating model is rolled out we will see the reforms to strengthen community policing really take effect. Community policing areas will be created nationwide by An Garda Síochána with a dedicated community garda given responsibility for each new community policing area. Communities will be able to identify and contact their community garda via the Garda Síochána website and address issues of local concern such as antisocial behaviour, crime prevention, community safety or whatever reason a person might have to contact a member of An Garda Síochána. In return, each garda will have a responsibility to be highly visible, active, engaged and accessible to their local area and to engage with local people, groups and businesses. The dedicated local community garda will be at the front line. This is what we all want. This is small area policing. This is what we are talking about. This is policy. This is what is being rolled out. It is our established policy to build on small area policing, which was successful in the north inner city within our community policing teams. It is in action in our community safety partnership for the north inner city. I trust Senators from the area would acknowledge and welcome the advance work done by the partnership to make this a reality across the country from next year.
This has not been rolled out fully, which we have to acknowledge while people are saying there are problems on the ground. Reform and change take time, particularly when we have a global pandemic taking place in the middle of it. It is worth recalling how much reform is under way. Senator McDowell alluded to the reasons this reform is in place, which all of us remember, and why it is needed. The Commission on the Future of Policing was established in May 2017 to undertake a comprehensive examination of all aspects of policing. It published its report and outlined a clear vision and road map. That is exactly what we are implementing now. It is not easy. It is taking time. However, I genuinely believe that when this is rolled out, when the number of gardaí increases, which is key to this working, it will be successful.
In respect of gardaí themselves, I take the welfare of An Garda Síochána extremely seriously. I meet with the staff associations, discuss issues of concern with them, and discuss what more can be done. I also make it my business to meet with front-line gardaí when I go to stations so I can take the time to engage, listen, ask questions and hear what they have to say. I really value the things they say to me in an honest and straightforward way. It helps me in my work. I know how tough the job of a garda is. I do not nor should any of us take for granted their efforts, nor underestimate the risks they are exposed to every day on our behalf.That is why I enacted legislation before the summer to increase the maximum sentence for assaulting a member of An Garda Síochána and other emergency workers from seven to 12 years. I am aware that Members of this House and indeed the other House have advocated for that. That is why one of my main priorities this term again is to pass the Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) Bill to allow Garda members to have body-worn cameras from next year on. Again, I thank many Members for their support on this yesterday as it came to the House.
This month, An Garda Síochána began the tender process for purchasing bodycams and publicly demonstrated how they will work. Not only will this Bill allow us to give body-worn cameras but it will reform CCTV schemes. Under the Bill, community groups will now again be able to request schemes in their areas, something which has been paused for many years. This will help gardaí tackle crime and antisocial behaviour and many other issues in our communities. Above all, I believe the best way to support our Garda members is to have more of them and I keep saying this but the more we have and the more we lessen their workloads, the more we can get done. I have been very clear in my determination in that regard. I have also consistently asked gardaí what more I can do to provide supports for them, as they go about their jobs on a daily basis. I will always, obviously working closely with whosoever is the Minister of the day with responsibility for public expenditure, make sure money is available, be it for uniforms, better equipment, new technologies, supports such as the wellness days. Moreover, the new Keeping Our People Supported, KOPS, app, which is a well-being app available to members of An Garda Síochána, has been, from my engagement with members, very well-received. Just this week, I held discussions with Garda management on what more we can do to provide supports and initiatives to strengthen well-being and job satisfaction. I look forward to further announcements in this regard in the coming weeks.
The issue of Garda rosters is of central importance to the Garda workforce and to the Commissioner's ability to operate the organisation efficiently and effectively and to maximise Garda visibility. In recent years, members of An Garda Síochána gained access to the industrial relations machinery of the State. This includes the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, and the Labour Court. This was agreed with by all in this House as a new system available to the gardaí when there were industrial relations disputes. In parallel at the time, a new internal dispute resolutions mechanism was introduced in An Garda Síochána. Essentially, this meant the management of industrial relations in An Garda Síochána then came under the direct remit of the Garda Commissioner. The Garda roster, which is currently in operation and which has become known as the Covid-19 roster, was introduced by the Commissioner to deal with the specific policing requirements that arose during the Covid-19 pandemic. Nobody believes that either this roster or the previous roster - the one that will be introduced - is a long-term solution so that is why we need to get to a stage where we have a new roster. We do have a new structure, a new system, in place that was put in place a number of years ago in order that senior management could work directly with the organisations within An Garda Síochána to deal with these types of disputes. Obviously there is now available to them the WRC. The only way to resolve this it by people getting around the table. The Commissioner has my full support but that does not mean that Garda members do not either. It is about people getting around the table and we need to make sure a solution is found here. As I said, the Commissioner has my support but I think we all support Garda members in the work they do and want to see a resolution.
