Seanad debates

Wednesday, 28 February 2024

Community Safety and Investment: Motion [Private Members]


10:30 am

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Before we begin, I welcome the students from Kilcolman National School, Enniskeane, in that wonderful part of County Cork. I thank all the boys and girls, their teachers and all the members of staff for being here. They are here with Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan, who is looking after them very well. He is a good man to have with them. I thank them for being here. The rumour has it that they have homework off tonight. Senator Sherlock is also a Cork person. We might give them homework off on Monday night rather than tonight. We bestow homework off.

Photo of Rebecca MoynihanRebecca Moynihan (Labour)
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I move:

That Seanad Éireann: acknowledges that: - An Garda Síochána play a vital role in ensuring our communities are safe, law and order is upheld, and community well-being is maintained;

- there is a crisis of morale within An Garda Síochána resulting in a significant number of Gardaí leaving the service;

- there are real and growing concerns about safety in Dublin city centre across all demographics, gender, sexuality and ethnicity, with those from certain minority backgrounds feeling particularly threatened;

- Ireland’s urban centres, such as Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway, are home to diverse and culturally rich communities; recognises that: - while a sufficient Garda presence is crucial to ensure public safety, the key to addressing community safety and cohesion is the provision of public services, local investment, and access to sports and recreational facilities; building safe sustainable towns and cities is important to enable communities to thrive, maintain social cohesion and prevent anti-social behaviour; notes that: - the Community Policing model is a partnership-based, proactive, problem-solving style of policing, focused on community engagement, crime prevention and law enforcement;

- there are currently less community Gardaí active than there was a decade ago;

- the total strength of An Garda Síochána fell last year from 14,125 to 13,998, at one point reaching the lowest level in 5 years;

- in 2023, 164 Gardaí resigned from the service compared with 26 a decade ago and representing a 50% increase on the previous year, a six-fold increase on 2016;

- there have been a number of industrial relations issues within An Garda Síochána in the last number of months, including threats of industrial action and an inability to fill senior roles in the organisation;

- a Garda Representative Association survey of Gardaí who have left the force indicated that there is a worrying culture of bullying, stress and mental burnout within the organisation;

- the Government has committed to achieving an overall Garda strength of 15,000 by the end of 2024; further notes that: - the report of the Joint Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth entitled ‘The Future of Youth Work’ states that ‘young people are facing multiple crises in relation to poverty, intergenerational trauma, the cost-of-living crisis, homelessness and lack of access to mental health supports’;

- there is a clear link between deprivation levels and anti-social behaviour; and that investment in prevention and restorative justice shows better outcomes than traditional policing responses;

- there is a lack of community resources, such as green spaces, sports facilities and recreation and youth centres, in our urban centres;

- there are currently 106 Youth Diversion Programmes nationwide, whose aim it is to divert young people away from the criminal justice system and from committing further crimes, and they are co-funded by the State and the European Social Fund;

- there are clear socio-economic background trends in those participating in Youth Diversion Programmes, with those from disadvantaged backgrounds more likely to be enrolled in a programme;

- the Department of Justice evaluation of the Youth Diversion Programme system reported that the programmes have had some positive impact on reducing crime; calls on the Government to: - properly resource community safety partnerships to ensure that the potential and intent behind these new partnerships can be realised;

- increase funding for the continued expansion of Youth Diversion Programmes and associated services;

- significantly increase the number of Juvenile Liaison Officers to support young people engaging with Youth Diversion Programmes;

- introduce a targeted community investment fund for at-risk areas to develop youth and recreation centres, sports facilities and other community-led initiatives;

- significantly increase the recruitment of community focused Gardaí who are tasked with building relationships in local communities;

- re-establish small policing areas and focus Garda responsibility accordingly.

If we can share time, I will take seven minutes, five and four.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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So Senator Moynihan seven, Senator Sherlock five and Senator Hoey gets four.

Photo of Rebecca MoynihanRebecca Moynihan (Labour)
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Sorry, we will do six, five and five.

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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Have we started yet?

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Sorry, Senator, please. To be fair, if the Members from the Government were here we could have started at 4 p.m. However, they were not here.

Photo of Rebecca MoynihanRebecca Moynihan (Labour)
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I welcome the students from west Cork and Zoe from the National Traveller Women's forum who is here with Senator Flynn.

Across all communities and demographics, people are expressing a growing feeling of unsafety. People in working class communities feel unsafe in their neighbourhoods, the LGBTQ community reports increased levels of hate and related threats and violence and ethnic minorities and refugees are facing violence, discrimination and even arson attacks on places they live. Since Covid we have seen a remarkable uptick in the sense of unsafety that people feel in Dublin city. It feels as though nobody has control. In November, the city was set alight by a group of people, some of whom knew exactly what they were doing and others who saw a chance to express their rage and isolation. However, there is a deeper crisis. It is a crisis in how we operate An Garda Síochána at every level. Strategy, morale, and community trust are all on the line. It is at tipping point.

There is a crisis in morale in An Garda Síochána which has resulted in gardaí leaving the service. We do not have enough gardaí, we are not recruiting enough gardaí and significant numbers will be retiring in coming years, which means we will fall behind again. We cannot provide the kind of trust-based relationship needed for gardaí to maintain safety in our cities on those numbers.

The crisis was preceded by a refocusing of Garda time and resources away from community policing, which is the bread and butter of policing. Riots do not happen when you have good, solid community policing. Social cohesion and policing are not in conflict with each other, but they can and should go together. When I was young and growing up in Rialto during the height of the heroin crisis, the area was considered one of the worst in Dublin. It was no-go area. Trust in people was at a low, with the exception of one person. Anyone who grew up in Dolphin's Barn and Rialto during the 1990s and 2000s would know him: his name is Vincent. No area was no-go area to him. He walked the streets daily and said “Hello” to everybody. He knew what went on and everything that was going on. He was able to build up really important soft intelligence in how he policed that community. His focus was on building relationships with locals. This worked as both a crime prevention strategy, because people did not want to let Vincent down, and as a diversion strategy because he knew how to relate to people who fell into crime. He would work with kids to break the cycle. We need to bring back this kind of policing because it works and it helps bring about trust.

Visible policing also works. People feel safer. It discourages low-level antisocial behaviour and it gives a sense that somebody is in control. We do need feet on the street and a visible Garda presence in our towns and cities. Alongside this, we also need investment in local social sports and recreation for at-risk teenagers and a partnership-based approach in how we do this.

Policing priorities need to be focused on partnership and cohesion as a crime prevention strategy. That strategy needs to include understanding and compassionate law enforcement tactics. Without this, we sow division, exacerbate antisocial behaviour and endanger communities that are particularly vulnerable. We need to resource community safety partnerships, reintroduce small policing areas and increase funding for youth diversion programmes. Furthermore, we need to invest properly in community facilities, recreational spaces and facilities that enable cohesion in our communities in the long-term and give young teenagers somewhere to go. We need investment in the youth diversion programme. In addition to the Department of Justice, the Department of Education should play an integral role in the context of that programme. We should be allocating specific investment in at-risk areas and at-risk youth to ensure they are supported on a wider community level. It is not just policing; there is also the social impact that projects, including youth projects, can have.

