Thursday, 7 October 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Costello: Today I raise the burglaries that have taken place in inordinate numbers in a very middle-class area of my constituency, something that had not happened there before. The residents felt compelled to hold a meeting in the Tivoli Centre regarding the spate of burglaries. It was attended on 28 September by 200 to 300 residents. The gardaí came along, as did officials from the local authority and local public representatives. They indicated that they had received reports of nine break-ins for September. The residents stated that the figure was more than double that, but that some of them might not have been reported. Perhaps some people felt that it was not worth their while doing so, since they did not expect much of a response. The discussion went on, and it was a microcosm of what is happening throughout the constituency and the city of Dublin. There has been an increase in crimes against property and burglaries affecting people’s homes, apparently without any adequate response. There is a great deal of concern about the absence of gardaí on the beat and the fact that 2,000 gardaí have not been recruited. Promises were made and not kept. Some were reiterated, seemingly without anything being produced. I assure the Minister that the Government got quite a roasting on the matter.
The other aspect to the issue is the slow progress on community policing, which was promised and incorporated into the Criminal Justice Bill, which is now a year old and has not yet seen the light of day in this House. We would like to see the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform getting his priorities right and showing a certain sense of urgency in dealing with policing issues in urban and rural areas. We need both greater numbers of gardaí and a new type of policing that engages the community, is participate, and commands the respect of those whom it serves. In that context, I thought it better to concentrate on a single area. I could go through other parts of the city where the problems are the same. I do not want to mention Stoneybatter, where there are currently major problems with policing. The same is true of East Wall and North Strand. The inner city itself has massive problems with drugs and their policing.
There is difficulty getting in contact with the gardaí. If one dials 999, that is one query, and one does not know where it goes. It disappears into a black hole, and there is no guarantee of when there will be a response. Gardaí have no individual telephone numbers, so no one is really responsible when a complaint is made and no one knows whom to get back to. It also transpires that gardaí do not have e-mail; one cannot e-mail a member. In this day and age, every garda in Store Street, Fitzgibbon Street or any other Garda station should be available via e-mail if one wishes to contact them with an issue. They could e-mail back so that one established some connection or communication to pursue one’s complaint.
We have serious problems regarding burglaries and crimes against property, and difficulties with gardaí on the beat and with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform getting his promised legislation up and running and delivering on the numbers of gardaí promised.
Mr. B. Lenihan: I thank the Deputy for raising this matter, and I am aware of the interest in this subject. I am speaking on behalf of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, who is unfortunately unable to be present. I assure the Deputy that the Minister and I share his concern and that of the residents in the Clonliffe area on this matter.
Before commenting on the particular issue identified by the Deputy, it is helpful to put the issue of crime and crime statistics into perspective. In July the provisional quarterly figures for headline crime for the State were released by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I am sure all Deputies will agree it was encouraging to see that headline crime had fallen by 10% for the second quarter of the year when compared with the second quarter in 2003.
Mr. B. Lenihan: Burglaries as an individual category of headline crime decreased by 10%. Headline crime for the first half of 2004 was 7% less than that for the first half of 2003. Furthermore, headline crime for 2003 was 2% less than that for 2002.
At the time those statistics were released, the Minister cautioned, as he had done before when discussing statistics, that one should be careful when interpreting trends over short periods. However, the timely release of statistics is a valuable source of information for both elected representatives and the public whom they represent. Statistics allow us to identify problem areas and target particular types of crime in addition to facilitating informed debate on crime. The Garda PULSE system provides a range of operational reports based on a variety of criteria which permit local Garda management to identify trends and take action to address difficulties as they arise in particular areas.
However, it is important to realise that the Garda Síochána is not an island of law enforcement. They rely on the ongoing and active support of the public to enable them to be at their most effective in their duties, whether that support is given through the provision of information to the gardaí by members of the public or through more general co-operation by members of the public with the gardaí. As members of society we all have an active part to play in the fight against crime, and a duty to do so.
I will now address the question raised by the Deputy with particular reference to the area he identified. I understand from the Garda authorities that the difficulties being experienced in this area were discussed with approximately 200 residents of the area at a recent meeting held at the Tivoli Centre. I am informed by the Garda authorities that the Clonliffe area is actively policed by gardaí from Fitzgibbon Street Garda station, where the personnel strength currently stands at 119, covering all ranks.
The Clonliffe area is covered regularly by both mobile and foot patrols and by plain clothes and uniformed gardaí. In addition, the divisional mobile units also pay regular attention to the area. There are currently two sergeants and 13 gardaí assigned to community policing in Fitzgibbon Street, with three vacancies to be filled in the near future. As the Minister previously informed the House, local Garda management assured residents at their recent meeting that Garda resources and a higher Garda visibility would immediately be directed to the area concerned. A further meeting with the residents is planned for next week. I have no doubt that the ongoing efforts of the gardaí to tackle the problems encountered by residents will bear fruit in the near future.
Current policing plans in the area are predicated on the prevention of crimes, including crimes of violence against persons and crimes against property, and the maintenance of an environment conducive to improving the quality of life of the residents. This strategy is, and will continue to be, central to the delivery of an effective policing service to the areas in question.
In addition, there is one Garda youth diversion project, which caters for residents of the area in question. Those projects are a community-based, multi-agency crime prevention initiative which seeks to divert young persons from becoming involved, or further involved, in anti-social or criminal behaviour by providing suitable activities to facilitate personal development, promote civic responsibility and improve long-term employability prospects. By doing so, the projects also contribute to improving the quality of life within communities and enhancing Garda-community relations.
The Garda juvenile diversion programme, which deals with juveniles who have committed an offence and have admitted their guilt, constitutes a significant means of dealing with young offenders. As I mentioned earlier, the statistics for the second quarter of 2004 show an overall reduction of 10% in the number of burglaries against the same quarter in 2003, although I realise this will be of only some comfort to the recent victims. However, it is important to stress that these decreases, which are to be welcomed, can only be continued and built upon by the assistance and support afforded to the Garda Síochána by the public at large.
Community-based schemes such as community alert and neighbourhood watch are extremely tangible and practical aspects of crime prevention. If we are to develop a strategy to prevent and reduce crime — not just to detect crime after it has been perpetrated — it is critical that the broad local community be actively involved through, for example, giving it the opportunity to identify those crimes which are the most prevalent and the most damaging to the community and local voluntary groups.
The recent burglaries which have been carried out in the Clonliffe area are under active investigation by the gardaí at Fitzgibbon Street Garda station. The Garda Síochána is confident that it is making progress in solving the recent spate of burglaries and that it will be in a position to bring those responsible to account in the near future.
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