In their motion today, the Senators said that protecting citizens is a founding duty of the State. They are right in this. They are right that policing has a central role in this but protecting our citizens is much wider than policing. It is about having laws that are fit for purpose, and ensuring we continually ask ourselves what more we can do to protect vulnerable people in society. Domestic abuse is something we once turned a blind eye to. It happened behind the front door so was none of our business. We now know that domestic abuse is not some lesser or softer form of crime unworthy of our attention. The appalling stories we hear show how much work we still have to do. Nor should we move away from other reforms that need to take place as well and I look forward to introducing new laws on hate crimes, and to update our laws regarding incitement to hatred for attacking or targeting people simply because of who they are. I have discussed these matters in the Seanad and I look forward to discussing these matters with Senators again. I also look forward to returning here to discuss ongoing Garda recruitment, the roll-out of the community safety partnerships, the community policing teams, bodycams, and above all how we can work together to build stronger safer communities.
I will very briefly point to last week's demonstrations. What happened outside the House was absolutely appalling. It should be condemned by absolutely everybody. There were people there who were genuinely protesting. There were people there for genuine reasons and who were peaceful in their protests. I know the response taken by An Garda Síochána was a graduated response to be able to respond as things escalated, which they did. However, there are always lessons to be learned and things that can change. I want to reassure colleagues that should these types of incidents arise, we will see gardaí respond in the most efficient and effective way, as they do, but it is important that we trust those who are on the ground and who are dealing with the situation as well. I thank Senators for their time and for the opportunity to outline the work that is being done with the support of many colleagues in this House.
First, I thank the Minister for the comprehensive laying out in her statement in response to the issues centrally raised by the Private Members' business motion by Fianna Fáil. I commend them. I concur and agree with them. However we have to be consistent. One of the smallest lines at the back of their motion is to call for a dedicated transport unit of An Garda Síochána. They will recall that we had a number of debates on this. I proposed it and proposed amendments and I refer to the Irish Daily Mail on 5 September 2022, where there was a very strong case made by myself in relation to this matter. I made a very strong case on the basis of the report by Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, called Travelling in a Woman's Shoes, a very important report produced by Arup for the TII.We discussed it at great length and discussed the challenges, particularly the safety of women and also of men, of people, and of children. Let us be clear, everyone is a target in transport. I made a strong case and it was opposed by Fianna Fáil and by most members of the Government. There was a roll call taken that day. We had a subsequent debate when I raised it again and someone looked at me and said, "Surprise, surprise". That is the reality, they are the facts, that Fianna Fáil opposed it on a vote. Some of us were at the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, event two weeks ago and talked about what might and what might not have happened in this House had we voted. Sometimes I wonder, as I go down the stairs and think I am wasting my time, but they all come home to roost. That is where we stand on this occasion. I am delighted there is a change of heart but they would want to read the transcript and about the people who spoke against it and the reasons they gave for opposing a designated Garda transport police. I talk about speaking with one voice. Subsequent to that, the now Taoiseach came out in favour of a policing unit. The Minister of State, Deputy Neal Richmond, came out strongly in favour of a dedicated An Garda Síochána transport police. After that, Deputy Alan Farrell came out strongly and yet somehow there is an inconsistency. The Government needs to speak with one voice and develop a clear strategy for a transport policing model. That is what is clear from all of this. The motion was rejected. I do not want to give a history lesson or read the list of the people who are on this list but who voted against it. If we are to be consistent, be consistent. Be fair. Do your homework. But to breeze in in less than 12 months and somehow discover that they are all converts to this new transport policing model, that is my point.