I will give an example of where this is not happening. The south-west inner city is an area where the rate of crime has traditionally been. It is an area where many people go to prison and where there is a great deal of drug use. We have no pitches for people to play Gaelic games or football. There are two swimming pools in the area but they are both private and not open to the public. Every community and sports group either does not have any space of their own or struggles with inadequate facilities. Compare this with a private school on the other side of the Liffey that is surrounded by the deprivation of the north inner city but that is separate from it. That private school has a 25 m five-lane swimming pool. That is in comparison with two private swimming pools that people in my area cannot access. The school in question also has a rooftop Astroturf pitch. The pitch we have that is locked up and people cannot access out of hours. The school also has three badminton courts, a basketball court. a volleyball court, indoor cricket nets and a full-size floodlit rugby pitch. That sends a message to certain young people in our inner city communities who are at risk and cannot access facilities that are there on their doorstep, both in the north and the south inner city. It says: “We do not care about you and we will not prioritise you. There are resources that are there but they are not going to you.” It says to these people that we will criminalise them rather than support them.

I hope the Minister will support the motion. It is not just about policing; it is about something more than that. It is about: policing that is compassionate; bringing back community-based policing; and, fundamentally, investing in our communities and in the facilities we need to divert young people when we know they are particularly at risk and not let them go down a road that is very hard to pull them back from as they are criminalised further.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Before I call Senator Sherlock, I welcome the students from the Young Scientist exhibition who are here with Deputy Denis Naughten and Senator Dolan. I welcome Seán O’Sullivan from Limerick, Ciara and Saoirse, the Murphy sisters and Philippa McIntosh. Congratulations on their wonderful work at the Young Scientist exhibition. It is a wonderful display of their abilities. I thank them for being here today and congratulate them on all their endeavours.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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I thank the Minister for coming to the Chamber for the debate. I thank my colleague Senator Moynihan for all her work on the motion. Three months ago last week, Dublin city went up in flames. It is three months since a few hundred rioters took control of our streets for a few hours until An Garda Síochána from across the country and all levels including sergeants and inspectors, showed their courage and considerable bravery and came out and fought back and reasserted control over our city that night.

The trauma from that night still runs really deep. I talk to school principals in the north inner city who tell me there are children from migrant backgrounds who still have a fear about going to school. In the two weeks after 23 November there was an incredible drop in attendance in schools. Some of that has recovered but nonetheless, that fear remains there. Talking to women’s addiction recovery groups in the inner city, I know they are terrified about the communities that they live in and that in the communities they were born into, they remain fearful of the people they walk alongside. There has been an increase in the number of homophobic attacks and attacks on tourists. There is growing concern for anyone from a migrant or LGBT background walking in Dublin, particularly at this time. It is not confined to Dublin; it is across the country. However, I am speaking about the experience I know best, which relates to Dublin.Even today, three months on from the incident on 23 November, I spent time today with parents of Gaelscoil Choláiste Mhuire and I acknowledge that the Minister attended that first meeting with those parents. Those children continue to experience a trauma from the horrendous incident of that day. We are not just talking about the need for therapies but also the much broader question of how we ensure a safer city. That is not just about boots on the ground patrolling our streets. It is also about the concentration of services for very vulnerable people in a very small area. It is about the range of amenities for our young people that are available in the area. Senator Moynihan already spoke about the lack of green space and playing space in the south inner city, and indeed in the north inner city, time and again we hear the stories of sporting clubs reliant on too few playing pitches. When that is compared with other parts of the country and city, they do not have a fighting chance of giving their young people a start.

I would have hoped that 23 November would have been a turning point in this city, that it would have represented a point in time when we could have said there was going to be a significant change in the energies and attitude of the Government with regard to resourcing An Garda Síochána and our inner-city communities, and that there would have been a significant improvement in safety and the feeling of safety in our city. Right now, I am not so sure we have seen any turning point. Right now, 23 November has been forgotten about and we have just gone back to business.

Despite the brilliant effort of so many gardaí, sergeants and inspectors on the ground, the reality is they remain hugely stretched. We have had 24 extra gardaí in the north inner city between 2022 and 2023. That is an increase but that only brings us back to 2018 levels. Over the past decade we have seen a 40% increase in the population in certain areas within the north inner city. An Garda Síochána is not even running to stand still with regard to its numbers on the ground.

When we look at our community policing model, the model and structures that were championed by the now retired Superintendent Pat Leahy are a shadow of their former selves. There has been a 71% drop in the numbers in community policing in the north inner city over the past decade. When I talk to the community police who give so much of themselves to the community, we hear that their rosters have not returned to the pre-pandemic roster, like for every other Garda member. If you are in the Bridewell or if you are a community garda, you get hauled in to provide court security and other distractions. There is no career progression if you are a community garda in service. I have sat with far too many residents' groups and community gardaí who have gone out of their way to try to meet residents’ groups and meet their concerns, only for those gardaí then to be changed within six months and to have that constant churn. That has to change and that message has to be delivered by the Minister to the Garda Commissioner.

I know there are no silver bullets on recruitment, but it has been on Fine Gael's watch that we have seen the dramatic drop in Garda numbers over recent years. While I know there have been many initiatives talked about, I also want to ask the Minister to look at reopening the Garda training college in Garda Headquarters in the Phoenix Park. For those we are trying to attract into An Garda Síochána right now, those who may be a little bit older with a bit more experience, upping sticks and heading for Templemore is simply not an option, particularly at the rates of pay that are on offer when they are there. There is a very real issue about how we attract more people into An Garda Síochána, and it is incredible and, frankly, ridiculous that we do not have a training college in the capital city.

Ultimately, if we are to have safer communities, then it is about resourcing and prevention. When I look again at the north inner city, and it is the areas from Dublin 1, 3 and part of Dublin 7, we see that we have only five juvenile liaison officers across the whole of the north inner city, and that has only increased by one over the past 12 months. It is less than half of what it was five years ago. If we have any hope of trying to divert young people away from a life of crime to keep them on the straight and narrow, then we have to ensure far greater resources are put into youth diversion projects.

I know there are a number of excellent youth diversion and youth projects in the inner city but they are not getting the resources they need. To be fair, when we look at what the Department of Justice is doing with pay for those working within the youth diversion projects, there has been progress. When we look at what has happened in the Department of children in the past two years, where there has been an 11% cut in real terms in funding for youth projects supported by that Department, there is a fundamental problem. This cannot be a siloed approach, however, where we have the Department of Justice doing one thing and the Department of children doing something else. Both have to be working together if we are to get this right.

