Thursday, 24 January 2019
Department of Justice and Equality
117. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality his views on rural crime; if rural crime statistics are increasing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3469/19]
118. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if he has spoken to the Garda Commissioner in relation to rural crime; the actions being taken to prevent incidences of rural crime; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3470/19]
119. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the policy action being taken to prevent rural crime; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3471/19]
120. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality when the policy on rural crime was last reviewed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3472/19]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 117 to 120, inclusive, together.
The Deputy will be aware that last week I, along with Minister of State Stanton, responded to a Private Member's Motion on rural crime in the Dáil, during which I outlined the initiatives and supports introduced by this Government to tackle rural crime. I also recognised that when it comes to tackling crime, including rural crime, all members of the Oireachtas are seeking the same goal, which is safer communities for all of our citizens.
The Government's response to crime in both rural and urban areas is focused on two key objectives: Strengthening the law to get tougher on repeat offenders and investing in the capacity of An Garda Síochána to enforce that law effectively. I can assure the Deputy that this approach is kept under constant review.
The Government remains committed to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country in order to maintain and strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance to citizens and to deter crime. Since the reopening of the Garda College in September 2014, almost 2,400 recruits have attested as Members of An Garda Síochána and Garda numbers reached almost 14,000 by the end of 2018. The Garda Commissioner intends to recruit an additional 600 Gardaí next year along with redeploying a further 500 Gardaí from administrative duties to frontline policing.
The Programme for Government underlines the need for close engagement between An Garda Síochána and local communities and this is an essential feature of the strong community policing ethos which has long been central to policing in this jurisdiction. As part of the overall strategy to oppose criminality, the Garda authorities pursue a range of partnership initiatives with important rural-based organisations such as the IFA, Muintir na Tire and other community organisations.
It is appropriate to also highlight the Government’s plan to implement the recommendations of the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. Those recommendations have a core focus on a more visible Garda organisation working closely and collaboratively with communities and other agencies to keep communities safe and to prevent harm to vulnerable people.
In relation to the deployment of Garda resources, including personnel, to specific areas, members will appreciate that this is the responsibility of the Garda Commissioner. However, I am advised that Garda management constantly monitor the distribution of these resources in light of crime trends and overall policing needs at local level – and this applies equally in both rural and urban areas. A total budget of €1.76 billion has been provided to An Garda Síochána in 2019, an increase of over €100 million on the 2018 allocation. This substantial investment will provide new and leading edge technology to support our front line Gardaí in carrying out their work in both rural and urban communities.
Since November 2015, there has been concentrated policing activity throughout the country as a result of Operation Thor. As of January 2019, there have been over 177,000 targeted checkpoints and more than 270,000 crime prevention patrols carried out nationwide. This concentrated policing activity has produced in the region of 9,300 arrests and 10,600 charges covering a range of offences which, in addition to burglary, have included handling stolen property, possession of firearms and drugs offences. An Garda Síochána will continue to bring pressure on the gangs and individuals responsible for these type of offences.
On 20 December 2018, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) published the latest crime statistics for Q3 2018. While I am pleased that, nationally, burglary and theft-related offences were down, I am concerned that offences relating to robbery increased over the 12 month period to the end of Q3 2018 when compared to the end of Q3 2017. This trend must be tackled comprehensively, and the focus on the recruitment of new Gardaí and increased resourcing of An Garda Síochána reflect this Government’s commitment to support Gardaí in the fight against crime.
The Deputy will be aware that at the National Ploughing Championships last September, I announced details of the 2018 Text Alert Rebate Scheme which was available to over 1000 local groups registered under the Garda Text Alert Scheme. My Department committed in the region of €150,000 to local communities who wish to apply for a rebate towards the costs associated with running their local Text Alert Scheme.
The Programme for Government also committed to support investment in CCTV systems and a grant-aid scheme was launched by my Department in 2017 to assist in the establishment of community-based CCTV systems in their local areas with 20 CCTV grants scheme applications approved to date. The scheme is open to all groups wishing to take advantage of the available funding.
Finally, I believe it is absolutely vital that, as elected officials, we continue to encourage all citizens to report all instances of criminality to An Garda Síochána. Only then can the crime be properly investigated by Gardaí. Furthermore, these reports will allow the Garda authorities to identify any new or emerging crime trends affecting a particular community and, where necessary, allocate Garda resources in order to tackle these developments.