Sorry, Senator Chambers, Leader of the House, I take that point. It is a valid point. What I will say is, as it will save me from eating into my time, I strongly recommend people get a copy of the Irish Daily Mail. There were 311 words published on 5 September 2022. I will circulate it to everyone this afternoon so therefore that sets out some of the record. The rest of course can be linked to on The Plinthwebsite and to the documents here. I am just making a point. I support every aspect of the motion and am glad to see people have had a change of heart and have now come around to the idea that this designated transport police unit is a good thing. I am there with you and it has taken a long time to get to this point.I will finish with two other points. I met two gardaí one afternoon on Capel Street in recent weeks. I asked them what were the challenges in policing and one said, "By golly, they are difficult. We are scared out of our wits policing Dublin at night." Those two gardaí were on Capel Street. We need to be mindful of them and of their personal safety. I am very supportive of An Garda Síochána and the very difficult tasks the gardaí have. I believe we all stand in solidarity with them. This is important.
My final point relates to the Garda Reserve. My colleague, the former Minister for Justice, Senator McDowell may have touched on it earlier. He introduced the Garda Reserve. I had met members of the Reserve who say they were intimidated, bullied, harassed and chased out of Garda stations. They said they felt there was no role for them and that the permanent gardaí felt there was no role for them. I disagree. I have friends who have been in the Garda Reserve and they have a valid contribution to make. They have an important contribution. Many of them are drawn from their own communities. I ask the Minister of State to go back to the Department and consider tapping into that great resource, re-energising and reactivating the Garda Reserve. It is a good organisation. Many people have lent their services there and have given and made a great contribution to An Garda Síochána through the Reserve programme. It is something we should explore in greater detail.
This is a particularly important issue. I have chatted with the Minister of State privately on this. One of the challenges is that those of us who have gone out in Dublin over the years have never felt that unsafe until the past few years. Quite frankly, in parts of the city we are seeing gangs of feral youths that intimidate people. At times when seeing some of the behaviour, it is understandable why people are frightened and why they do not feel safe in our capital city. This is expressed by people who live here and equally by tourists and visitors to the area. No matter how many statistics we throw out to people, if somebody says he or she feels unsafe, we cannot convince him or her otherwise. Certainly we are hearing back from our own constituents and from others is about the fear on our streets. It is not just confined to the major cities. Increasingly in towns - and the Minister of State will be aware of this in Wexford as well - people at times feel unsafe because they do not see gardaí on the beat as much as they were.
I pay tribute to the chief superintendent for the Wicklow-Wexford division who has made a concerted effort to get more gardaí out on the beat but I want to raise the issue of the allocation of Garda resources and Garda numbers. Rosslare has expanded enormously in the past few years because of Brexit but this has placed strain on the Garda resources in the Wexford division. Gardaí from the south east have had to be allocated to Rosslare Harbour to provide extra policing. We need to look at the likes of our ports areas in the context of extra policing and, as we have seen most evidently over the past few days, to support those agencies, including the Coast Guard and so on, that have to prevent crime at sea.
I will give a comparison on the Garda numbers. Garda numbers generally around the country are insufficient. The Minister of State will be aware that in the Wexford division at the end of August, there were 338 gardaí and in the Wicklow Garda division, there 296 gardaí. The population of both Wexford and Wicklow in each case is bigger than Waterford or Cavan-Monaghan, yet Waterford has 380 gardaí and there are 375 gardaí stationed in Cavan-Monaghan. That is not to say that Waterford and Cavan-Monaghan do not need those gardaí, but in the allocation of Garda resources, it is very clear the Wexford- Wicklow division, which the Minister of State and I are both very familiar with, is not getting the necessary allocation of gardaí that it deserves. In the allocation of gardaí we need to have a greater balance.
The Minister of State is very welcome. He and my colleagues will not find it any surprise that I will raise the issue of the family law court complex that was promised for a long number of years to be delivered at Hammond Lane. I have spoken about this ad nauseamsince my election to this House back in 2016. I was very happy to see it included in the programme for Government that this site would at last be developed and a fit-for-purpose combined family law court complex would be delivered at Hammond Lane. What is currently in place is not fit for purpose at all. Down through the years I have tabled many Commencement matters on this, most recently this time last year. I was promised by the Minister for Justice that everything was on track and would be delivered within the lifetime of this Government. I was absolutely heartbroken to hear in the middle of August, when we were all on our holidays, that this bad piece of news was slipped out and that actually it was not going to be delivered and nothing would be done during the lifetime of the Government.