Right now, one of the youth projects in the north inner city that I know very well has a waiting list to get into it. That is absolutely crazy when we think of the life that is potentially on offer to so many of these young people, especially with the easy availability of drugs and a life of crime that is on their doorsteps. We have to get the resources right for our young people and for the whole of the community to ensure it is safe for everybody living in the community but that we also divert people from a life of crime, because right now it is much easier to make money from drugs than it is to go down the road of staying in education. Time and again, we see that is the fate of too many young people.

My plea to the Minister is that we have to get the small area policing right. That model, to my mind, has been almost abandoned - not fully abandoned - by the Garda Commissioner. That has to change. We must also get the recruitment right. A starting point, and it is only one part of the bigger jigsaw, is that we must have a Garda training college in the Phoenix Park. The third key issue is we need to ensure the resources are going into crime prevention and youth diversion projects and that we see a dramatic increase in the funding for youth diversion projects and in the personnel in those projects. Ultimately, we will be having the same conversation next year, in five years and in ten years’ time about the vicious cycle of deprivation, of trauma and of crime that far too many people end up in within certain communities in our State.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Deputy Naughten is very welcome. My messages are somewhat garbled here so my apologies to all from the Young Scientist exhibition. I welcome Philippa McIntosh from Bandon in County Cork, the Murphy sisters from Tralee, and Ciara and Saoirse from Limerick. If I am wrong, I apologise. We also have Seán O’Sullivan. Senator Dolan’s handwriting is illegible. You are all very welcome and I thank you for your wonderful work.

Photo of Robbie GallagherRobbie Gallagher (Fianna Fail)
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I, too, welcome the Minister back to the House this afternoon. I also commend our Labour Party colleagues on bringing forward this very important motion. It is a very timely motion and, from a Fianna Fáil perspective, we are very happy to support the motion as outlined by the Labour Party Senators this afternoon. This is motion we can all agree with. Everyone wants safer communities, be that in this city or in any other city or, indeed, any town or village in the country.

Much reference has been made, and rightly so, to highlight again the Dublin riots which occurred back last November and which were truly shocking. I thank the gardaí for their bravery that night because it was a horrible scene. The way the gardaí conducted themselves deserves great mention and I commend them on it. I also commend other services, be they the fire services or, indeed, bus operators, all of whom were subjected to shocking behaviour. There can never be any excuse whatsoever for that type of behaviour nor should we try to create any excuse for it. It was insulting to the good people of the inner city in Dublin, most of whom would want no act or part in that type of behaviour. The Joint Committee on Justice, of which I and a number of other Senators are members, engaged in discussions in the wake of the November riots. The Minister for Justice was took part in those meetings. It was a very worthwhile exercise to take the learnings from that night and to try to incorporate them into new thinking, be it on the part of gardaí on the ground, Garda management, the Department or the Minister. A great deal of good work has been done. I look forward to some of the recommendations coming forward.

When it comes to Garda recruitment, it is fair to concede that we are at a pinch point in the context of numbers. It is also fair and reasonable to acknowledge that this situation has not been helped by Covid. The chair of the policing committee said recently that had it not been for Covid and the fact that the training college in Templemore was shut down, we would have an additional 1,000 members on the force. Such a number would be considerable and would go a long way towards alleviating some of the stresses and the pinch point to which I refer. Unfortunately, when numbers are tight, things like community policing can be cut. I do not agree with that. Whether gardaí are deployed to deal with traffic, be part of drug squads or engage in other specialised duties, it must be remembered that there are only so many officers to go around. If numbers are tight, certain areas have to be cut. Rather than cutting the number of gardaí working in community policing, we should increase it. Community policing is key to having safe communities. In order to have safer places, we need enough gardaí on the ground and they must be deeply involved in the communities in which they serve.

The recent recruitment campaign has been very successful. It is extremely positive that between 5,000 and 6,000 people have expressed an interest in joining the Garda. We look forward to new recruits going through the system as quickly as possible.

I mentioned that detailed discussions engaged in by the Joint Committee on Justice. Those discussions involved contributions from representative associations which made points about recruitment and, equally and more importantly, retention. There are issues of which the Minister and the Commissioner are well aware. I like to think we will see movement on the issues that cause members of the force to retire much earlier. It is all well and good having huge numbers joining the force. If, however, a certain percentage leave before they are due to retire, it indicates we have a problem. Following the discussions engaged in by the Joint Committee on Justice, everyone is aware of the problems and issues. I like to think we will make progress on those issues in the not too distant future. Everybody wants safer communities in places like Dublin, particularly in the inner city, investment in services and youth diversion projects. There are plenty of the latter but more are needed.

I support everything that has been said. We need more investment. However, I would like to see some old-fashioned respect coming back into play. People need to have respect for law and order. If that is absent, we are going to go down a very dark hole. I again commend the Senators who brought forward the motion. I am happy to support it, but more needs to be done both in respect of Garda numbers and investment in communities. I feel the Government gets that and that it will continue to invest.

Photo of Emer CurrieEmer Currie (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Labour Party for bringing forward this motion. We have spent a great deal of time post the events in November focusing on law and order. It is timely that we come back to discussing that issue now in order to ensure that we are still all on the same page. I believe that we are. I thank Members of the Seanad for also putting forward amendments to the motion.

I commend the Minister and thank her for coming today. I also commend the members of An Garda Síochána on their actions on that terrible night in November. Furthermore, I commend the gardaí who were deployed in my community on Christmas Eve, where a horror story unfolded before the eyes of people who were in a restaurant in Blanchardstown village. I know members of that community who were impacted by those events. I also commend gardaí in Dublin's north inner city, Longford, Drogheda and all over the country on the work that they have done.

I am very wary of people talking down the morale of the force. A good way to describe the current situation is that we are at a pinch point. We are putting all of our energy into ensuring that we come out on the right side of that. There is still a huge amount of pride in An Garda Síochána and in local gardaí. I refer to members of the force who came to Dublin city to support their colleagues in Blanchardstown on Christmas Eve, which is the most important night of the year for many families. Between 40 and 60 people arrived at Blanchardstown Garda station to help deal with what happened in the village. Let us remember that people still have great pride in An Garda Síochána. Let us not it talk down and be continually negative about where matters stand. It is important to acknowledge how hard people are working.

Covid had an impact on resources. During that important time, we in this Chamber agreed that we had to shut Templemore. If we had not done so, Garda numbers would be where we want them to be right now. We are under pressure, but we understand where that pressure has come from. The important thing is that we are dealing with it. I am very hopeful because 6,500 people came forward during the recent recruitment campaign and indicated that they want to be part of An Garda Síochána. The measures the Minister has introduced in the context of raising the age profile and the training allowance are very positive. Every couple of months recruits are coming out of Templemore and going straight to work in Garda stations. We thank them for that.

