Thursday, 8 June 2006
Dáil Eireann Debate
197. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if the relevant sections of his Department have adequate dialogue with the Department of Health and Children and the Department of Education and Science with particular reference to the need to identify and cater for children at risk due to involvement in juvenile crime, non-attendance at school, absent from the home or school without leave or authority and presenting a danger to themselves or others; the regularity of discussion with the other Departments in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22240/06]
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell): The coordination of responses between Government Departments in respect of children at risk of involvement in crime and other troubling behaviour has been identified as a priority issue within my Department. New structures, which foster greater dialogue between the relevant Departments, have recently been established to address the matter.
In October 2004, an internal project team was established within my Department to examine the scope for rationalising and restructuring the delivery of the State’s services in the area of youth justice, in accordance with the legislative basis provided for in the Children Act 2001. Publication of the Report on the Youth Justice Review was approved by Government in December 2005. The Government agreed to the implementation of the report’s recommendations in addition to a number of other youth justice reforms.
Among the reforms agreed was the establishment of the Irish Youth Justice Service, on a non-statutory basis, as an executive office of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Service will focus on developing a National Youth Justice Strategy, achieving the full implementation of the Children Act 2001, assuming responsibility for children’s detention and improving the delivery of services for young offenders.
While matters relating to school attendance and child care and protection issues are the responsibility of the Ministers for Education and Science and Health and Children respectively, the Report on the Youth Justice Review recognised that cross-departmental cooperation is essential to meet the needs of “at risk” children. The newly established Irish Youth Justice Service will be responsible for establishing a Youth Justice Oversight Group comprising representatives of relevant Departments and agencies from the Justice, Health and Education sectors, to drive the implementation of a national youth justice strategy in an integrated and coordinated manner. The Service will also develop local youth justice teams, where appropriate, to enhance local service delivery around offending behaviour.
The Irish Youth Justice Service comes within the remit of my Department but will operate within the strategic environment of the new Office of the Minister for Children to ensure that a joined-up approach to service delivery is achieved. This Office was established by Government in December 2005, to bring greater coherence to policy making for children. Children now have a stronger voice on issues that affect them, through the Minister for Children, Brian Lenihan TD, who attends Cabinet meetings. The OMC focuses on harmonising policy issues that affect children in areas such as early childhood care and education, youth justice, child welfare and protection, children and young people’s participation, research on children and young people and cross-cutting initiatives for children.
The Irish Youth Justice Service will work closely with colleagues in the Departments of Health and Children and Education and Science to coordinate services for children at risk. The new administrative arrangements established by the Government, will strengthen and enhance these links to deliver a coordinated response to the needs of young people at risk.
198. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if adequate resources are available to the relevant sections of his Department to combat juvenile or petty crime; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22241/06]
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell): In recent years there has been a renewed focus on the State’s response to youth crime and youth justice issues. In October 2004, a project team was established within my Department to examine the youth justice system and make recommendations for any improvements necessary. The project team’s recommendations were approved by Government last December. The recommendations included the establishment of the Irish Youth Justice Service (IYJS), which is now in the process of being established as an executive office of my Department. The IYJS will focus on developing a National Youth Justice Strategy, achieving the full implementation of the Children Act 2001, assuming responsibility for children’s detention and improving the delivery of services for young offenders.
A National Director has recently been appointed to head up the new Service and provision has been made for any set up costs. Discussions will be held with the Department of Finance in regard to the arrangements for future resources and staffing requirements necessary to address the remit of the Service. In light of the outcome of these discussions, resources with respect to youth justice currently within my Department will come under the auspices of the Irish Youth Justice Service. Significant resources are currently being made available through the Garda Diversion Programme and the Probation and Welfare Service.
Garda Youth Diversion Projects are a community-based, multi-agency crime prevention initiative which seek to divert young persons from anti-social and/or criminal behaviour. The projects are funded by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and are administered by the Community Relations Section of the Garda Síochána.
A budget of €6.6 million has been provided for the Garda Youth Diversion Projects and Local Drugs Task Force projects in 2006. This represents an increase of 21% on last year’s budgetary allocation. It is my intention that 100 schemes will be established nationwide before the end of 2007.
The Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme provides that, in certain circumstances, a young person under 18 years of age, who freely accepts responsibility for a criminal incident, may be cautioned as an alternative to prosecution. The Programme operates under the supervision and direction of the Garda National Juvenile Office and is implemented throughout all Garda divisions by 94 specially trained Gardaí, known as Juvenile Liaison Officers (JLOs). In 2005, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform allocated €96,750 towards the cost of training and the expenses associated with the holding of restorative conferences.
Aspects of the Children Act come within the remit of the Probation and Welfare Service, including family conferencing, supervision orders and community sanctions. I have secured an additional 30 staff specifically for the purpose of implementing the provisions of the Act relevant to the Service. In the current year the Service has been allocated €1.9 million current and €1.3 million capital for the implementation of the Children Act.
Also the Probation and Welfare Service funds 66 projects which support the work of the Service in managing offenders in the community. Of these, 40 offer a service to young offenders. All Gardaí have responsibility to deal with policing issues as they arise and there are a number of Community Gardaí in place throughout the country. Community policing is essential in preventing crime, addressing peoples’ fear of crime and building up relationships with young people. While An Garda Síochána is the main agency tasked with crime prevention and investigation, other players are also involved.
Garda management makes every effort to provide a highly visible presence on the streets of our towns and villages. Uniform and detective units, with Divisional traffic Corps, supplemented by Community policing units and Garda Mountain Bike Units have a pro-active approach to policing anti-social/public disorder issues by immediate intervention, arrest and prosecution or advice, as appropriate.
I am further informed that Operation Encounter which was introduced by Garda management in 2002 targets public disorder offences including assaults and offences committed by underage persons under the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1998. Operational figures, which are provisional at this time, indicate that in excess of 337,000 offences have been detected so far under Operation Encounter.
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