Projects relating to Clonmel and Mallow Garda stations, which had been in a bundle with the Hammond Lane project, had been decoupled and are going ahead. We were not given any information about what the holdup was, what the timeline was for delivery or even what the timeline was of knowledge within the Department or why we were not informed. We still have not received a formal statement on it from the Minister for Justice. I am very disappointed the Minister is not in the Chamber to answer that directly because I believe the knowledge lies within her on that. One can talk ad nauseamabout having better laws, helping victims of domestic violence and homicides and building more refuges but all of that is for nothing if we do not have a Courts Service where people can apply for a barring order or a safety order, or if practitioners working on these very difficult cases cannot operate in a safe and suitable environment, or if people are so nervous about bringing an application because they must stand cheek by jowl with the perpetrator of the crime. We can talk about doing stuff on this forever but if we are actually failing to deliver this family law court complex we can forget about it because the situation is getting worse, especially for women and their children. I am very disappointed the Minister has not issued a statement on the matter, despite me calling on her to do so. This bit of information was slipped out thinking none of us would notice. I am very disappointed she is not here to answer for it and show the people who use the District Court and the circuit family courts in Dublin city the courtesy of information on this. Perhaps the Minister of State might be able to answer my query.
All my speaking time is gone. I had a number of other issues to raise about transport police and on recruiting gardaí with sufficient Irish to police Gaeltacht communities but I will leave it at that because plenty of other people have issues to raise on this very important motion.
The Minister of State is more than welcome. I will first compliment the statement made by the Minister. It was a powerful statement and she brought a lot of good information to the floor the House, which is very important. She outlined in many ways where we are going with the training programme and the recruitment process happening at the moment. She also referred to the Covid issue and how it affected the potential for training of recruits during that unusual time for our society.
I need to reflect on a few issues. Ten or 12 years ago, gangland murders were the huge issue. My brother in-law was in college in Limerick at the time and it was quite a frightening experience going there. That entire aspect of society, what happened and what our response was is something on which I compliment An Garda Síochána. We have seen a huge change in how gangland murders and gangland activity has been looked at. That is not insignificant. Limerick back in the day was, unfortunately, not a great place but it is a major change now to where it was back ten or 12 years ago. That was a really significant change for Munster.
When we consider the numbers of Garda recruits going through the college - I believe the Minister referred to a figure of nearly 800 and perhaps the Minister of State will clarify this-----
Between 700 and 800 new recruits will go through the college in 2023 according to the Minister. That was a significant statement. I am open to correction on that but the Minister might confirm whether she stated in the House a few minutes ago that up to 800 new recruits would go through the college in 2023, not 500, the number we just heard from a Senator.
It is unfortunate that we have a scenario where I am being heckled. That is an increase and a good news story which has to be acknowledged.
I acknowledge the work members of An Garda Síochána are doing on the ground. Sometimes we do not acknowledge them enough or the work their families do. Every time they put on their boots and go out the door, they do not know what will happen. They do a significant job for the State and we have to acknowledge that and the amount of work they do.
I thank An Garda Síochána and the other services involved in the seizure of a significant amount of drugs in my part of the world in recent days. The figures are quite alarming. The interagency co-operation was helpful but also shone a light on a gap in that relationship, namely, in the area of Naval Service recruitment. We have only two ships available to the State. Very important work was done yesterday. We must examine this issue. There are 755 members of the Naval Service. We will recruit more gardaí this year than we have members of the Naval Service. That is a huge issue if we are to have an interconnection between all our State agencies relating to the transportation of cocaine, especially in Irish seas. To have an effective programme that ensures all agencies can work together, do we need to have the recruitment we have seen to An Garda Síochána also happen in the Naval Service? The Tánaiste and Minister for Defence should come before the House to discuss that issue. We have two ships available to go to sea. The massive drugs haul off the south-east coast yesterday makes me think there is more to be got at sea. Imagine the potential we would have to catch what is required if we had a full flotilla of Naval Services vessels available.
That is a significant debate that needs to take place. Garda recruitment numbers, which I believe the Minister said would be 800 this year, although I am open to correction on that, are significant compared with recruitment to the Naval Service. We should look at what can be done in the area of recruitment to ensure we reach our full potential and get all Naval Service ships out to sea. The implication of that for the State would be that what happened yesterday in the south east could happen more often because we would have our full fleet available. The Minister for Defence needs to come to the House to have a debate on this because drugs are an important element of State security.