There was a perception after what happened in November that when it came to overtime, resources were going into the city centre. Certainly, that is something I picked up on in Blanchardstown, Castleknock and Ongar. It was not the case, however. I met the local superintendent who explained that the overtime that was offered went to all parts of Dublin, which was very positive. Bodycams are being introduced, which is a positive development. Plus facial recognition technology is back on the agenda. I very much believe that such technology should be in place and that it will play a role.

What the Minister has done in the context of local community safety partnerships should tick a large number of the boxes relating to the motion. Those partnerships will move us beyond traditional policing and will support community policing. I am from County Tyrone. It took me a while to get used to how different policing is in the South. To me, community policing is the backbone of the success story of An Garda Síochána. It is the reason that we have so much trust in our police force. We need to protect community policing. Wrapping services around community policing will really improve community safety. I completely agree with the direction in which the Minister has moved by involving youth workers, Tusla, the HSE, drug prevention workers, businesses and voluntary organisations.I want the Minister to prioritise Dublin West. I have said this to her. We do not just need one local community safety partnership. We have lots of communities that need that attention. I am concerned about the lack of funding for those initiatives that we might want to see. We are relying on existing funds from Tusla and the HSE. I want them to have their own fund so that we can go to it with innovative ideas. This is one of those ideas. It is 6 km from Blanchardstown Garda station to Ongar and Tyrellstown. We need a police presence in those villages.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator Currie.

Photo of Emer CurrieEmer Currie (Fine Gael)
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A great way to do that would be to take over a retail unit with the local safety partnership, like there is on Foley Street, to ensure a Garda presence in those communities where people are working. It would bring reassurance to those communities about visibility on their streets.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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I move amendment No. 1:

After the last paragraph under "calls on the Government to:", to insert the following paragraphs: " - restore the pensions of members of An Garda Síochána to what it was pre-2008 and remove the requirement for post-1996 retirees to sign on for jobseekers benefit while awaiting access to full pension;

- implement the recommendations listed in multiple reports concerning the working conditions of Gardaí to incentivise recruitment because the calls listed above cannot be achieved without sufficient numbers.”.

Photo of Sharon KeoganSharon Keogan (Independent)
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I second the amendment.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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I compliment Senator Moynihan on bringing forward the Labour Party motion. As she spoke, I had visions of my youth where there was one garda in Salthill in Galway and that one garda was able to police the entire holiday resort. I remember a row breaking out one night in Salthill and the garda stood in the middle of the road and put the two opposing sides on either side the street and nobody dared move. Try doing that today.

It is all very well for the Minister to talk about community gardaí and all that sort of thing. Twice today I heard the term "pinch points". The last time I heard pinch points was from the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces. He said there were problems, pinch points. We had eight ships in service at that time and we have one in service now. We had close to 8,500 soldiers at that time. We have 7,500 now. We had an Air Corps that was fully serviceable at that time. We do not have that now. Pinch points do not answer the question.

There are serious problems in the Garda Síochána. What we are doing is moving services from community policing into armed services where we have high profile thugs operating in some parts of the country. They need an armed response so from that point of view the Garda Commissioner, superintendents and chief superintendents have to use the resources to tackle the worst cases. The removal of the community garda is really to the detriment of the organisation in so many ways.

Senator Moynihan said that everybody in her community knew the garda by name. That is hugely important. Kids grow up knowing that is Garda Burke, Garda Murphy, or whatever. They get to know them and they get comfortable with them. Those community gardaí pick up so much intelligence on the ground and that is hugely important.

Where are we running into a problem? The Minister has put in a recruitment system and young gardaí are walking out the gate. Why are they walking out? They are walking out because they realise the post-2013 pension, which is known as the single pension scheme, will give them absolutely nothing. They go in, they see the career in front of them and they say "Hang on a minute. At the end of my 40 years' service, I will have nothing. I will have a miserable pension which is based on my entire service." It used to be the case that if you got promoted, the pension you got was based on the last three years of your service. Now the pension is based on career average. It is rubbish. It is nonsense. It is driving uniformed services - gardaí, firefighters, prison officers and military personnel - out the gates. The single pension legislation that was brought in by people who took their big pensions before they left the Civil Service themselves, has decimated the Civil Service but it has particularly decimated those services that are on accelerated pension schemes. That has to be fixed. The Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform has to go back and look at the way it has tackled pensions, and it has to fix that and fix it urgently.

I call today for a liaison officer. If we look at the situation in Blanchardstown, for example, if there was a liaison officer in the Garda station there, county councillors, Senators and TDs could pick up the phone and talk to Garda Murphy, Garda Maguire, or whatever his or her name might be, so that there would be an immediate contact to deal with a crisis situation in the area. I think that is a reasonable request. If we cannot have community policing, the very least we should have is a community police officer that can be contacted directly at the Garda headquarters in a particular region or in a particular Garda station in the case of Dublin.

The Labour Party proposal outlined by Senator Moynihan would be the ideal for Dublin city, Limerick, Galway, and various other places. My colleague, Senator Maria Byrne, will remember the bad old days in Limerick. It was community policing and commitment from the local people that fixed it.

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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We have come a long way since.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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Limerick is a city today in which we do not have huge crime. It is a pleasurable city to visit. It was done by co-operation across the board between communities, gardaí, and elected representatives in Limerick who had a direct line into the Garda station. Where there was a problem, it was possible to fix it.

The Minister must fix the terms and conditions of employment for gardaí, and engage with the GRA, the AGSI and the superintendents with respect to such things as rosters and supports. I too would welcome body cameras and other such measures. All of these things are important, but we need to move them forward fast. The Minister must fix the terms and conditions of employment, specifically the pensions. She must go back to the pre-2008 pensions for uniformed services in order to encourage people to come in and to give full-life service. I am afraid the post-2013 pension has destroyed the services. That is not a pinch point. That is a stranglehold on the organisation and the organisation will die. Just as the Defence Forces have fallen apart, it will die because people see no career future in it. I know it is not the Minister's area of responsibility, but I ask her to go back to the Minister that has responsibility and say that they must sit down and look at how we deal with uniformed services and their pensions. I will leave it at that.

Photo of Lynn BoylanLynn Boylan (Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Labour Party Seanad team for bringing this motion tonight. Sinn Féin has no problem in supporting its contents. We are all in agreement that the safety of the general public is the number one priority for any police service anywhere in the world. People's safety as they go about their daily lives is of paramount importance. It is the bedrock on which society harmoniously functions. For this to be achieved though, the Garda need to be fully resourced to ensure its capacity is capable of delivering protection to the public wherever and whenever it is required. There will be occasions, which we saw with the riots in Dublin city centre, that expose serious flaws in the preparedness of the Garda to deal with a situation, but also to predict that there was going to be unrest given what had happened earlier in the day. These flaws were very publicly exposed. It is now not just a matter of improving the organisational deficiencies but also of restoring public confidence in the Garda. Public confidence is crucial, especially when it comes to policing in the community.