I thank the Fianna Fáil group for this excellent motion. I congratulate An Garda Síochána and the Naval Service on their great work yesterday along the east coast. Listening to Senator Lombard, you would think gangland crime and associated murders were non-existent now. The huge haul yesterday only shows that the gangland criminal drugs industry is alive and well. Unfortunately, a lot of crime stems from that, especially in the area where I live, in Crumlin, Walkinstown and Kimmage, where such crime can be quite bad and unfairly affects families.
I also want to raise transport police. A puff of smoke was being blown over here. I was able to search Google for articles featuring calls I have made for transport police going back to 2020. The Fianna Fáil group of Dublin Members introduced a motion to the House in January last calling for transport police. We have always been very clear about what we seek as regards safety on public transport, not only in Dublin but beyond.
High visibility works. The Minister of State, Deputy Browne, and the Minister, while visiting Cherry Orchard about 18 months ago, put in place a plan to clamp down on the antisocial behaviour we had been reading about and attacks on gardaí. Since then, reports show that incidents of antisocial behaviour are not as prolific as they were at the time.
On the issue of walking the streets of Dublin at night, as my colleague said, it is now considered a no-go to walk around town because it is just too dangerous. This is a new phenomenon. Speaking to friends and colleagues, it seems this has arisen since the Covid period when young people did not have stability or a structure in their lives and were pouring onto the streets of Dublin, drinking and getting into trouble. That affects passers-by on the streets who can become the victims of crime. During the summer, we had the case of a visiting American student who became the unfortunate victim of a crime. We know visibility works and recruitment and retention plays into that. We need to do a lot more on that. We need to ensure pay is right and there is respect. It is great that the body camera legislation is coming in because many gardaí do not feel safe. Gardaí getting up in the morning to go out and do their job have a chance of getting injured. When we go to work every day, we do not expect to come home injured but being a garda is a risky job. They should be paid in a way that corresponds to the risk of the job and to show our appreciation.
It is great to hear the Minister proposes to fund more juvenile diversion programmes. A large proportion of antisocial behaviour in the city is done by gangs of young people in the suburbs aged 12 to 17 years. They should not be out on the streets. They should be otherwise engaged in meaningful activities. A proper, well-funded juvenile diversion programme is really important.
All over the country, but especially in Dublin, Hallowe'en is a no-go time when it comes to going out at night because of those who are getting up to no good. The Garda always has Hallowe’en plans in place but it is important that these plans and Dublin City Council are properly funded to ensure there is a seamless lead-up to Hallowe’en night and that no gardaí are injured when attending antisocial behaviour or public order call-outs.
It is great to be able to speak about crime in debating this Fianna Fáil motion. It is also great to be able to welcome the Fianna Fáil Minister of State, Deputy Thomas Byrne, who is working for the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee.
I am so sorry. It is good to clarify the target for recruits and the figures that have been mentioned. Roughly 450 recruits are in active training and there is a target of achieving 700 to 800 recruits by the end of the year. There will be two extra classes towards the end of the year. There are 470 in active training and 100 new gardaí have attested. That is already 570 new gardaí. We appear to be on target to reach the figure of between 700 and 800 new gardaí by the end of the year.
The points raised by previous speakers relate to the long pause in recruitment during Covid. It is critical that these classes will bring in more recruits. The Government wants to support gardaí. The life of a garda can be challenging, particularly the shift work and the impact that has on family life. The Minister is looking at ways to equip gardaí with the tools to carry out policing in today's world.She spoke in the House yesterday when we discussed the Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) Bill 2022 about legislation she would bring forward around how to reduce the time gardaí will have to spend in courts, for example, so that they can spend more time on the street. At the moment, particularly in rural areas, members of An Garda Síochána's time is taken up with having to attend courts. This is of course crucial to everything we do around the law but we need to look at smarter ways of using time. In my constituency, it takes an hour and a half to get from one end to the other by car at a time when there is not a lot of traffic. For gardaí who have to travel distances to court cases, this again uses up their time travelling, never mind the time spent in the court itself. The Minister is looking at ways to use more modern systems. She has talked about digitalisation but also about how we can support gardaí in maximising their participation in courts while also making sure they are available on the ground, particularly in rural areas.
I was particularly interested in the community CCTV scheme. The Minister has mentioned this in her motion around safety in community areas. In rural areas, it is really important that we support our estates in our towns and that people walking around our towns feel safe. However, that CCTV scheme has to be in line with the general data protection regulation, GDPR, requirements here. We have to look at who is holding the data, be it the local authority or the Garda Síochána branches in our local towns. In doing things like this, hopefully we will be able to monitor, supervise, and provide that element of safety to people living in estates that currently are seeing antisocial behaviour. Our gardaí are in Garda stations all across our towns and villages. They are working day and night to provide that level of protection. The fleet numbers are crucial to do that in rural areas. Having access to cars, other vehicles, and vans is absolutely crucial. I am aware the Minister has spoken about that as well.
The Minister of State, Deputy Brown, will have a chance to speak on this in his response but it is very clear that there is joined-up Government thinking about how we are going to surmount the difficulties we are seeing when it comes to the impact of drugs and addiction in our society. Will the Minister comment on how the Department of Justice is working with the Department of Health to provide addiction services in towns across Ireland? I highlight the fact that we have people presenting with high levels of addiction and aggressive behaviour in our hospitals and emergency departments. How are the two Departments working together to manage the level of aggression and violence our healthcare personnel face on a daily basis? It is absolutely crucial that funding for these supports for addiction and counselling services are provided. In my own town of Ballinasloe, we had St. Brigid's Hospital, which was a psychiatric institution but it also provided acute supports for people suffering from addiction. Currently, these supports do not exist unless a person has a primary diagnosis from mental health services. The Department of Justice has a role here to work on a joined-up Government strategy with the Department of Health around providing access to those services.
Probation will be the first port of call when we have young people who get involved with crime coming through the legal system here. How are we supporting access to those support services around addiction, as opposed to people ending up in prison and developing even worse addictions? We need to have those services in place. What are the Minister of State's thoughts on engagement between Departments in providing some of these services?
The other part we mentioned was around the rural areas as well. For me, on the joint policing committee in Roscommon, it is has been really important to see how they are using the automatic number plate recognition, ANPR, technology and how that has been brought in. These are all measures that have been brought in under the Minister and the Department for Justice with this Government to support ongoing actions by An Garda Síochána to deliver and do their job effectively. These are no small changes to how gardaí do their daily job but they will support them, particularly the body-worn camera equipment. If the Minister can come back to me on some of those points, I would really appreciate it.
Before I call the next speaker, I am sure the members of the House will wish to join with me in welcoming a parliamentary delegation from Azerbaijan led by Ms Sahiba Gafarova, speaker of the Milli Majlis. On my own behalf and that of all my colleagues in Seanad Éireann, I extend a very warm welcome to the delegation from Azerbaijan. I offer them good wishes for a very successful visit around Ireland. They are very welcome.
I thank the Minister and the Minister of State for coming to the House to discuss this all-important issue and I thank Fianna Fáil for bringing forward this Private Members' business. I welcome the fact that the budget for justice has increased by almost 20% since 2020. This is most welcome. Only this morning, I raised the fact with our own Leader that the Garda Commissioner had announced recently that a Garda station for Castletroy in Limerick would be included in the capital budget between 2025 and 2040. This is most welcome because it is something on which I have been campaigning and about which I have spoken to the Minister on several occasions. I am glad the Department listened because it is one of the fastest-growing urban areas on the periphery of the city and is almost a town. Therefore, it is welcome news that the Office of Public Works, OPW, has been charged with finding a proper location for this Garda station. I thank the Minister of State and the Minister for that.
On the numbers of gardaí being up, I see we have passed laws to help put more gardaí on the street but we need to go even further and provide more. We have a lot of emphasis on training and upskilling on the whole education side of it. How can we encourage members of the public to join An Garda Síochána? I think there are many people who would like to join. On the other hand, how can we train people to take up the desk job and to take over the office work to allow gardaí out on the street? That is one thing I would like to see happening more. However, it is very welcome news that the numbers of gardaí being recruited are up and I know more will be graduating within the next month. One of my own neighbours was on the programme in Templemore and found it very worthwhile and fulfilling. I wish the new cohort who will graduate in a couple of weeks all the very best. They go out there and do a wonderful job in keeping us safe. We experienced it here only last week with what went on with the protesters and saw how An Garda Síochána played a pivotal role in making sure there were little or no incidents. There were a number of arrests.