The Labour Party's Private Members' motion correctly puts a focus on policing with the community. A number of years back, possibly in 2014, when we were doing away with our community policing, the EU was actually highlighting the fact that Ireland was a brilliant model of community policing and that it was the model that should be followed in other European countries. At the time we were actually defunding it. A former Garda Commissioner has a wonderful opinion piece in If it is still up I would recommend everybody to read it. The Labour Party's motion correctly focuses on policing with the community and sets out the context for that while also highlighting the social and economic environment, the need for efficient public services, local inward investment, and access to sports and recreational facilities. The point has also been made about the importance of building safe and sustainable towns and cities. We all know the evidence is there and there is no denying that there is a direct link between poverty and criminality.We need to break the poverty cycle. The young people who are growing up in areas of deprivation are particularly vulnerable to being exploited by organised criminals enticing them into criminal behaviour.

Public confidence is not the only competence that is required for gardaí to be effective in their role, however. At all levels, An Garda Síochána has to have confidence and belief in itself to perform its duties. It is very clear that there is an internal morale problem at the moment. This relates to a number of matters, including the failure to recruit sufficient numbers and retain those already on the force, internal dissension with regard to working conditions and morale-related problems.

The Sinn Féin justice spokesperson, Deputy Pa Daly, has highlighted an issue of concern in respect of Garda Reserve regulations. Deputy Daly recently welcomed the Minister's response to a question on this topic, when she informed him that she intends to bring regulations to Cabinet and launch a recruitment campaign. Although Reserve members cannot replace full-time, highly trained and sworn gardaí, they can offer capacity to cover events and other duties that would otherwise occupy full-time gardaí. Having the Reserve frees full-time officers up to do other important work.

The removal of the upper age limit has been welcomed across the board. This is something we had called for previously. It effectively gave rise to an increase in the number of applications to the latest Garda recruitment drive, which is to be welcomed. We need to ensure that not only are the recruitment targets that have been set achieved but also that they are exceeded in order that we can restore the required service level relating to An Garda Síochána. The outcome will go a long way to making policing in the community the success it needs to be to ensure that communities are safe and police officers have the confidence of the community and have confidence in themselves to do their very important job.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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The Minister has indicated that she wishes to speak next because she has to leave at 5 p.m., so I will call her now.

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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The motion gives me the opportunity to set out what the Government is doing to improve community safety through investment in An Garda Síochána to provide for additional recruitment, equipment and technology and the introduction of laws and changing structures. Most Senators referred to the riots before Christmas, but all of this investment and these changes are to benefit not only Dublin city centre but also towns, villages and cities across the country. As Senators will be aware, the Government has committed unprecedented resources to An Garda Síochána. This year, its budget is over €2.35 billion, an increase of 23% since 2020. This money means more gardaí being recruited and more Garda civilian staff, the presence of whom will free up more gardaí to carry out front-line policing duties.

We currently have approximately 14,000 members across the country, which represents an increase of 9% since 2015, when there were just over 12,800 Garda members. Despite reports this week, half of all gardaí are not eligible to retire by 2028. I think the figures were added in a cumulative way. The figure is nowhere near that and, on average, it is about 1,900, which is in line with previous years. To clarify, half of the members are not due to retire by 2028.

There has been a significant increase in Garda staff, which has enabled 900 gardaí to be freed up for front-line duties, including community policing. Just recently, we had a competition where just under 8,000 people applied to become Garda staff. Those positions are already being filled and we want to see them filled as quickly as possible.

My priority and that of the Government is to support An Garda Síochána to reach 15,000, and then to go beyond that number. We have taken a number of steps to support recruitment, including raising the age of entry from 35 to 50 and increasing the training allowance by 66%. Budget 2024 provided funding to recruit between 800 and 1,000 new Garda members. The reason I give that figure is that there will be four classes this year, not five. While the aim is to hit 225 per class, this provides some flexibility. I am sure all Senators will welcome the fact there has been strong interest in recent Garda competitions and the increased numbers that we have seen entering the college. Last year, we had 746, which was six times the number we had the previous year and the highest we have had since 2018.

I know it might not fit a narrative and that some people, although perhaps not necessarily in this House, want to blame me, Fine Gael or the Government, but we have to acknowledge the fact there are 1,000 fewer gardaí than there should be due to Covid-19. I think the right decision was taken at the time to close the college to new recruits and that those who were in the college were sent out to support front-line gardaí on the ground. However, this left us in a very difficult position where we had members retiring and leaving, as they always do, and we had no new members coming in. Nonetheless, the idea that no one wants to join is simply not borne out by the facts. Almost 6,400 people applied under the latest Garda recruitment campaign, and 5,000 applied last year. This ensures that we have a steady pipeline of recruits. The next round of graduations is on 22 March and just looking at the pipeline, there will be a very strong class entering in April. I hope to see those numbers continue throughout the year.

I was particularly glad to see that of the current applicants, 31.5% are women, which is a slight increase on the most recent recruitment campaign. In addition, 40% fall into the 35 to 49 age category, so while we had many jokes at the time, it has actually had a very positive response and those members will bring their own experience and qualities to An Garda Síochána.

While almost 8,000 people applied to become Garda staff, the reserve regulations were approved at Cabinet only in the last two weeks. There will be a new competition and they will then bolster and support the work of An Garda Síochána, and whether it is crowd management at festivals and events, supporting the tackling of antisocial behaviour or supporting road traffic police, there is a lot of work the reserve can do. We have set a target of 1,000 by the end of next year.

We have also prioritised the enactment of new laws to try to improve safety and tackle crime in our country. We have introduced legislation on body-worn cameras, and we will have pilots running in Dublin, Waterford and Limerick. The first of these will start in Dublin before the summer. We have criminalised the distribution of intimate images without consent. We have doubled the maximum penalty for assault causing harm from five years to ten, increased the maximum sentence for conspiracy to murder to life in prison and introduced new stand-alone offences for stalking and non-fatal strangulation. Legislation around the grooming of children, which many colleagues mentioned in the House, is due to be finalised in the coming months. This will allow gardaí to take action where they see gangs taking hold of younger people and, unfortunately, we are seeing that happen at much younger ages. We have also improved post-release supervision of sex offenders to provide for electronic tagging. Overall, many laws have been introduced which, overall, help to improve safety in our communities.

The investment being made by the Government in An Garda Síochána is having a positive impact. We have seen significant success in tackling gangland crime, noticeably the sharp decrease in gangland murders in recent years, a swathe of high-profile arrests and successful prosecutions. What we know is that when you take out the people at the top, it has a ripple effect throughout communities, in particular with regard to younger people. We have seen a significant reduction in residential burglary since Operation Thor was launched and over €345 million worth of drugs has been seized since 2015, which really has been one of the success stories. It is one of the biggest challenges in communities, particularly with younger people, so the more we can support gardaí and support their cross-collaboration with the PSNI and with international and European parties, the more work they can do.

On community policing, I agree with colleagues that community policing is at the heart of An Garda Síochána. All Garda members have a role in community policing as part of the new Garda operating model. This new operating model is being rolled out across An Garda Síochána and changes have been made in response to what gardaí on the ground have told us. One of the main benefits of the new operating model is the new community policing structures, which will mean community policing teams operating right across the country. As we increase recruitment next year and the operating model is rolled out across every Garda division, we will see the reforms to strengthen community policing really take effect. I appreciate that the model is being rolled out with 1,000 fewer gardaí than we would have anticipated having by this time, but this was a key and significant recommendation of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland and it is important that this model is rolled out. I will continue to work with the Commissioner to ensure he has the resources to populate all of the teams.

Community policing areas will be created nationwide by An Garda Síochána, with a dedicated community garda given responsibility for each new community policing area to ensure we all have sight of who is our community policing member, we have a phone number and can pick up the phone and contact him or her. I agree that this is particularly to keep certain issues at bay. In order to be able to address issues before they escalate, community gardaí will play a significant role. Communities will be able to identify and contact local gardaí to address issues of local concern. They will have the responsibility to be highly visible, active and accessible in their allocated areas and to engage with local people, groups and businesses.

It is important to stress that all members of An Garda Síochána now have a duty to do that. I know people sometimes roll their eyes when we say that all gardaí are community gardaí, but they really are, irrespective of whether they are in uniform or not. I know that is something all members take extremely seriously.

With the new community partnerships, we are bringing together everyone interested in tackling community safety, not just gardaí and local councillors, but local business leaders, healthcare providers, social services and, above all, community members. Community policing and safety involve more than just policing.Community policing is about uniting and working together to address issues of criminality and antisocial behaviour and to address deep-rooted community issues by investing in communities in a co-ordinated way that perhaps has not happened before now.

Each of our partnerships, which will be rolled out nationwide this year, will develop and implement community safety plans that are tailored to the communities' needs. They will be dealt with in a co-ordinated way and addressed collectively by relevant service providers in partnership with the communities. An example is the need for additional resources. As we have seen already in Drogheda where we have a similar structure in place, the plan itself will identify the need for particular community spaces. The service providers have come together collectively and because of this they have been able to make positive applications. They are getting seed funding to get projects off the ground. This means they will be in a better position to apply for funding.

While I know that one fund for everything might seem the most appropriate way, if we have a Department that specialises in the development of amenity areas, in the development of health services or in young people it is important they are the Departments delivering but that everybody sees the benefit of them investing in particular services where they may not have previously. We can start to see this in the collaborative work happening in places such as Drogheda and the inner city where all of the agencies are starting to see the relevance of particular actions and how they can contribute not only to their priorities but to the community as a whole when it comes to safety. This is at the heart of community partnership. They will be funded in a separate way through the community safety and innovation fund. This is where innovative projects can really shine and be replicated throughout the country. While we are only coming into the third year of the partnerships we already saw projects that were awarded in the first year being replicated in other counties during the second term. I am sure we will see it again this year.

Of course we have responsibility to protect and support our youth. It is extremely unfortunate that sometimes young people need our help to avoid falling into criminality. They do of course and we are committed and determined to provide this support. Our youth justice strategy, under my colleague, Minister of State, Deputy Browne who is coming to the House after me, has been focused on this. The objective was that every area would have a youth diversion programme by the end of last year. This has happened. We have only been able to do this because we increased funding for the budget by 10%. It is now at €33 million. The objective now is to start doubling down on all of these projects and to start focusing more on where we have problem areas. In particular we are looking at early intervention for children aged between eight and 11 years, which is not covered in some of the programmes. There really needs to be a focus on younger children because we are seeing problems at a much younger age. We are working with harder-to-reach young people. As others are aware we have the green time project and other specific programmes targeting young people who are particularly vulnerable to crime. This is being led through the university in Limerick. It has only been extended in recent years because of the success of the work in An Garda Síochána. We are looking at providing family support, supporting schools to retain children with challenging behaviour and developing initiatives that are educational and preventative for young people at risk from drug use and misuse. With the additional funding provided for this year we will start to hone in on many of these areas.

Government investment in An Garda Síochána will also allow for strengthening of all Garda units including the Garda juvenile liaison officer network as necessary. I fully agree with colleagues that the more we have of these liaison officers, the better. They do fantastic work. For example, a particular programme developed by the juvenile liaison officers is the late night leagues. This is a diversionary programme with soccer leagues in various locations throughout Dublin with the juvenile liaison officers and young people. It takes people off the streets and away from other activities they might have been engaged in. It is getting them involved in sport. It is obviously getting them working with and supported by the liaison officers in developing and building relationships which, I suppose, goes back to our community policing and how key it is, particularly for young people.

Another good example of community safety work is the community safety innovation fund which I have already mentioned. It reinvests back into communities money seized as the proceeds of crime. The fund highlights the excellent work being carried out by An Garda Síochána and the Criminal Assets Bureau in identifying and seizing ill-gotten gains of criminals. We have had very positive projects over the years. We have had projects aimed at reducing antisocial behaviour, improving the feeling of safety in communities and supporting victims of domestic and sexual violence. When we speak about safety it is not only on our streets but in our homes. These projects have also promoted pro-social behaviour through education and sport and supported those experiencing drug-related intimidation. These are some of the specific programmes. The fund has increased further to €3.75 million and I will launch a call for applications later this year . I encourage communities and projects to apply.

Of course the efforts to build An Garda Síochána are fundamentally made with safety in mind. Ensuring greater safety for our communities, our neighbours, friends and families is at the heart of the Government. All of the initiatives I and my Government colleagues are laying out this evening reflect this commitment. Safety is not just the extra gardaí we are recruiting or the high-visibility policing we are supporting through our funding. Safety is every agency, every community and every committee member of the community working together. The challenges that face our communities and the most vulnerable community members go far beyond policing. I hope our new national structure and our local partnerships will help us move towards empowering communities to take ownership of their challenges and take the lead in finding solutions. They will also redefine community safety to be broader and much more inclusive of social services, local needs and co-operation beyond An Garda Síochána while keeping them at the heart of this always. Safety concerns us all. It requires a response from us all. I believe we are working together and the vast majority of us here have the same goals and objectives. I will not oppose the motion. We will work together to ensure we can continue to invest in gardaí and, above all, we can continue to invest in our communities.

Photo of Annie HoeyAnnie Hoey (Labour)
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I thank the Minister for coming to the House. I note the recent formation of the Ballymun implementation board, which will tackle some of the deep-rooted issues that exist in Ballymun and bring together relevant social service providers and An Garda Síochána. It is based on the Drogheda model. It is a real example of how communities and gardaí can work together towards improving safety. I do not need to go through all of the figures again as they have already been gone through. We know the shortage of gardaí and the lack of gardaí has had a knock-on effect on wider society and communities have not felt safe due to the decreasing number of gardaí. The issue of adequate community policing constantly comes up when I knock on doors in north-west Dublin. It is imperative that we properly resource community safety partnerships and enable them to fulfil their potential and intent. Without adequate supports the partnerships cannot effectively address the complex challenges facing our neighbourhoods.