On the international and national stage, Senator Dolan referred to the issue of drugs and addiction, I have seen first hand the role that community gardaí play in working with youths who are possibly out of control but yet the gardaí go out playing football with them and getting engaged with them to gain that level of respect. When the gardaí interact with youngsters, it helps to get them on the straight and narrow. I am involved in a community centre and the community gardaí certainly play a pivotal role in ensuring youngsters and other people in the community, are sent in the right direction. They put them on programmes and refer them if necessary to addiction programmes. I want to compliment the men and women out there who are members of An Garda Síochána and who do a wonderful job on a daily basis.
Overall, I compliment the fact that investment is up. There is a lot happening. There is the whole body-worn cameras discussion on which we had a debate here yesterday when I was in the Chair. This is something that will help gardaí to carry out their work in a safe environment.It is about giving them confidence as well. Morale in the force was down for a while. People were not being very nice to members of An Garda Síochána. They were abusing gardaí when they turned up to deal with an incident. Everything we can do to support An Garda Síochána is important. Overall, I compliment everything happening in the area of justice.
I welcome the Minister of State back to the Chamber. In her absence, I thank the Minister for making herself available for the vast majority of the debate. I also thank all my colleagues who contributed, in one way or another, to the debate. Unfortunately, Senator Lombard is no longer with us, but he raised several issues concerning the defence portfolio and lack of investment, etc. I have a suggestion. I hope he will attend the meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party this evening because a few other people attending it may be able to address and answer some of the issues he raised during this debate.
On a more serious note, though, and I am sure I speak on behalf of all of the Members present, I commend the men and women of An Garda Síochána who, as many of them mentioned, go out daily to protect us. They are the thin, blue line between peace and anarchy and we should never forget this. Every day they put on their uniform, they do not know what incident or task will confront them during their tour of duty. I know all Members fully acknowledge and accept this.
Recruitment was raised. To be fair to the Minister, she has only been in this portfolio for the past three years or so and she is definitely doing her best. Many facts and figures have been thrown out during the debate, but according to the assistant general secretary of the GRA, there are 850 fewer gardaí today than there were three years ago. When we consider how the population is increasing, there is no doubt that the pace of recruitment will have to speed up to address issues concerning An Garda Síochána itself. It is all very fine seeing people coming in the door, and this is very much welcome, but if there is a problem with people going out the exit door before they are due to go out, then this highlights another problem.
Retention is a major issue within An Garda Síochána, as it is across many sectors. We would be very foolish to ignore the fact that during the first five months of this year, 59 members resigned from the force before their time. If this trend continues, this figure will end up at approximately 144 before the end of the year. We cannot, therefore, ignore statistics like this one. I do not doubt that everybody is doing their best to address the situation, but there are issues in this regard. Senator McDowell mentioned that An Garda Síochána needs reform. There is no issue concerning this need for reform. Everyone accepts it, including, I am sure, the vast majority of the members of An Garda Síochána.
The crux of the situation we find ourselves in, and the critical juncture we are at now, is that the 11,000 members that make up the rank and file of An Garda Síochána have serious issues with Garda management. We simply cannot ignore this fact. We can have all the policing plans we want, and they are all well and dandy, but unless we have the men and women of An Garda Síochána implementing these plans, we will have a serious problem and we will not be able to leave the starting line. This is why I called earlier for the Minister to intervene in the dispute between the GRA and the Garda Commissioner. Nobody is personalising this at all, but it would be foolish of us to ignore what is going on. We are in a very dangerous and unprecedented situation in respect of where An Garda Síochána finds itself. In my opinion, and if one talks to members of the Garda, this is not simply down to rosters. There are many other issues out there as well which have, in their opinion, led them to the stance they have taken.
I have confidence in this regard, though, if the Minister was to get involved and invite all parties around the table. These are all reasonable people and I am sure a solution will be found to the impasse we find ourselves in. As I said earlier, it is unprecedented that 99% of those balloted seem to have a problem with the management. The political classes that make up the Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas would be very foolish to ignore what this ballot is telling us. I thank the Minister of State for his presence. I also ask him to use his good offices to try to encourage the Minister in this regard. I am not personalising this issue and not criticising her because she is doing her best, but it is time now, given where we are, for her to intervene with a view to trying to find a resolution to this problem.