When I think of communities and the work that can be done I think of the response we had in Ballymun when bad actors were seeking to divide our community. They were using racism as a scapegoat when that anger should have been directed at decades of a shortage of investment. We drive through Ballymun every day and there is an empty plot where there should be a shopping centre. There is a big greenfield site where there should be housing. People were trying to take advantage of a lack of opportunity and a lack of what they felt were resources to divide the community. Ballymun people came together, including community workers and the Easy Street team, to show that Ballymun is a welcoming community. Things have been built up very well with youth diversion programmes. We know that early intervention is key in breaking the cycle of youth offending and fostering positive outcomes.

There are other areas beyond the scope of the motion that I would love to see the Government look at. These include hate speech. I feel like time is ticking on the Government to finish out the Bill. I get the feeling it will not happen. There should also be decriminalisation of the drug user. This is something that particularly comes up in Ballymun, Finglas and north-west Dublin. People do not believe the user should be criminalised. It should be the person who is selling the drugs and affecting their lives.

I want to speak about a good example of a community initiative between gardaí and young people. Better Ballymun day is on Friday. It is an idea that has been developed by students of Trinity Comprehensive secondary school in the heart of Ballymun. It is to mobilise local clubs, community groups, organisations and companies to take part in a day of action that shows the strength of Ballymun when Ballymun people come together. It is being led by the much-maligned young people of Ballymun. This is active citizenship and an example of what happens when young people are supported, resources are given to them and they can work with their community and An Garda Síochána.

Photo of Mark WallMark Wall (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Browne. I thank my colleagues in the Labour Party, and particularly Senator Moynihan, for preparing the motion. Not for the first time I will mention Garda Sean O'Mahony. He is my local community Garda. I have mentioned him previously in the House. He is on the ground day in and day out. He has built up relationships with everybody including all of the public representatives.I mean all of the public representatives, but also all of the communities he represents. When I hear colleagues like Peter Horgan in Cork are running campaigns to get more gardaí, including community gardaí, into Cork, I know what they are losing out on.

Sean has built up the confidential relationship that comes with the trust that exists when a community garda is on the ground. That has been mentioned by other colleagues. Sean is involved in community events and is going all around the place. He is working with estates, which is an important part of a community garda's job. One of the issues that community gardaí look after are quality-of-life issues. We have all dealt with issues involving scramblers or noise issues that community gardaí deal with day in, day out. That is what community gardaí do well. When I hear colleagues around the country speak about not having gardaí, I know they are losing out. That is the call the Labour Party motion puts forward, namely that we need community gardaí as Peter Horgan in Cork has recognised.

I want to mention the Kildare model because I have been told that there is a full model there at the moment which seems to be working well. I deal with not just Sean, but also his colleagues in the Kildare and Newbridge stations. I want to highlight one worry. We have been told that Kildare South may be combined with Carlow. Unfortunately, Carlow has only one community garda. If we are going to stretch what we have at the moment, that will simply not work. We will lose the great work that community gardaí have done in the Kildare South area. I appeal to the Minister of State to bring to the Minister for Justice the request that the community garda model remains within the Kildare district.

Part of our motion relates to sports and playing facilities, as mentioned by my colleague, Senator Moynihan. I have raised this issue with the Minister for sport. Local authorities have a huge role to play in the provision of sporting facilities, playing fields, etc. Due to the cost of land, local authorities and Government need to get involved and provide that. Many towns and villages lack sporting facilities.

I want to mention the youth diversion programme and alternative projects in my home town of Athy. The Minister of State visited the area recently and saw at first hand the great projects and work that is being done. We need to ensure that no young person is turned away from those projects. They need continued investment and personnel. That is why we have tabled the motion. I thank the Government for supporting it and I welcome every investment made in respect of the motion before us.

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to discuss this important motion. I compliment our colleagues in the Labour Party for bringing it forward. The thrust of the motion is about stronger and safer communities. I was at a residents' meeting on Monday night and I would like to compliment our two community gardaí who attended. In the WhatsApp group for our area an issue was highlighted, and one of the gardaí visited the area as he was driving around. In some areas community policing is working but in other areas it is not. I can understand the sentiments and fully support what our colleagues are talking about. There needs to be more community gardaí because having a Garda presence on the street provides people with a sense of security, especially older people.

Reference has been made to the youth diversion programme throughout the discussion on the motion. At the meeting I attended on Monday, an issue that was highlighted involved youths aged 10 and 11 kicking the doors of the homes of older people, sitting on their windowsills and doing other things. That needs to be addressed. The youth diversion programme is wonderful, but underage children need to be dealt with. That is something that needs to be considered in a different light. References have been made to sport. Getting people involved in sport keeps them off the streets. Children are almost taunting one another to go and knock on people's doors and annoy older people. It is not right that people should have to tolerate that.

I would like to compliment community gardaí and the Minister, Deputy McEntee, who has left the Chamber. I recently brought the Minister to meet a group of businesses in Limerick. There are many issues with scramblers, reference to which has been made already. Within a week of her visit, 40 scramblers were confiscated. The chief superintendent in Limerick was present at the meeting and the issues highlighted were addressed and listened to. If we had more community gardaí on the streets, we would have a stronger and safer community, especially in urban areas. There are many diverse communities, in particular in urban areas. I would like to see the programme rolled out more extensively.

Photo of Seán KyneSeán Kyne (Fine Gael)
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I thank my colleague, Senator Byrne, for sharing her time. I thank my colleagues in the Labour Party for putting down this very important motion. The speech from the Minister, Deputy McEntee, clearly laid out the priorities, investment and legislative programme the Government has pursued in respect of the justice portfolio and gardaí. A lot of impressive statistics have been provided.

I welcome in particular the recent changes regarding the maximum age for entry into An Garda Síochána. It will make a difference, and is already making a difference, in terms of the number of people who are interested in going forward to the gardaí. I applied for the aptitude test for the Garda a long time ago, but I did not take it. I sometimes wonder where I went wrong and how life could have been different. That was a choice I made at time. Giving people aged in their 30s the opportunity to consider a career in the Garda is a worthwhile thing to do and I welcome that.

I hope that following initial recruitment under the new system, we will see a large increase in Garda numbers to bring them up to the 15,000 that the Government aims to achieve by the end of 2024. Like others, I acknowledge the impact Covid had on our recruitment targets. We see issues across a range of sectors with staffing, not just in the Garda and Defence Forces but a range of other public services. The private sector also faces issues with recruitment. There are a wide range of reasons behind that; it is not an issue unique to the Garda.

Being a garda is a difficult job and gardaí deserve to be well paid for. The job is probably getting more difficult because of the pressures of society. It is probably more difficult as we move from more rural communities to those that are more urban and where there is an influx of people to a more confined area. There is a more mobilised population in terms of social media that allows people to mobilise to riot which we saw before Christmas. We saw the excellent response of gardaí to that and the arrests that have taken place since then. Being a garda is an onerous position and should be one people have pride in. Gardaí should have pride not just in themselves but communities should have pride in and have a good relationship with them.

Community partnership and policing is the way to go. It is what we had in the past. Nowadays gardaí do not always live in their local communities, which creates difficulties. It would be preferable if all gardaí lived in their local communities, but I understand that is not always possible. I commend the motion and look forward to continued investment in and recruitment to An Garda Síochána.

Photo of Sharon KeoganSharon Keogan (Independent)
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The Minister of State is very welcome. I am pleased to support the motion put down by the Labour Party and the amendment tabled by my colleague, Senator Craughwell. Community safety and investment is of paramount importance to ensure a thriving, safe and healthy society. The Trojan work done by An Garda Síochána has never been of more vital importance than in recent years. Community unrest is palpable in our country. The recruitment and retention of gardaí is at crisis point, which is why we call for the restoration of pensions to pre-2008 conditions, as well as the implementation of report recommendations to ensure that the welfare of members of An Garda Síochána are supported.

Youth programmes are vital to support at-risk youth and provide opportunities for our young people, especially those in underprivileged communities, so that they can thrive and realise their potential in life. Crimes committed by those aged under 18 have increased by 5% between quarter 1 of 2022 and quarter 1 of 2023. Youth Work Ireland stated in recent reports that since March 2020, youth clubs throughout the country have reported significant concern in regard to young people who attend their clubs and that Covid-19 has seriously impacted on their ability to provide services to young people.This impact is still felt today.

I commend the successful, vital and socially important work youth programmes provide. The Government does not support them enough and could do more. There is currently a community policing unit in the town of Duleek, where I live. It is excellent. Duleek also has a community youth intervention programme that works with some troubled youths. It is there five days a week. It is important that we have programmes at evening times for our youth. That is something the Garda can be involved in. It was involved in a programme in Duleek with the soccer club. It was a summer league that took place on Saturday nights. Every Saturday night young people were taken off the streets at 8 p.m. We brought them to play soccer with gardaí and other youths. They spent two hours there on a Saturday evening and were not on the streets creating trouble. It was great to see it. There was great collaboration, but it also gave an opportunity for the gardaí to get to know the young people in the town and become associated with them.

Given the social and economic constraints of the current environment, it is crucial to look out for those who are at risk in our communities, and the Garda, which plays a vital role in social cohesion at this time. I would welcome more money for community policing and youth diversion programmes.

Photo of Rebecca MoynihanRebecca Moynihan (Labour)
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I thank Members for their engagement on the motion and their support of it. Most of them particularly recognised the focus on community policing in it, which the Minister referenced in her speech. Unfortunately, as regards how she referred to it, I do not think she got what community policing is. She talked about how, in policing, all police will be community police. While that may seem very laudable, it is not very good when it comes to the reality on the ground. I am able to get up in the Chamber and, 30 years on, remember the name of my community policeman and know him. If I asked anybody who has either represented people in the Rialto-Dolphin's Barn area, or grew up, knew the area, or had a business there, they would all be able to name that one person. Community policing has to be local, knowledgeable and recognisable to people in their area every day and, crucially, it has to be consistent. Unfortunately, what has happened to community policing is those core things have been undermined.

Community policing is not what is seen on television. It is not the glamorous thing that some people might join for, but it is good core policing. Good community policing creates a layer for all the other layers of policing. Other types of policing are very important, including specialist and intelligence policing, but they are consistent with having core community policing services. To say that everybody should be responsive to the community and everybody is a community police officer is fine in theory. I understand it, but it does not recognise what happens on the ground. It means that people do not recognise who their local community police are because they are moved on so much. It is not consistent, recognisable, knowledgeable and, crucially, local, as people are moved around.

While Members were speaking, I looked at a journal article by a former community garda, Trevor Laffan, referenced by Senator Boylan. He spoke at a conference in Barcelona in 2009, where he said that our community policing system was the envy of police forces around the world because we had the type of intelligence that they just could not get through and penetrate, as we were dismantling that system. Part of that dismantling of the system included the new roster system. I ask the Minister of State to look at what would attract community police into that day-to-day policing. The existing roster, where everybody can bounce in and out of it, is simply not good enough and is not accessible. I do not know what the experience is like in rural Ireland, which the Minister referred to, but it is certainly not the experience in Dublin that people are able to pick up the phone and get through to the community policing section. First, a number of people are in that section. People do not always consistently get the person they are calling. Second, often, the call will ring out and bounce through to a 999 call. That is not consistent, recognisable, knowledgeable or local, and all the things that community policing should be.

I welcome the Minister's comments. I particularly welcome the fact that members of the Opposition got what I was trying to do, what I said, and what I was trying to get at. However, the Minister fundamentally misunderstood it in her speech, which was probably written by officials who do not have experience of places such as inner city Dublin, where there are very at-risk people and very at-risk youth, which requires that consistent and visible policing every day. We just do not have it. Communities are crying out for it. People are terrified walking home to their houses. We have a situation where the red line Luas is being used by gangs of young kids. Sometimes, what they are doing is not the worst in the world, but it is intimidating to people. It is intimidating to older people who are using the Luas and everybody going around, but there is no visible policing on that red line Luas. A private security firm hired by the Luas operators does that policing, but nobody is making an effort to get to know those kids, where and who they come from, and what stops they are getting on and off at. They are going from the area where I live to the area where Senator Sherlock lives. Gangs of them are coming down. That is the type of thing where community policing comes into its own when we do it. Unfortunately, we do not have it. We have dismantled it. We had a much better system 20 years ago then we do now, despite what the Minister said.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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I move amendment No. 2:

After the last paragraph under “calls on the Government to:”, to insert the following paragraph: “- ensure that the important role played by local authority members in policing is protected by granting them equivalent duties and representation in the new Safety Partnerships and by appointing a designated Garda who can act as a contact for councillors.”.

Photo of Sharon KeoganSharon Keogan (Independent)
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I second the amendment.

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 11; Níl, 21.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Gerard P. Craughwell and Sharon Keogan; Níl, Senators Robbie Gallagher and Regina Doherty..

Amendment declared lost.

Question put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."

The Seanad divided: Tá, 11; Níl, 23.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Rebecca Moynihan and Marie Sherlock; Níl, Senators Paul Daly and Regina Doherty..

Question declared lost.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Regina DohertyRegina Doherty (Fine Gael)
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Next Tuesday at 1 p.m.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar athló ar 5.50 p.m. go dtí 1 p.m., Dé Máirt, an 5 Márta 2024.

The Seanad adjourned at 5.50 p.m. until 1 p.m. on Tuesday, 5 March 2024.